You know what this fandom needs? More pulpy, serially, fibery action! So, let's grow some chest hair and wear some fedoras together!
Man, it was hard to get writing again. I think I went through five stories (including three variants of this chapter) before I hit my stride again.
Wearing a tuxedo was not in the Demoman's contract.
He cursed the stiff fabric, picked at handkerchief lodged in his breast pocket. The colors seemed mismatched to him. The jacket was white, the trousers black. The latter was the worst part of the ensemble by far. The fabric clung to his legs, and the waist line was about two inches too small for him. It couldn't be helped, though. That bastard Spy wouldn't let him out of the base with a kilt on, and the only trouser pants he had really hadn't been used in over ten years.
"This had better be worth our bloody time," the Demoman cursed as he stepped out of the Spy's latest vehicular acquisition. How he managed to find so many Italian sports cars in the United States was beyond his knowledge. How he continued to destroy them? Well, that was more amusing than perplexing.
"We are being paid overtime and travel expenses for zis. We are also getting a decent meal." The Spy adjusted his tie. All things considered, he should have been much more uncomfortable than the Demoman. This was the first time in years that he'd stepped into the public without his balaclava on. Instead of his usual mask, he'd switched to a more subtle fedora to cast a shadow over his face. At least the night was dark. "I zink you would be a little more grateful."
The Demoman snorted once. "The whole thin' stinks ta high heaven ta me."
The third member of their team squirmed out of the back of the Spy's vehicle. It was nigh impossible to find a sports car with four doors. Never-the-less, the squashed teammate brushed himself clean, then fussed with his bow tie. "If zis deal goes zrough, ve vill have quite a bit of a raise, mein Scotsman."
"So ya go and hock this new stuff ya made," the Demoman grumbled. "Then what happens when this lass wants ta know about what else ya created, Doc? Gonna go off an' sell yer miracle gels?"
"It is not our problem right now." The Medic smoothed back his hair, taking a moment to twirl the errant curl on his head. "Zis is merely a byproduct. Just an accident. If zey want my mistakes, zen by all means, zey can have it!"
The Demoman clicked his tongue once, but stuffed his objections aside. It was the Medic's creation, after all. He had the right to do whatever the hell he wanted to with it. The Medic's attempt at creating a new medical gel had fallen flat on its face. The substance in question wasn't of any use to either the Demoman or the rest of his teammates. At best, it healed minor burns, removed scars, and evened skin tone. More or less glorified makeup. Miss Pauling seemed to like the stuff, at any rate. Perhaps there was a market for it.
The Spy gathered his two teammates together. "Just follow my lead. Keep quiet, and be polite. Do not speak unless you are spoken to. Do not eat or drink before you are offered somezing. Above all else, do not mention what we do for Helen. We are merely contract employees. Any questions?"
A voice buzzed in the Spy's left ear. "Yeah. Could ya blokes get a doggie bag or somethin'? Bloody starvin' up here."
The Spy shot a glare at a building across the street from the restaurant where they were meeting their client. The only thing that gave away the Sniper's position was a tiny flicker of light from the street lamps catching off his scope. At least the cheeky bastard had enough sense to turn off his laser sight. The Spy scowled, regretting his decision to give the Sniper an earpiece. Perhaps he was less of a nuisance than other earpieced, snotty-nosed brats on his team, but that didn't mean that he wouldn't get under the Frenchman's skin from time to time. At least the Engineer had created something small enough to hide from most prying eyes. He didn't need to have the device found.
Pressing on his ear, the Spy growled. "I zought I told you to eat before we came here."
"Mate, the only thin' I coulda picked up in toime was burgers. Not the good koinds, eitha." There was a short chuckle from the other end of the device. "If I wanted ta eat kangaroo meat, I woulda just ordered that. None 'a this cock and bull crap."
The Spy hissed. "Just shut up and pay attenzion. If anything goes sour, you will need to act fast."
Rubbing the back of his neck, the Demoman wondered about what kind of thieves' den they were stepping into. The Spy hadn't told him much about this potential buyer for the Medic's wares. All the Demoman knew about their client was that she was the owner of a very well to do cosmetic and warfare chemical manufacturer. A strange mix, no doubt. Not to say that the Administrator's enterprises made much more sense, but her business was fighting through and through. Then again, depending on the structure of a substance, a perfume and a neurological agent might not be all that far off from each other.
The Spy led both the Demoman and the Medic into the restaurant. How both the Frenchman and the German could be at ease, the Demoman didn't know. The three present men were completely out of their element. They were in a colorful city that they had never visited before, in a unique subsection referred to by the erroneous name of Chinatown. Every floor was lit lowly, paper lanterns and candles casting capricious shadows off the faces of men even shadier than himself. The walls were painted with a garnet hue, the furniture made of dark wood. Golden dragons on the walls shimmered in the night, teeth and scales glowing in the candlelight. The Demoman found himself flashing back to youthful terrors, wondering how out of place those ornaments would have looked at the bottom of Loch Ness.
It didn't take long for the three men to find their client. She was in the far corner of the restaurant, sitting out of the way of any direct view of the world outside. Curled around her head was a halo of blue cigarette smoke. She had a peculiar hairstyle, something not worn by most American women since the nineteen twenties. Her hair was auburn, short and curled above her ears, tucked beneath a small pillbox hat. There were some wrinkles to her face, but nothing obvious until the team was standing in front of her. She was no older than her late thirties, if her appearance in the dark restaurant was to be believed. Much like the owner of any cosmetic company, she had a perfectly decorated face. Her cheeks were polished smooth, colored with just a hint of blush. A faked beauty mark distracted only temporarily from her thick, red lips. Her mascara and eye liner were slightly heavier on her top lashes. She had the face of a classic beauty, more like a movie star than a business woman.
The Demoman was surprised, to say the least. "Here, I was expectin' some old—" A glare from the Spy silenced him before he babbled much further on. He coughed once, then shut up.
The business woman extended her hand. "Marian Gray."
"You will have to forgive us. We do not go by names." The Spy reached out, giving her a firm shake.
"Helen always does keep strange men in her company," Marian smirked. "I hope you don't mind, but I brought a few men of my own. Just as insurance of my safety, you understand." She waved her left hand twice, signaling for her companions.
The Medic and the Demoman tried not to gawk as two men as large and tall as their Russian teammate joined her on the red wrap-around furniture. They were impeccably well dressed, their breast pockets emblazoned with a five-thorned rose. Her company logo, no doubt. There was a low whistle from the inside the Spy's ear. "Musta spent a pretty penny on somethin' like that. Think this nest's got some 'a her shampoo 'round here. Same logo, anyway."
The Medic questioned their client's relationship to their leader. "How do you know about Helen?"
Marian grinned, crossing her legs at the ankle. "Networking, of course. We met at a party hosted by Mister Saxton Hale. Really something else, that man. Your Helen's a lucky woman."
"Ah, rubbish!" The Sniper's voice buzzed in the Spy's ear. "Ya see that smile she's got? Been bitten by the green-eyed monster, that one."
The Spy kept his face stoic, internally cursing the mouthy Sniper in his ear. Maybe he shouldn't have let the Australian bring such a great scope, if he was just going to bark about everything he saw. "Perhaps we should get down the business."
"So to the point! I thought Frenchmen like you were a little less hasty," Marian laughed. "Very well."
Nudging the Medic, the Spy gave the German control over the conversation. The Medic had to collect himself. He was too busy wondering what the young couple across the way was eating. It looked like they had some kind of grill in the middle of their table. They were throwing chunks of meat on it, drinking some clear kind of liquid as well. "Ack, you must forgive me. I do not see zese sorts of zings often, you know."
Their guest lifted an eyebrow. "A German, too? Fascinating!" She turned her attention to the Demoman. "And where are you from? Morocco? Algeria?"
"Scotland," the Demoman grumbled.
"I see," Marian said. It was hard to tell if she was blushing beneath all that make-up. She turned attention back to the Spy. "Perhaps we should get straight to it, then."
The Spy agreed. "Of course. If ze good doctor is ready—"
Nodding, the Medic produced a vial from his jacket. He handed the sample to their client, white gloves adding a touch of elegance to his presentation. One of her body guards picked the vial up. He examined it for a moment, then unscrewed the cap. He placed a droplet of the substance of the stuff on his fingers. Satisfied that it wasn't acid or poison, he handed it to his employer. She tested it as well, taking an experiment sniff along with her prodding.
"Now, zis is not a panacea, by any means. You should find zat it is good for some basic skin treatments. It vorks vonders with healing scars and burned tissue. I'd imagine zat it might be all right for use against psoriasis, alzough I have not tested zat, myself," the Medic rambled. He was quite proud of his work.
Marian nodded, smiling. "I would love to see a demonstration." With those words, she reached for the center of their table. She flipped back a panel, then flicked a switch. A small grill kicked to life. All three of Helen's men frowned, unsure of what their client was requesting. She continued flashing her soft grin. "Well? I thought you said it worked against burns."
The three men glared at each other. With a grimace, the Spy removed his leather glove from his left hand. He held it over the grill, wondering how much money this really was worth. After taking a quick breath, he pressed his index finger down. The grill was not as hot as it could have been, but it still hurt. After keeping it down for a second, he retracted his finger. His skin was bright red, still cooking even after he removed it from the grill.
Marian was quick to take his hand. She rubbed a small amount of the substance across the burn, her fingers working as slow and deeply as a masseur's. With a pleasing tingling sensation, the low-grade medical gel began its work. The pain was quick to pass. His skin mended itself nicely, restoring his fingerprints and damaged tissue in only a few moments. It even had the same tone as the rest of his skin. There was no evidence of the wound on his hand.
Their client was impressed, to say the least. "I see why Helen hires men like you. Intelligent, and quick to oblige."
"So, vhat do you zink?" the Medic asked. "Should ve begin negotiations?"
Marian smirked. "Yes. But first, a toast." Giving a nod towards the opposite end of the floor, their client summoned a waiter. He place six small cups on their table, careful to avoid the heated grill in the center of the table. As he poured a liquid into their cups, the Spy investigated their offerings. It smelled safe enough, at any rate. Some kind of fruit wine. Most likely plum.
A jealous voice sighed in the Spy's ear. "Ah, mate. Looks good. Wish I could have a swig 'a that."
"Maybe next time," the Spy mumbled. He glanced up, realizing his mistake. Nobody else had caught onto his murmuring. He smiled, sliding back into his usual demeanor. He'd just have to be more careful. Perhaps not drive for an hour. Not that he hadn't done some trick driving in his time, but tonight, he preferred not to take any risks.
Their client raised her cup first. "To our business, gentlemen."
The Spy winced as an electronic screech rang in his ear. He glanced backwards, light catching the corner of his eye. A short pop followed it, along with the distinct, gut-wrenching sound of glass shattering. It came from across the street. What the hell was that? Did someone spot the Sniper? Damned fool couldn't hide himself if he didn't have some mud hole to wallow in. There was no siren, no spinning lights from the street below them. Not cops. That made the following sounds of gunshots all the worse.
A roll of fire brought his attention quickly back to the table. Someone had tossed their wine into the grill. The flaming sheet singed his jacket. He jumped out of his chair, yanking his teammates backwards. They hesitated for one moment, all there knowing that something was wrong but having no explanation for what it was. Two more bursts of flame erupted from nearby tables, corralling the men together.
As the men reached for any weapon they could find, there were two sharp cracks. Wood burst as the first projectile struck it. The second hit flesh and bone. The Medic gasped in pain, clutching his chest as he staggered from his attackers. Kicking into action, the Demoman grabbed the Medic with one arm and stole a wine bottle with the other from a near-by table. He bashed it against one lackey's head, shielding the Medic with the rest of his body. It didn't take him long to cut through the crowded restaurant, charging away from the scene like a mad bull.
The Spy bolted for the stairs, rushing through the gap the Demoman had created. The throng closed around him. As he twisted to get away, he crashed into their table's waiter. With his nose smashed against the other human's chest, he noticed that the waiter had a rather familiar symbol sown into it. It was a red flower, complete with five thorns. It wasn't just him, either. The man across the way? Another rose. Patrons in the back? Dotted with red flora. Merde. This was a set-up. Of course Marian could have done this. She was an associate of the Administrator's, a woman known for her liberal use of cartridges to solve problems. She certainly had the resources and manpower for something like this. Hmph. Well, if that was the way she wanted to play, the loss was hers. She could take the Medic's little mistake for free, if that was her goal. It wasn't like he wouldn't wake up in Teufort within a few minutes of his assassination.
Two guns pressed against the back of his skull, tipping his hat forward. Despite his incoming death, the Spy merely sighed. "If you just wanted to steal from us, zen go ahead. I'd razzer you did not kill me here, however. It would be an inconvenience for my associates to have my car towed."
A low voice slipped in his left ear, slithering around the hissing earpiece. "We've still got work to do, Monsieur Spy."
As he wondered how Marian came to know his title, a sharp blow to the back of his head dropped the Spy.
His skin was prickling by the time the Spy woke up. There was a pain in his legs, a rolling in his stomach. He jerked upward, off-put by the sensations. A seatbelt was locked over his waist. Two bands were fastened over his wrists, keeping him pinned in place. A growl built behind his teeth. He was cuffed in an airplane.
This could not possibly mean anything good.
As the Spy set about trying to break free, he caught a glimpse of the man tied to the window seat. His head was low, hat crooked. Damned Sniper. He leaned over to his teammate, then bit at his shirt sleeve. The cotton sent jitters through his teeth as he shook the Sniper. The Australian was unresponsive. There was a bright red scrape across his forehead, scarlet droplets on his back. More scratches and bruises were peppered along his arms. So, he'd been ambushed.
Several things were not adding up. The handcuffs, the attack on his teammates, the deception in the yakiniku restaurant. That was just what the Spy had scratched off the surface. Then, there was the status of this airplane. It was fairly large, two seats on the outside and three on the inside per row. Yet, it was completely empty, save for the Spy and the Sniper. This was a waste of energy. No standard flight service would ever take off with this few of people. No, it had to be private owned by someone very wealthy and extravagant.
Well, the Spy certainly knew who had kidnapped him. Now, if he could only figure out why.
Ho man, this is gonna be GOOD
I can't tell you how happy I am to read another fic by you :)
Also, Demoman rocks. Even if he could only rescue one of his teammates, it was still cool.
Can I ask if this is going to be a strictly action story, or if it's going to include a pairing? Either would be great, but reading about Sniper and Spy chained up side by side is making my shipper-sense tingle.
He placed a droplet of the substance of the stuff on his fingers.
I think you should delete either "of the substance" or "of the stuff."
I'm just gonna rub my hands together in anticipation over here. I await eagerly.
I absolutely adore this. Please continue!
Please, no, no shipping, that would ruin it and there's fucking boatloads of shipping everywhere else on this chan.
As mentioned, though, you repeated yourself in the "he placed a droplet" sentence. Eagerly awaiting more.
definitely looking forward to more ;)
I am really enjoying it so far, and you got me seat-edged on what is about to happen next! All my support to you !
This is a great premise! Thanks for posting.
Whether or not the author chooses to include shipping, I don't see how it would "ruin" the story. That would be saying that shipping ruins Cat Bountry's stories.
Well, there is one pairing that *might* have a little influence on this story...
Man, I wish I could edit posts so I can go back and fix those goofy errors. Oh, well. Just have to keep the FF.Net version cleaner.
The Medic's nostrils were filled with the scent of motor oil and greasy eggs. He grimaced, wiping one hand across his nose. The first complication that he noticed was that his glasses were missing. He was somewhat functional without them, but reading anything with font smaller than what could be found on a billboard was out of the question. As he sat upright, a pain socked him on the right side of his chest. Relief rolled like a cold wave over him as he examined his wound. The bullet had gone straight through him. How fortunate. Not that it would have been a big deal if he'd died, all things considered, but it would have been difficult to cover up his disappearance and revival afterwards. If news about the respawn computers were ever leaked to the public…
Well, that didn't matter right now. He had more important questions, at the moment. While he wasn't sure of his exact location, he knew he was in a trucker's motel. He'd spent a few nights in them before, mostly when his team was relocating to a far region and they couldn't travel through the night. He pushed red-brown sheets aside, stumbling out of bed. Gathering as much dignity as he had left, he ambled towards a dresser mirror. He'd slept the night in his formal attire. His jacket was torn, coated with dried blood. His hair was an oily mess. The Medic grumbled once, wondering if he would have been better off dying.
A flush came from the attached bathroom. After a few seconds, the Demoman stumbled out of the bathroom. He gave the Medic a big grin as he stumbled towards a bottom-of-the-line coffee pot. After he poured two cups, he passed one to the Medic and sat down on the bed with the other. "This'll get ya goin'."
"Vhere are ve?" the Medic asked.
The Demoman shrugged. "Damned if I know. Outside 'a town by quite a bit. Probably a couple 'a hours or so."
The Medic took a sip of coffee, the warmth surging through his bloodstream. "How did ve get here? Ze—Ze Spy's car?"
The Demoman shook his head. "Didn't have the blighter's keys. Threw us in the back 'a one 'a those big ol' trucks. Semis. Whatever. Got us outta town."
"Zen ze Spy is—" the Medic began.
"Lost 'im, I'm afraid." The Demoman took another swallow, not flinching at the bitter taste in his mouth. "Ain't seen hide nor hair 'a the Sniper, either."
The Medic pinched his nose. He sat down on the other end of the bed, still somewhat anemic. "Vhatever you did to save mein life, zank you. I can't seem to recall much, right now."
"Ya bled all over the bloomin' place, that's what happened! Least ya didn't die on me, I guess," the Demoman smirked. "Coulda been bad, ya know."
The Medic nodded. "It might still be." He fidgeted through his suit pockets, looking for a scrap of paper. After a few moments of rummaging, he produced it. There was a faint telephone number written on it in pencil. "Have you called zem, yet? Our comrades?"
"No. I blacked out as soon as I got your tuckus in here. By the way—thanks fer havin' yer checkbook with ya!" He nudged the Medic on his left side, getting a little bit of a glare out of the German.
As the Medic scrounged for the phone, he smirked. "Next time, vhen you feel ze need to take mein geld, feel free to get us a double room, hmm?"
The Demoman rolled his one good eye. "Like ya cared last night."
After searching for a few moments, the Medic found the phone for the room. It wasn't hard to miss. The cheap model was constructed out of tacky orange plastic. As he dropped it on the bed, the rotary dial made a little clang. He fumbled with his paper for a moment, then started dialing the number. It did no good to have their team out in the ether, worrying about them. Well, of course, there was a good reason to be concerned. They did have to locate their Spy and Sniper, after all. Still, the least they could do is alleviate some anguish.
A few seconds went by, and then the Medic smirked. "It's ringing."
The Spy was a man of great patience. His job required it. He could wait for hours in one spot, still as a statue, until the right target came scurrying past his hiding place. He could woo any person, tolerate hundreds of slights, all for that one shot at getting what he wanted. After several hours strapped to a plane seat, his patience had evaporated. He'd gotten a few moments of sleep, but he'd spent most of his time staring out the window into the abyss below the plane. That was, of course, when he could turn his head to see it. The Sniper had been using the crook of his neck for a pillow for the past couple of hours. He'd managed to at least knock the Australian's hat off so he wasn't quite so uncomfortable. Despite his tolerance, his bladder was the final straw. After waiting for an eternity for something to happen, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
So, he spammed the flight attendant's call button on his chair until someone showed up.
To his surprise, someone did. A heavyset titan burst out of the front of the plane, his face ashen and set in stone. He strode to the Spy's seat in halting steps, then snapped to face the Frenchman. "Yes?"
"I need to use la salle de bain. You know? Ze…ze restroom," the Spy said. He scrunched up his face, realizing that the stoic demigod didn't understand him. "Could you undo zese?"
The titan didn't question his needs. He reached down with one hand, grabbing a key out of his back pocket. He snapped both locks off the Spy's wrists. Grabbing the Spy by the scruff of his neck, he yanked the Frenchman out of his seat and pushed him towards the restroom. The Spy grumbled, but did no rash act. He wasn't familiar with flying a plane like this, anyhow. Wouldn't do him any good to fight his way to the cockpit. He certainly didn't want to fall out into whatever void was below the plane, either. His curiosity was outweighing his need to kill himself, for now.
After wrestling with evacuating his bladder on a ride as unsettling as a mechanical bull, the Spy was dragged back to his seat. By this time, the Sniper had regained consciousness. He was staring at the Spy, more confused than irritated. "Where'd ya go?"
The Spy replied tersely. "The restroom."
As the grey-faced man forced the Spy back into place, the Sniper nodded. "Roight. Could use one myself." He looked up towards the titan. "Pardon me, but do ya have a jar?"
The stone-cold attendant said nothing. He glared at the Spy, demanding clarification for the Sniper's strange request. The Spy groaned, then shook his head. "Just take him to ze back."
The Sniper barked and cussed as the titan wrenched him out of his cuffs and seat. He put up no greater fight than the Spy. The Frenchman laid back in his seat, closing his eyes. He could use more sleep. The smack to the back of his skull was throbbing, sending jolts of pain through the rest of his brain. He'd forgotten how irritating it was to get chopped in the back of the head. He slowed his breathing, trying to trick his body back into slumber.
He might have been successful, if it weren't for the viper at his ear. "Good morning, Monsieur Spy."
The Spy rolled his head to the left, then opened his eyes. An eerie green light shined off Marian Gray's face, coming up from the lights on the floor. It highlighted wrinkles that he hadn't seen in the dark atmosphere of the yakiniku restaurant last night. He closed his eyes once more, murmuring. "You had better have a good explanation for zis."
"I'd like to think of it as a job offer," Marian replied.
"I've never heard of an abduction being ze prelude to any good job," the Spy said.
Marian's voice wrapped itself around his brain. "There's a first time for everything. But, be patient. Let me give you a pitch." She waited a moment for any objections from the Spy. When they didn't come, she continued. "I need a qualified man for the position I have available. I need a quiet, highly-skilled world traveler. He must be quick with his hands and faster with his brain. Above everything, he must come and go undetected. If he performs this task to the best of his abilities, then I will reward him greatly."
"Part time, or permanent?" the Spy asked.
"It depends on how fast you perform the task," Marian stated. "Think quickly and correctly, and I'd imagine you'd be well on your way sometime next week. Be slow and unreliable? Well, that might complicate things."
The Spy smirked, but kept his eyes shut. "You are making a lot of assumptions about my actions. You assume zat I won't run off or kill myself at ze first opportunity."
"So quick to commit suicide? I hardly see how that would help you or your friend," Marian grinned, her voice coming out no louder than a purr. "Maybe I should give you incentives to take my offer."
"If you zink zat will help your case," the Spy responded.
A hand clasped on his thigh. The Spy grimaced, opening his eyes for just a moment. Long red talons clung to his left leg. She gave him a soft pat, like he was some kind of pet. He frowned, then closed his eyes again. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Marian's voice began slithering into his ears again. "I have three good reasons for you to take my job. The first of which, of course, is money. I guarantee that both you and your friend will earn a million dollars apiece."
Not that the Spy didn't make five million dollars a year as an average salary, but the offer was interesting. A million for a few weeks worth of work would be more than what TF Industries was shelling out to him. "Go on."
"The second offer? Well, I won't say that it's fame or immortality, but it's just as good." There was a pause in Marian's voice, just heavy enough to give weight to her words. "You will want it. No matter how little you think of your own life, I guarantee you will want to live to see what I am sending you to find. Then, if we are successful, you will want to use it for yourself."
Immortality? Now, that was a strange offer. The Spy had a level of invincibility as it was. As long as satellites hung in the sky and the respawn computer churned away with his data on Earth, he could be revived as many times as he'd like. It might be a problem someday when he wished to permanently die, of course, but he hadn't reached such a gloomy state. Not while he had things worth continuing his existence, anyway. "Zat is too vague to interest me. But, if you say so."
There was a cruel twist to Marian's voice. "As for the third reason…"
A strange, slick sound echoed in the Spy's ears. Cold rectangles dropped on his lap. He opened his eyes, ruffling through the items on his legs. They grew in size as his mouth fell. There was a gasp from over his shoulder as the Sniper glanced at the photos with him, fresh from his break. Both men thumbed through the small images, each one innocent but stinging. The Spy was struck speechless. In every image was a petite, dark haired woman. She was digging in the ground, planting seeds and patting them with a spade. She had been completely oblivious to whoever held the camera, merely going about her happy work. A pang hit the Spy in his heart.
They'd found out about her. About the Scout's mother.
"You leave her out of zis," the Spy hissed.
"I will. Of course, that's assuming if you both take my offer," Marian smiled. "I understand that a cute little split-level home just went up for sale on her street. I do hope she gets a good neighbor. Someone to help with her flowers. It would be a shame if someone less than trustworthy moved onto her block. She seems to like any fellow that rolls down her lane."
The Spy glanced upward, his teeth clenched. "You try, and I'll—"
"Do what you will, Monsieur. Cross me, and it won't matter what you'll do. It won't do her any good, at any rate," Marian growled back. Her expression softened, her demeanor brought back into its cage like a tamed tiger. "Stick with me, and you'll be able to go back to her. If you're very good, I'll even chip in on a wedding. What do you say to that?"
The Spy collected himself as well. "Keep her out of zis."
"Then, you are taking my offer?" Marian asked. The Spy did not keep her hanging for long. He nodded once, then tipped his fedora over his face. She grinned widely, proud of her catch, then turned to the lanky man still standing dumb-founded in the isle. "Well? What are you, then? Are you his best man, or are you his worst enemy?"
"Don't need ta twist me about on this one," the Sniper agreed. As he was shoved into his seat by the stone-faced attendant, he muttered, "Coulda had a better time if ya didn't go scarin' off our mates."
Marian flicked the Sniper on the nose, just to rustle the Australian. "There are doctors in every port. As for that other fellow of yours? Let's say I don't need the attention he'd attract. He's quite the noisy fellow, from what Helen tells me."
The Spy grimaced, still staring at the photos on his lap. "Zis is a personal matter. You shouldn't drag him into zis."
"I need a sharp pair of eyes and a skilled outdoorsman. One that can fight and thrive in any environment. He fits the bill perfectly," Marian said.
Scratching at the back of his neck, the Sniper frowned. "Where in the hell d'ya think we'll be going?"
"I don't know about our journey, but I do know our destination." Marian clapped a hand on the Spy's shoulder. She placed a finger under his chin, snapping his attention upward. Giving him a saccharine smile, she tilted her head. A slow, cold shiver travelled through the Spy's extremities. Any thoughts of protecting or rescuing the Scout's mother disappeared with Marian's wicked grin.
As she hissed, another shock jolted through the Spy's brain. "What do you gentlemen know about the Fountain of Youth?"
Thousands of miles away and unaware of the threat against his mother's life, the Scout wanted to take his own. He bashed his head against the wall, groaning in disgust. The goddamn Texan cowboy was singing in the bathroom again. It wasn't that he couldn't hold a tune. It was that he sang the most backwoods, rootinest tootinest crap. Today was even worse than usual. The Soldier was joining him, less singing and more grunting lyrics. It was just lucky for him that the Heavy didn't know the words, or—
He thought too soon. A bass line kicked in with the other two in the bathroom. God damn it.
As the Pyro began patting his back in sympathy, the phone in the kitchen began ringing. The Scout shuffled towards the sound, dragging his feet as the Soldier kicked out some lyrics about winking cows or some crap. He picked up the line, short with his greeting. "Yeah? What?"
"Scout? Is zat you?" Oh, it was the Medic. Good.
The Scout nodded, twisting the cord with one finger. "Yeah, it's me. 'Sup, ya quack?"
"Ze Demoman and I have had un mishap. Ve have lost ze Spy and ze Sniper. Have zey appeared on ze base?" the Medic asked.
"I ain't seen eidder 'a dose chucklenuts. Hang on the line, would ya? I'll go see if dat egghead can find 'em." The Scout passed off the phone to a dumbfounded Pyro. He stormed through the hall, then banged three times on the bathroom door. "Hey, Hardhat! Get out here!"
It wasn't long before the short Texan scurried out, his head half-shaved. "What is it?"
"Doc's on da phone. Sounds like he and da Demoman got separated from da Spy and Sniper. Have ya seen dem?" the Scout questioned the Engineer.
The Texan shook his head. "No, but give me a sec. Think I got somethin' that might work." With that, he trotted towards his work room. The Scout shrugged, then grimaced as the Soldier and the Heavy started belting out a new song. God, it was even worse than the first song. He scampered back to the kitchen, then yanked the phone away from the Pyro again.
"Ai fuffn't fun fawkin," the Pyro said.
"Yeah, ya were," the Scout argued. "Yo, Doc. Got Overalls on the case."
A soft sigh came over the phone. "Zank you, Scout. Now, if you could please give me back to ze Pyro? Ve were in ze middle of somezing when you so rudely—"
"Jumpin' Jehoshaphat's jimmies!"
All conversations and songs stopped as the Engineer ran from one end of the barracks to the other. He slammed into the kitchen, halting just fast enough to avoid hitting the walls. The Soldier and the Heavy followed him in, curious about the Texan's unusual behavior. He pulled the receiver out of the dumbfounded Scout's hands. "Doc, thanks fer callin'. Good ta know both the Demoman and you are doin' okay. Gonna have ta star sixty-nine and call ya back. Can ya stay put?"
"Vell, yes, but vat's vrong?" the Medic asked. "Are zey okay?"
The Engineer nodded. "Yeah, but I gotta get the Administrator on the line. This is a bad one."
"Engie?" The Soldier placed a hand on the Texan's shoulder. "What's wrong? Where are they?"
As the Engineer pressed down on the phone, cutting the Medic's words off, he began dialing so hard that the phone looked like it was going to crack. "If I've got their velocity calculated correctly, they're in one hell of a plane, and they're passing over the Mediterranean Sea."
"Oh my God," the Soldier dropped his jaw. "Where in the hell is that?"
Excellent. Things are heating up.
Although I think that one sentence would have been funnier as: After several hours strapped to a plane seat next to Sniper, his patience had evaporated.
You're an excellent writer.
Suspense going strong!
[Any chance of a spy/spy/Scout Ma threesome by the way?
You did mention in another fic that both gentlemen were seeing her ;P]
As much as I hate to point fingers and bitch at people, would it kill you, (the generalized 'you', in this case) to NOT beg for shipping in every single frigging fanfic that gets posted here? Whether or not the author likes the pairing, it's rude as hell to publicly badger them for your particular brand of fandom candy each time another story gets posted; it's the same as telling an artist, "Your house paintings are nice, but what I really want to see is paintings of horsies! That would make me totally wet."
Send them an e-mail or an /ask on their tumblr if you really want to see X and Y bumping uglies in their stories.
>>15 I'm agreeing with yang here! It's tiring how ALL the fanfics MUST have a pairing in them. Ever since I tried writing a story WITHOUT pairings I've come to notice how hard it is and how rewarding when it works. If the Author planned for a pairing, sure, throw it in, don't mind one bit.
But I wouldn't like some non-plotty romance going on in the sidebars. Anyway, just my 2 cents.
...Guys, you do realize that asking the question "Author, is this fic going to have X pairing in it?" is not the same thing as demanding that the author changes their vision to arbitrarily include pairing X in the story, right?
Are you seriously complaining because two posters asked a question? Claiming that that's the same as begging and badgering D.F. 38, or expecting that ALL the fanfics MUST have a pairing in them?
Yang, your example would be more like this: "I see that you started a new painting. Since you just started it, it still looks pretty vague and I can't tell what is going to be in it. Is it going to have horses? You did put a horse in another painting."
Sorry if I offended you.
I swear it were mere speculation -- e.g. if he could resolve this by getting the other spy to rescue her, or via any other method. I'm worried about a character I've only seen once in a set of photographs, alright?
I am complaining because I have seen multiple posters in multiple threads begging the author to wedge their favorite pairing into a story in that is already in progress.
And no, it's not the same as suggesting the author write a story with X pairing because D.F. is not asking for ideas for a new story or pairings, and there's nothing vague about the structure of what they have already begun... and even if I could, in the case of this story-in-progress, theoretically flail my hand in the air and go, "ooh! ooh! Demoman and Medic should totally be having sex even though it would make no sense given that they're busy with things like being shot and trying to locate their abducted friends!" it would be rude as hell to badger the author for such a thing, in my personal opinion.
And in my personal opinion, you are still confusing "asking a question" with "begging/requesting/suggesting."
Granted, I have made suggestions in other threads. I don't think there is anything even remotely wrong or rude with that, the Chan is all about feedback and feedback happens to include suggestions.
But in this thread, it was a question. So, in my personal opinion (hey, I can be passive-aggressive too!), your complaint is absurd.
And we'll just have to agree we disagree that there is nothing vague about the structure of the story. Obviously, it's going to be a pulpy action story, that much is certain. But even extremely pulpy action stories have the gangster kiss his dame, so just saying that it's a pulpy action story doesn't necessarily preclude a pairing. Which is why I asked.
Unfortunately, I fear I'm getting dangerously close to breaking the Chan's "NO Drama!" rule, so I'll stop replying now.
So much drama and lack of saging. Kinda depressing coming here to read an excellent story only to see people whining and complaining. Gosh.
I personally think that the readers should calm down and let the author work their magic.
Alright. Let's regroup, shall we?
For those of you interested in what I ship: I have posted a link to my Tumblr account. You can read it here: http://demonfox38.tumblr.com/post/20870422214/
For all other parties concerned: I'm okay. You're okay. We're okay. I understand the requests and speculation on what I'm shipping occur because I'm not explicit. Sometimes it's irritating, sometimes it's not. For me, the irritation derives from my hesitation to write about romantic topics. I do not feel qualified to discuss anything greater than puppy love or a mild, quiet moment in a relationship. That is primarily why most of my work ends up over here, as opposed to the Adult Fanfiction section.
I appreciate yang's defense of my work, particularly with a charged topic like romance, and I agree with Millia that posters have the right to make suggestions. I didn't interpret Baubletick's initial response as anything but mild speculation. At the very least, I didn't detect any forceful demands, which would have ticked me off. No pun intended.
I'm going to cuddle the hell out of all of you until you feel good again, then get back to writing. I like seeing you being passionate about both my work and the environment here. We've got a special little hole in the wall, and it's precisely because we care so damn much about it and each other.
Wow. I think I just went full hippie mode there.
I apologize for the drama. I was upset; open and free criticism and discussion of artworks is a topic I feel very, very strongly about, so the idea that one can't engage the author in a dialogue is my mental equivalent of pushing the bright red button.
But getting in a quarrel in somebody else's thread is like getting in a quarrel in somebody else's home... I imagine it must have been very frustrating to find your story hijacked by arguing. I'm sincerely sorry about that.
Wow, and we didn’t even get a mod in here...
I’m really liking the story. I am thoroughly intrigued. I really liked the beginning description of the characters, especially Demoman. I’ll be waiting for the next update!
Ooh, eagerly awaiting more of this! I love globe-trotting adventure stuff...
Wow. I think I just went full hippie mode there.
We won't tell Soldier, promise.
Now, it's about time we had an actual update!
"I don't know why I haven't fired you all by now."
The five men at the table flinched, having no immediate reply for the Administrator. It was rare that the team saw her outside of her office. Most of the time, they were summoned one by one for their occasional scolding. Today was a unique circumstance. She must have decided to save her energy and berate them all at once. It wasn't like they didn't understand her frustrations. Having two men stuck in a motel across state lines was bad enough. Having two more all but spirited away to the other side of the planet? That stuck in her sharp craw.
It was fortunate that the men had their own defense. While her assistant Miss Pauling was supposed to be taking notes over the meeting, she did chime into the conversation. "Perhaps this isn't the best way to start our discussion of the recent events."
The Administrator raised an eyebrow at her subordinate. For some reason, Miss Pauling was the only person who could talk back to her and live. "Very well. Let's try a new approach. Give me a reason to continue your employment. It had better be a good one."
For half a moment, it looked like the Engineer was about to speak. His introduction was stomped flat by Scout running at the mouth. "Oh! Oh! I know! It's because when I finally get into da major leagues, you'll wanna get a cut 'a my earnings. Also, because I'm the handsome one. Right? I'm totally right."
"No. I hired you so I could crush your moronic dreams," the Administrator refuted the Scout's speculations. "If I hired anyone based on their appearances, it was the half-ton Russian. By the way, sir, I would appreciate it if you paid attention to our meeting and not polish Natalia at the table."
"Natascha," the Heavy corrected the Administrator.
"Doesn't matter," the Administrator responded.
The Engineer finally broke into the conversation. "If I may?" He picked a manila envelope from the table, then passed it to the Administrator. As she tore into it and rifled through its contents, the Engineer began explaining his thoughts on their current predicament. "As ya can see, our Demoman and Medic are located about two hours outside 'a San Francisco. We can go swing by, pick 'em up, then hit the big city and see what happened ta the Spy and the Sniper's vehicles."
"It would be less trouble if we just had them scrapped. Or towed here, I suppose." The Administrator shot the Engineer a crooked look. "If you could convince your teammates to kill themselves, that would be a more efficient use of time."
The Engineer shook his head. "Probably don't want ta have mysterious disappearin' dead guys in the news anytime soon. Not ta mention havin' weird tech fallin' in yer competitors' hands. Ain't gonna be that much trouble ta get the Doc and the Scot."
The Administrator groaned. If there was anything she loathed, it was realizing when she had been wrong. "Fine, fine. Pick them up. Then what will you do to resolve our other little problem?"
"Actually…" The Engineer hesitated for a moment. There was an awkward crack in his throat as the Administrator's glare throttled his courage. "We were hopin' ya could tell us about what we're up against."
Crossing her arms, the Administrator threw her head back. So, they were getting smarter. It was rare to see a man asking for help, particularly men as stubborn as this lot. She smirked, chuckling to herself. Perhaps she didn't want to help them. After all, it was more fun to watch them squirm and bumble around. Then again, the team was already reduced to a pitiful number. Not helping them rescue their little teammates would result in some one-sided hat-handing. While this team's statistics were improving, they certainly didn't have the collective power to go against their fully-armed and versatile opponents. It could be fun to watch them get slaughtered. However, the amusement would only last for a few days.
Savoring their begging glances for a few moments, the Administrator finally spoke. "What do you want to know?"
"Let's start with this woman that Fritz went to meet," the Soldier demanded. "If you know yourself and you know your enemies, then—"
"Blah, blah, blah, Sun Tsu crap. What's up with dis dame?" the Scout interrupted. The Midwesterner shot him a burning glare, his face as red as fire. The Scout laughed it him, wondering when steam would start rolling out of his ears.
The Administrator sat back in her chair. "You mean Marian, I'm assuming. There's really not all that much to say. Compared to the industries under our little operation, her business is rather insignificant. Most of it is cosmetics. She also has a few chemical weapons circulating the market, but nothing to be a threat to us. The last I heard, she was beginning research and development with biological warfare products as well."
"Ai dun fee fer dad un prubrum," the Pyro said.
"No crap. You've got a mask," the Scout replied.
Getting the discussion back on track before the Scout and the Pyro could derail it any further, the Heavy raised his own questions. "Is rich woman? Has own staff? Then why take our men? Could hire others, I think."
The team nodded, agreeing with the Heavy's deductions. The Administrator smiled, but tried to hide it. Perhaps they weren't as dumb as she thought. "I would assume it is precisely because of the skills both men possess. Not to say that you don't all have your little role in this war, but they have some traits that overlap. They are efficient with resources, mildly cunning, patient, stealthy, able to keep their mouths shut—"
"Geez. Makin' me feel like a chump, here," the Scout grumbled.
Putting a hand on his chin, the Engineer's mind began to spin. Normally, the Spy and the Sniper had little to do with each other in combat. Their tasks kept them on opposite ends of the battlefield. Never the less, it was easy for him to see how the two could work together. The Sniper's eyes and aim were beyond compare, and his ability to thrive in any environment put weeds to shame. The Spy had a streak of deviousness, charm, and finesse that any petty agent could only wish for. He could disarm any man or machine. If those skills were used for nefarious purposes, he could go anywhere and take whatever he pleased.
"If I was gonna go black hat, the Spy would make fer a pretty good cat burglar. The Sniper'd be a fair lookout," the Engineer speculated.
The Heavy frowned. "Is no money in stealing cats. Stealing money? Perhaps. Gems or art, too."
"Oh, come on! If you're going to kidnap two well-trained assassins, might as well use them!" The Soldier jumped out of his chair, now rambling at the mouth. "Now, let's see. Who would a make-up lady kill? Other make-up ladies? Miss Pauling, help me out here."
Glancing up from her notes, Miss Pauling blushed. "Mister Doe, I really don't think a multi-millionaire would murder her competition. It tends to be bad for the marketing department."
The Scout shook his head. "Listen, guys. Let's go for da obvious reason. She wanted a hot date, and she had ta settle since I didn't go."
Slapping his hands against his forehead, the Engineer felt his temperature rise. "Now why in Sam Hill would ya take both 'a them fer somethin' like that?"
"I dunno. What's dat French word da Spy uses for dat? Ménage a—" the Scout began. The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the shared groan between the remaining team members and Miss Pauling.
The Administrator's face dropped into a low snarl. Obviously, this was getting nowhere. She stood up, shoving the chair beneath the table. She considered shipping the rest of the team off to a circus somewhere. She did not have the patience to be a ringmaster for these fools. Their banter stilled as she glared down at them, her eyes burning smoking holes into their faces. Miss Pauling's gaze dropped, hoping not to receive that same menacing expression.
"Gentlemen, let me make this clear. You are free to retrieve your men and your items. However, I will dock you for every day you are gone. Every match you are unable to participate in will result in an automatic win for your opponents. I can't guarantee you will keep your positions if you dawdle too long." The Administrator strode to the door, wrenching it back with a violent twist. "Don't bother coming back until you find every last one of those morons."
She slammed the door behind her as she marched back to her office. Miss Pauling sighed, then gathered her materials. She waved the boys off as she followed her boss. The Administrator was quiet as she strode upstairs, her hands folded behind her back and her face fixed in a sneer. Years ago, Miss Pauling would have run from such an angry expression. Working with her homicidal boss and a bunch of maniac mercenaries had dulled her reactions to such emotions. This was just how the Administrator expressed disappointment. Yes, it was overpowering, but that was how she was.
"I'll start making arrangements for them," Miss Pauling began. "Do our employers have a favored pilot or air line?"
A nasty glare came from over the Administrator's shoulder. "Miss Pauling, this is their problem."
Miss Pauling paused in her stride. She thought for a moment as the Administrator unlocked her office door. "I don't know what I should be doing in the meantime. Observing and maintaining these men is my job. What do you expect me to do when we won't have any—"
"Miss Pauling," the Administrator growled. Reflexively, the younger assistant dug her fingernails into her clipboard. "We have thousands of hours of footage to archive, millions of pages of documentation to review. That should keep you busy. Do you understand? You don't need to follow those morons around."
It had been a while since the Administrator had spoken to her like this. Her words kept Miss Pauling stunned long enough for her boss to enter her office and slam the door shut behind her. Despite her rude behavior, the Administrator was right. She had other things to do. It was silly to be concerned about that team's affairs, anyway. They were merciless killers, not children. If they wanted to come back to work, then they'd just have to—
A dark, chuckling voice escaped the Administrator's office. "Miss Pauling, what do I pay you to do?"
"To monitor and report all activities regarding the Reliable Excavation Demolition versus Builders League Union affairs," Miss Pauling replied.
Another smoky laugh rolled from beneath the door. "You had better go do that, then."
Miss Pauling nodded. She certainly would. As her shadow disappeared from being the door, the Administrator reached into her desk. She pulled out a package of thin cigarettes. After she selected one, she put it to her smiling lips and lit it. Nicotine always helped to temper her mood. She turned her attention to the wall of cameras behind her desk, once again monitoring the situation at hand. She couldn't help but snicker a few times to herself.
For such a good employee, Miss Pauling could be so dense sometimes.
Marian had to be a maniac. Well, that was already obvious to the Spy. Kidnapping mercenaries was not a typical activity for a sane businesswoman. But, now this nonsense about looking for the Fountain of Youth? Preposterous! Nothing like it could possibly exist. Not in the classical way it was described, at any rate. Searching for it was undoubtedly a waste of time and resources. She had to be burning money on something so ridiculous.
Still, there was little the Spy could do but entertain her. "You know what it is. We know what it is. Let's not beat around ze bush."
Marian shook her head, amused with the Spy's bluntness. "I take it that you're not very interested in my proposition."
"Moight as well just throw us in the bloody Bermuda Triangle, for all yer doin'," the Sniper grumbled.
"Gentlemen, please. Have some faith in me. I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of securing you if I didn't have something to go on." Marian began fishing more photos out of a nearby folder. She rifled through them, searching for one particular shot. As her overbearing assistant glared onwards, she finally produced the image she wanted. She threw it onto the Spy's lap, smirking as both men went to observe the photo.
To the Spy, the image did not mean a whole lot. The Sniper was instantly awestruck by it. He snatched it off his companion, his thumbs resting on the white trim as he gawked over it. It must have been a huge deal, the way that the Sniper's long face dropped. The photo was taken in some sort of desert. A gentle wind had blown sand into soft, lean dunes. Nestled in the sand was the opening to an underground building made out of tawny stone. A dilapidated statue was in front of the complex, his face scrubbed to the barest of details by the constant abrasive touch of the sands. Never-the-less, the Sniper recognized the statue's form immediately.
"That's Serapis, ain't it?" the Sniper asked. When Marian gave her nod, the Australian kept rattling. "Crikey. Then that's a Serapeum, ain't it?"
Marian smiled, amused with the Sniper's knowledge. "Not just any Serapeum. The photographer of this image tells me that it is Alexandria's Serapeum."
The Sniper's eyes widened. "Ya don't say!"
Cocking his head, the Spy gave the Sniper a confused glance. "Alexandria? Do you mean—"
"Egypt's Alexandria! Ya know? That city with the biggest bloody library in all 'a antiquity? This place was back-up storage for hundreds, maybe thousands 'a documents from there!" The Sniper kept shaking his head, denying what information was being shared. "But I thought this ol' place was all cleaned out in Nineteen Forty-Four! Not ta mention the complete roasting it got over a thousand years ago! What the hell could be left there, outside 'a some moldy old scraps 'a papyrus?"
"Before I kid—well, hired you two, I had another group of men in the area. The last I heard from them, they had collected intelligence about a map that could lead to the Fountain of Youth being hidden in the Serapeum." Marian sighed after the last sentence. "Of course, then they went off the radar. I'm assuming one of three things happened to them. Either they abandoned the mission, they were murdered, or—"
The Spy flatly interrupted. "Zey found something, and zey are not sharing ze information with you."
"Correct. For their sake, I'm hoping that they are dead. Here's one last photo for you, Monsieur." Marian tossed the Spy yet another picture. Flipping it around, the Spy observed the faces of several burly men. While none of them were comparable to the Heavy's bulk, most of them looked to be strong, corn-fed fellows. One of them must have been from that strange part of the United States that the Engineer sprang out of, complete with a star-spangled bandanna and cowboy's hat. Another looked like he could give Saxton Hale a run for his money. His moustache was beyond compare, his arms bursting out of his chest like thick trees, his clothes two sizes too small. The smallest by girth was a well-toned Japanese man in a white jacket, more focused on something in the background than the photographer. The last man—clearly the leader—was hogging the center of the shot. He appeared to be American as well, if that cocky grin on his face and the careless toss of a leather jacket over his shoulder had anything to say about his nationality.
The Spy nodded. "Four of zem, zen? Or should I count ze man behind ze camera?"
"Just the four." Marian pointed to the smarmy American in the middle of the photo. "This one responds to the nickname Toaster. Find him. If he or his men don't co-operate…"
"I am an assassin. You don't have to tell me what I need to do," the Spy said.
There was a grating beneath the floor of the plane. The landing gear was folding out. A bright smile lit up the businesswoman's face. "Oh, good! It sounds like we're here. Now, don't you two worry. I had my big friend here clean out your vehicles, so all of your possessions are on the plane."
The Sniper furrowed his brow. "But how did you—Oh. Probably just…took our keys."
"You'll get them back when you're done." Marian patted the Sniper on his head like he was some kind of obedient dog. "Now, get ready boys. You might want to find some sunscreen. After all, Alexandria's climate is very hard on skin like yours."
The Spy leaned back in his seat and sighed, feeling the pit of his stomach sink as the plane touched down.
I love how excited Sniper got when they were handed over the first photo. Spy was clueless, he hasn't really gone much into that kind of history, but Sniper? Oh man, dream come true and then some!
Like a kid at Christmas!
I keep getting Uncharted vibes from his, for some reason. You have no idea how much I love this.
Sorry for the late update. I planned to get this out earlier in the week.
Being kidnapped by a multi-millionaire did have its perks.
The Spy found that the suite both he and the Sniper were being held in was very comfortable. While it didn't have the best view, it did sit close enough to the sea to get a decent look at Bianchi Beach. Even if it was through an alleyway. The streets were crowded and noisy outside of the bow window, rich citizens and foreigners mingling. Their chatter did little to disturb the lounging men. After having their items hauled upstairs, they spent most of the day preparing their weapons and planning their search. Of course, having pleasing quarters and good food did quite a bit to bolster their spirits.
As the Spy continued his gazing over busy Agami, lovely sister to Alexandria, light breathing drifted from the bed. The Sniper had succumbed to his jet lag earlier in the afternoon. It was lucky that the Spy had more or less shoved him into the bathroom before the man had passed out. If there was one thing he couldn't tolerate, it was seeing someone dirty sleeping on clean sheets. Especially on fine Egyptian cotton. Perhaps he would have fallen asleep earlier as well, had his mind not been thinking about what was happening on the other side of the world.
The Spy turned from the window, walking to a nearby table and sofa. There, sitting on the glass table, was an ivory and gold telephone with a rotary dial. He sat down, his fingers tracing the back of the receiver. He should call her. If she could just get somewhere safer, somewhere away from Marian's eyes, then—
He clutched the phone, his fist clenching. No. These walls had ears. Even if Marian or her men didn't hear him, she'd know all the same. It would be hard to hide an international call on a receipt. As beautiful as this place was, he didn't want her here. Especially not dragged across the world by petty thugs. He didn't want that sassy, charming, gorgeous woman with him, not while there was another woman waiting for an opportunity to plunge a dagger into her back. He sighed, releasing the phone from his grasp. It would have to wait.
Shrugging off his jacket, the Spy was overcome with a heavy weight in his shoulders. He plucked his gloves off and threw them aside. His tie was the next to go. Unwinding the knot, he placed the silken strip of fabric over his gloves on the table. He undid his belt as well, the dark leather standing out sharply against his shed clothing. Walking with socked feet towards the bow window, he closed the thick curtains. Sleep would do him some good.
He sank into the mattress as darkness took him in. The people in the market disappeared, then the soft exhaling next to him. The cozy environment folded upwards, pulling him into the back of his mind. There, free from the noise and the stress, the Spy found a moment's reprieve. He smiled, a small white house already in the center of his thoughts. The scent of warm apple pie and molasses flooded his nostrils, followed by sweet, simple perfume. As he caught her silhouette in the window, the Spy smiled, drifting into peaceful slumber.
No matter how far apart they were, she would always be there.
When the sun had long since left the city by the Mediterranean Sea, it came to shine its last upon a sand-swept countryside in the southwestern portion of the United States. Its warmth was less appreciated by the curly-haired, chain-smoking woman heading the shift at a run-of-the-mill trucker's motel. It didn't help that she was several pounds past the point of being obese, nor that she was about to hit menopause at any moment. More irritating than those things were the insects swarming around the light fixtures. A sticky fly trap hung just a few inches above her head, a few unlucky corpses glued in place. Even their feeble deaths only sought to irritate her as she caught the last of her soaps for the day on a ratty old black-and-white screen. She flicked the bunny ears on the top once, making the receiving picture worse.
Of course, there had to be some kind of interruption. There always did.
She didn't think all that much of the vehicle that had stopped outside of the motel. To give it credit, it was the cleanest hippie van she'd ever seen. The strangest group of people poured out of it. A small woman had stepped outside of the shotgun seat. She was followed by a rather confused looking meathead in a M1 helmet. A stocky man in a hard hat followed them, anxiously fiddling with his overall straps as they walked towards the front desk. Behind them was a yappy little twig, some sort of bald strongman from the Moscow State Circus, and an eerie, fat little fellow in a gas mask. It didn't take long for the motel attendant to realize whom they were here for.
As they entered the motel, the bell over the door clanged. The attendant greeted them. "You here for that black Scottish Cyclops and that German whack-a-doodle?"
The young woman took the lead. "Yes, we are. Miss Pauling, by the way." She extended a hand to shake, which the attendant reluctantly took. "Are they well? Have they paid you?"
"Name's Edith. Wouldn't have let them stay here if they didn't cough up the cash. One of them was leaking all over the floors, but I don't smell a dead body, so I'm guessing they're fine," the attendant replied.
A flash of relief went over the Russian man's face. "Ah, good. We go see them."
"Knock yourselves out. Room one-o-four." Edith bobbed her head towards the strange duo's room. The five men behind Miss Pauling took off, all eager to see their friends once again. There was a loud cheer as they all struggled into the room, each man fussing over their comrades.
Miss Pauling smiled, watching as the team swarmed over the Demoman and the Medic. "We were very worried about them. It's lucky they found this place."
"I'm not sure how you did," Edith said.
Miss Pauling tipped her head back. "To make a long story short, computers."
Edith grimaced, one side of her mouth digging into her cheek. "Computers. Hmmph. What kinda rich folk are you?"
"They're contracted businessmen," Miss Pauling was quick with her response. It was more or less their public title. Going around and boasting about hiring mercenaries was a quick way to attract negative attention.
"Really? They must have some interesting work." Edith smirked. She leaned towards Miss Pauling, raising an eyebrow. "You know, they had some pretty bloody sheets this morning when I was cleaning up. Might have ruined them."
Miss Pauling sighed. "I'll pay for them, then. Sorry for the inconvenience."
Now Edith was very amused with Miss Pauling. "Such a kind woman. It's nice to see a young gal like you in charge. 'Bout time a woman had the feathered hat, for once."
Miss Pauling cocked her head. "Pardon me?"
"Honey, there's only two kinds of jobs that men like them can have. Either they're an international criminal ring, or you've got the market on exotic male escorts." Edith paused for a moment, tapping on an ashtray. "Not that I care either way, but if the cops should come looking for them—"
"They're neither." Miss Pauling turned away from the pushy motel attendant. She fished a few crinkled twenties out of her pants pocket, then placed them on the table. Before Edith could work any additional presidents out of her, she trotted into room one-o-four. She tapped on the door frame twice. "Come on, boys! We've got a plane to catch!"
Like a pack of well trained dogs, each man snapped to attention at her command. They followed her out of the motel, all holding formation. The German man was struggling to keep up, but that was more out of fatigue than pain. The Russian strongman was keeping him upright as they struggled towards the hippie van. They were a noisy tide of men, each one badgering the other about some random topic. That was not her concern any more. They were gone, and Edith was up sixty dollars.
All in all, not a bad bunch of strangers.
As the gossamer of night slipped over thriving Agami, the city burst into thousands of yellow lights. The sea glowed in their reflection, orange light melting into green foam. Palm fronds brushed the faces of the two mercenaries strolling down the street. Younger people giggled at the two, amused to find such handsome men so stoic at night. Others passed by them silently, no more concerned about the strange men than their own affairs. If the Spy had his choice, he'd rather be ignored.
The Spy tapped the Sniper on the shoulder. "Ready?"
"'Course, mate. Just scoutin' the rooftops." The Sniper squinted, looking for a good place to hide. He placed a palm on the butt of his rifle, giving the gun a soft pat.
"I cannot believe zat you have a permit for carrying zat zing out in public," the Spy said.
The Sniper shrugged. "Nobody's too afraid of a gun loike this in the middle of a big ol' city. Could get yanked outta my hands pretty quickly if I troied somethin'. Now, if someone was wanderin' the desert and came upon me with this? Then it moight get a little interestin'."
"Yes. Well, zen." The Spy nodded towards a ladder running up a complex. "Zere you go, Bushman. Keep quiet."
"Aye, mate," the Sniper agreed. He disappeared from the Spy's side into the throng of people. The Frenchman did have to give the Australian credit. He did blend well into the environment. The end of the Sniper's rifle bobbed in the crowd, melting into the shadows as its owner slipped towards the stars. Keeping his eyes low, the Spy made his way to the bazaar. It was likely that they'd only have one chance to do this.
The surging crowd around the Spy began to change. There were suddenly more redheads and blondes than he'd previously seen. He was getting into one of the tourist traps. No matter. Two of the men that Marian had sent the Spy and the Sniper after were American. If he knew anything about Americans from the three men on his team, the Spy knew that they often succumb to nostalgia, nationalism, and homesickness for their country. Even on their bases, the three would have sudden pangs for their respective environments. Usually, their cravings for home were satiated with foodstuffs. If the Spy was lucky, it would be a meal prepared from the Scout's mother's recipe book. Perhaps a pork rib oversaturated with barbeque sauce, if the Engineer was involved. If he was unlucky, then it was casserole or hot dishes or whatever that foul concoction of cereal and cream of mushroom soup was that the Soldier would make.
The odor of piping hot fish and beans filled the air, onions underlying each scent. Not quite right. The Spy kept peering into restaurant windows, looking for something that might be a little more appealing to American palates. Hot oil drifted from one establishment on the corner. Ah, fried foods. That was more like it. This particular restaurant was having a specialty on samak makli. The Spy peered into one of the windows, observing their particular recipe. No, not quite right. The fish still had heads. Americans certainly didn't like that. Not that the Spy could blame them.
It was when he turned around the corner that he found the exact restaurant he'd been seeking. The fish were headless, deep fried. Better yet, some of the diners had fried potatoes paired with their meal. Not that it was all that unusual in more urban areas, but it was advertised blatantly for foreigners. The Spy peered into this restaurant, careful not to dwell too long in front of the window.
Low and behold, there were two of Toaster's men there. He hadn't expected to find the Australian and the Japanese man here, however. Still, it had to be them. The odds were in his favor. The Spy pressed against an alley wall, his fingers at the golden watch on his wrist. He glanced upwards, noting the silhouette of a slouch hat in the sky. Good. For such a laid-back man, the Sniper could keep up with some speed when necessary. The Spy flicked one button on his wristwatch, then faded into the night.
The Frenchman slipped into the restaurant. He slunk past waiters and patrons alike, pausing only to let his watch recharge. The closer he got to his targets, the more confident he became. Of the two men, the Australian was the loudest by far. He was telling some sort of tall tale involving an anaconda and a well endowed blonde woman. It was hard to determine whether or not he was genuinely talking about a snake or not. With Australians, dirty jokes and hunting stories sounded a lot alike.
Taking a seat next to the Japanese man, the Spy folded his hands. There was always the amusing act of figuring out how to scare his target. As always, the opportunity presented itself. A corpulent couple was standing to the right of the Spy, hiding his sneaky transition into visibility. Before that, though, he helped himself to a fried potato on the Australian's plate. Both men paled as the starch floated in mid air, moving by nothing more than invisible forces.
The Spy swallowed it as he reappeared. "Gentlemen."
"Bloody goddamn spook!" the Australian exclaimed.
The Spy smiled. "Zat is what my enemies call me, oui. But, I zink we can be on better terms zan zat."
"Good trick," the Japanese man said succinctly. "Do not do that again, please."
"I will not. But first, we need to talk." The Spy leaned forward, relaxed in his intimidation. "You know, I was kidnapped at gunpoint by some goons yesterday. I admit, not one of my proudest moments. Still, I have you two to zank. Well, you two, and your ozzer companions."
The Australian rolled his eyes. "God damn it. Couldn't that woman wait two bloody weeks?"
The Spy shook his head. "Apparently not. At any rate, I was brought to deal wiz you. Now, I do not know what my kidnapper wants wiz you, but I know zat it will be very difficult for me to get home wizzout her cooperation. So, if you would help me—"
"Ah. That is difficult," the Japanese man chimed in.
Crossing his arms, the Australian growled. "Good sob story. Still, I don't see why either myself or my mate here should just hop to on yer word. Ya've got a good trick there, poppin' outta thin air. Bit too fancy of a dresser ta be of any threat, though. Probably bitch if ya ever did get blood on yer suit."
"Merde. Do you Australians all have ze same insults?" the Spy asked.
The Australian snorted. He scratched his mustache. "All? What, ya've got a bloke in yer pocket? 'Nother guy ta sneak up on my left?"
The Japanese man caught onto the Spy's threat faster than his Australian friend. "Ah, is that so? Then, he is here." Opening his palm, the man caught a beam of light in his hand. He clenched it twice, amused with the color. The Spy had to give the man credit. Even with a laser sight pointed at his hand, the Japanese man was more amused than afraid.
"What kinda cheatin', puny excuse for a—" The Australian man shook his head. Even if he could punch the smart ass across the table to death, that rifleman would have at least ten seconds to pull the trigger on him. Even a meathead like him couldn't withstand a round from a gun like that. "Fine, fine. Ya've got us."
"I'm glad we can come to an agreement. I will not trouble you for very long." The Spy extended his hand, "My friends call me ze Spy."
The Australian sniffled once, then extended his hand. "Fake names, too? Suits me. You can call me Boomer. We call this guy Sensei on account 'a his business."
The Spy shook both of their hands. "I would offer to pay, but I do not believe zey would take my checks."
"Ya can repay me by lettin' me kick yer ass later. That, and that skulky bastard friend that ya call Australian." Boomer retracted his hand. "Gonna warn ya, though. Marian's gonna be moighty disappointed with what ya get from us. Don't be surprised if she bites ya again."
The two men finished their meal, then paid and followed the Spy outside. The Frenchman signaled for his companion to come down from the rooftops. A few blocks later, the Sniper was on the ground once more. Neither man was intimidated with him. If anything, the Spy thought Boomer was going to die from his sides splitting open. "Ya kiddin' me? What're ya, a cockie?"
"Oy! It's a fair job. Keeps my parents fed," the Sniper barked.
Boomer grabbed the Sniper by his arm. "I can tell, mate. Haven't pushed the plow fer a bit, though. Gettin' kinda stringy. On a diet with the fruit in the suit?"
The Spy and Sensei sighed at the same time. The Japanese man was frustrated, lost in a blaze of accents. The Spy felt a slow dread pass through his body. It was bad enough dealing with one Australian. Having two together was like throwing two Siamese fighting fish into a bowl. Compounding that with two Americans? It was going to be some sort of testosterone sparring match. He was going to be lucky if they didn't all end up drunk or dead by the end of this little hunt.
It didn't take long for Boomer and Sensei to lead their ambushers back to their hidey hole. Their residence was not as well furbished as the posh palace where Marian was keeping the Spy and the Sniper. It was functional, at any rate. Two bedrooms, four beds, one bath, a kitchen, a living room. Even a television. Not too bad. The Spy wondered if Marian had been footing the bill for this place, too.
A chubby hand waved from behind the couch. Turning around, a portly Southerner with heavy jowls greeted his friends and their two new acquaintances. "Didn't think you two would be back so early. Not quite the kinda dates you usually bring back, either."
"Bite me, cowboy." Boomer shoved the Spy and the Sniper to the front. "Buckaroo, meet Marian's latest boy toys."
Buckaroo sighed. "That gal ain't got a lick 'a patience." He called towards the other room. "Toaster! Git yer buns in here! We've got company."
A gruff voice came from the other room. "This had better be goddamn good." An American with scruffy bangs and a leather jacket strode forward. He pulled a face at the sight of the Sniper and the Spy. "Goddamnit, you two. What's up with these guys?"
"Business, boss," Sensei replied. "They were hired by Miss Marian. They are new friends, I think."
The Spy thought that was an interesting choice of words.
Sniper looks like a farmer?! - how? ;P
Probably a reference to the fact that most Australians are musclebound and moustache'd.
When a story is written well enough, I always find myself feeling sort of displaced and disappointed when I get to the end of a vignette, and find myself back in front of a computer in a plain little room.
Can't wait for more!
Back into the den of thieves we go.
"So, let me get this straight. You two morons work out in the middle of a goddamn desert, fighting other morons for five mil a year. Our friend Marian thinks you're good enough to find the same leaky faucet that we're after. Apparently not good enough to avoid walking into a trap, but I'll let that slide. She kidnaps you, then sends off on the same hair-brained assignment that she hired us for. Does that cover it?"
The Spy nodded. "Oui."
Toaster raised a thick , angled eyebrow. "And what the hell are we supposed to do if you get her this information? I doubt she'll need two sets of hunters, and I ain't looking forward to seeing her version of a pink slip."
"Perhaps zat is something you should have considered before you blew her off," the Spy replied.
Toaster grumbled, then kicked his feet up on the chipped table in the center of the living room. His socks were past the point of saving, patched several times over on the heel but cut open at the top to let his big toes through. Both the Sniper and Sensei sat tilted away from his feet. Buckaroo had melted into the couch, throwing his arms around both men sitting on opposing edges. Boomer stood with a firm frown affixed to his face, one hand just behind the back of the Spy's chair. He grimaced, but paid no mind to the massive Australian. This alternate group of expert treasure hunters wasn't quite as intimidating or professional as they pretended to be. That would be an easy point for the Spy to attack.
All things considered, Buckaroo had warmed up to the two foreign invaders. He wrapped a meaty arm around the Sniper's shoulders, giving him a good shake. "Now, now. I know I'm not in any kind 'a position to make a plea, but trust me. We didn't abandon our gentle benefactor. We just had a slight malfunction."
"Malfunction? Yer makin' it sound like some bloody machine broke down!" The Sniper squirmed, trying to get out of Buckaroo's grasp. It didn't work.
"Ah, well. This is true, I am afraid." Sensei drew his eyebrows down. His face flashed a bright shade of red. "Once, we attempted entry into the Serapeum of Alexandria. It did not go well. We—well, Boomer, to be honest—"
Before Sensei could finish his sentence, Boomer interrupted. "Oy! It was not my fault that the damn piece of crap got stuck!"
"I-I did not mean to say that you had planned such a thing! Pardon me," Sensei stammered. "It's just that…well, it was you that did it."
"What did he break?" the Spy asked.
An awkward half-snort, half-laugh came from Toaster. "He jammed the damn key in the vault door! Now, we can't even turn the thing. Can't get it back out, either. We're screwed."
The Sniper tilted his head, the bill of his crooked hat hitting Buckaroo's shoulder. "Doesn't seem like a bad problem. Long as you can still get the door open, 'a course."
"Well, that's the second problem. We can't figure out how to get the door open." Buckaroo frowned, laugh lines piling around his plentiful cheeks. "No hinges. No knob. No sliders. No nothin'."
Boomer grumbled. He shot a dark glance at Buckaroo. "It wouldn't be a problem if ya'd unbunch yer damn panties. It can't be that hard to get some explosives or a sledgehammer or somethin' and bust clean through it!"
Buckaroo's face screwed up. "And then what? We destroy documents over a millennia old just because yer impatient? Hell, not even Toaster wants ta do that, and any building he walks into always blows up!"
Toaster interrupted. "Hey, hey! Not every one! Just that one prison. And that boat. I guess there was that bank, too."
"Also, the museum," Sensei said.
"Well, I didn't plan on setting that on fire. Just kinda happened," Toaster shrugged.
The Spy slapped his left hand against his head. No wonder these nincompoops hadn't secured that document in the serapeum yet. They bickered like children. Not to say that his team was innocent when it came to forming plans or arguing, but they would eventually decide on doing something. These four men would keep going around and around, never really settling on an idea that would work for them. Hell, it didn't even seem like they had studied the obfuscating door all that much. He rifled for a cigarette in his pocket, then found his lighter and set the tip ablaze.
He drew one breath, then exhaled a ring of smoke. "Gentlemen, do you not have a lock picker among you?"
Sensei cocked his head, unfamiliar with the term. Toaster answered for them. "No. Kinda hard to look for a guy to open a two-thousand year old locked door. Especially one that'll keep his mouth shut about what's behind it."
"Then, mes amis, you are in luck. I am a man who cannot do anyzing but help you, and I am not one with loose lips. I think you'll find my services useful," the Spy smiled.
Boomer clicked his tongue. "If ya say so. What about Twiggy 'ere? Does he do anythin' fer ya, or does he just stand about, lookin' pretty?"
There was a snarl in the Sniper's teeth. He glanced at the Spy, then swallowed his pride and settled down. The Spy gave him a smile, then spoke for the two of them. "He won't do anyzing zat would endanger eizzer of our lives. We are teammates, after all. We work togezzer."
"Ain't that cute." Toaster flipped his feet off the table. He sat upright, leaning forward. "Well then. I don't see any reason to throw you two out on your asses yet. Tell you what. It's too damn cold to march out tonight. You two can sleep on these couches here, and we'll set out in the morning."
The Sniper pulled a face. "Well, we do have a room of our own a couple 'a blocks—"
"Nah, mate. Gotta keep a close eye on you two. Make sure you don't run off and tell our mutual employer about our little mishap." Boomer strode behind the Sniper. He placed a hand on his shoulder, giving the Sniper a tight squeeze. "I've got ta look after my mates, too."
Giving the Spy another glance, the Sniper sighed. "Hell, I'm used ta sleepin' in a van. Suites me foine."
"Atta boy." Buckaroo gave the Sniper a few pats. "See? Friends already."
"I suppose," the Spy murmured. It was hard to call them friends when they were getting handsy with the only man in miles that would watch over him.
Sensei perked up. "Ah! If that is so, then perhaps we share drinks? Cigarettes?"
The Spy sighed, but agreed. He could use some alcohol.
What should have been a majestic sight on that bright morning brought nothing but a foreign, misplaced nostalgia to the Sniper. From the photos that he and the Spy had seen, he thought he was going to trek out into the middle of the desert to find their destination. This was not the case. The ruins of Alexandria's serapeum lay in a dusty splotch in the middle of the city. Really, the group of six men had taken longer to fetch a ride than to walk up to the complex. He was hoping to stretch his legs a bit.
There was not much left of the serapeum. Thousands of years and hundreds of warriors had torn the structure down. Little remained of the original building. A tall column reigned over the ruin with a strong, overbearing form. Below it were holes in the ground. There was evidence that previous excavators had been on the location. Brushes and chisels were lost, tossed aside by careless men. The Sniper picked one of the tools up, muttering to himself. It was bad enough that he wasn't going to go roaming in the open landscape. The least the previous men could have done was give him the illusion of adventure.
Toaster whistled, bringing the group together. "Over here."
The scruffy American and the pensive Japanese man led the way. The Sniper and the Spy were forced ahead next, flanked by the burly Australian and the plump American. The Spy looked over his shoulder, but said nothing. It was to make sure that they couldn't escape. Not that he couldn't outfox them with his tools and trinkets. It was fine. Just let them have their little mirage of safety for now. If they tried to hold him back, he could run. Hell, he could probably finish them off. The risk was what they'd do to the very visible Sniper. Even his guile and stubbornness could only do so much against the four of them teaming up against him.
Not to mention what might happen to the Scout's mother, should he fail Marian.
"It's not much to look at," the Spy commented.
"Used ta be the basement for the annex ta the Library of Alexandria." Buckaroo nodded, agreeing with the Spy. "A basement's just a basement, though."
Sensei smiled, lost in some poetic longing. "It would have been good to study here, wouldn't it? In old times, it was the only place for studying surgery. Cutting men, for the Greeks? Dame. No good. Egyptians, though? They did not care. Cut all dead men! It did not matter. Much was learned here."
Sniper murmured to the Spy. "He's beginnin' ta sound like our quack."
There was another click from the front of the group. Toaster tipped his head to the left. "Here we go, boys. Have at it."
The Spy frowned. This door was wrong. Everything else in the serapeum had been reduced to rubble. The floors were coated with a generous portion of sand. Most of the walls retained some sharpness, but some had been rubbed smooth by the winds stumbling below the surface of the city. Everything was rough and primitive compared to this door. What stood in front of him was a well-cut, neatly patterned entrance. A sprawling tree covered it. Circular fruit hung from the tree's branches. To the right of the door was another circle. It was patterned with the same sprawling tree. Part of its face and some of the blade below had been cracked. It must have been the key.
"Zis is your work, non?" the Spy asked Boomer.
Boomer frowned. "Aye. Ya don't have ta rub it in."
The Spy chuckled. "I should say not. It's packed in tight enough as is."
Placing one hand on the door, the Spy began fiddling with the key. True to the men's word, it was stuck fast. He drew his balisong. Fiddling with the bite handle, he pulled out the latch for the weapon. He pressed it against the edge of the lock, tracing around it. He was able to wriggle under some parts of the lock. It was no good. The key was crumbling as he pulled against it. The whole thing was threatening to collapse into debris and dust.
"Oy, mate. Just a tic," the Sniper interrupted the Spy.
The Spy lifted an eyebrow. "Yes?"
The Sniper brought his hand to the lock. It was large enough to fit into his palm comfortably. Dragging his hand across the door, he stopped along one of the fruits in the tree. He dug his fingernails into the fruit. With a little effort, it popped off. Below the fruit laid another long forgotten keyhole.
"No bloody way!" Boomer nudged the Sniper aside. He took his hands to the rest of the fruit, pulling against each one. More keyholes appeared. He ripped them apart, his moustache curling in frustration and the heat. By the time he and the Sniper were done, four additional keyholes had appeared.
Toaster wiped his face. "Son of a bitch! Four more? We busted our asses to get the one damn key we got!"
"Do not panic," the Spy said. He turned to the Sniper. "May I have zat tool you found?"
The Sniper nodded, then picked the narrow chisel out of his pocket. Leaning into the door, the Spy took the chisel and began gently probing the first lock. As peculiar as this door was, the locks were simple enough. They weren't small enough to be seriously damaged by his prodding. He took his sweet time, breathing slowly as he listened for clicking from inside the door. As soon as the lock had tumbled, he moved to the next keyhole over. No one dared to make a peep until he pulled from the final lock. When it fell to the Spy's deft fingers, there was a burst of dust and sand.
The door fell into a gap below it, taking the chisel with it as the Spy let go. It snapped the tool, ruining yet another lock. Nobody seemed too upset about that, though.
The Sniper rubbed the back of his neck. "Ya know, ya can still surprise me, Spook."
The Spy dusted his hands. "It's my job."
Toaster was the first one into the room behind the fallen door. He gave a huge whoop, then coughed. Whipping his jacket off, he fanned the dust out of the room. The rest of the group followed him in as soon as he threw his flashlight into a dirty torch bearer. It stunk of earth and dust, sand pooling around their ankles. Tables were lopsided, the legs broken away. Chairs had all but collapsed into themselves. There was no sign of insect invasion, nor of moisture having seeped in. That was all the better for the treasure that lay inside.
Shelves had been carved into the stone walls. They were much like the ones that adorned the halls outside of this room. Unlike them, though, they held bound scrolls. Toaster whipped one out of the alcove, then threw it open on the straightest table he could find. Dust rolled off the map. It was faded, the ink barely legible in the dim light.
"This ain't it." Toaster rolled the map up, then opened the next. "Dammit. Nope."
Going through Toaster's first discarded scroll, the Sniper asked, "What're ya lookin' for, mate?"
"I'll know it when I see it," Toaster mumbled.
Buckaroo shook his head. "No, ya won't. Ya can't read Greek or Egyptian. Yer just looking fer a big red circle. Here, give me those."
"Hey, pal. I'll buy that you can read Greek, but Egyptian? Didn't think they taught that in the seminary." Toaster crossed his arms, sulking. "'Course, they didn't teach about neckin' either, but you managed to get yourself kicked out for that, didn't you?"
Buckaroo shrugged. "What can I say? Liked studyin' Bernice as much as I liked studyin' the Bible. Shame 'bout that husband she neglected ta mention, though…"
"If ya don't moind." The Sniper nudged his way towards another shelf. Gently unfurling a scroll, he sighed. "Nope. Not a map."
"Hold on." Buckaroo scuttled to his side. A bright smile lit up his face. "Gettin' closer. Keep lookin'."
The Spy wandered over to the opened scroll that Buckaroo was studying. He frowned. "What is zis? A story?"
"Yessir. Kind of surprised to find it here. 'Course, maybe it was put here with the door. Thought maybe the Moors woulda broken in 'round the sixth century, but maybe they had somethin' else on their minds." Buckaroo shrugged, rambling at the mouth. "Anyway. This here's the beginnin' of a story 'bout a man named Alexander the Great. Maybe ya've heard about him."
The Spy smirked. "I zink zere was some kind of city named after him, non?"
Their banter was interrupted by a soft murmur from the Sniper, "…Land 'a Darkness?"
All five men turned to look at the Sniper. He was peering into a small scroll, chewing on his lip as he studied its contents. Toaster scrambled next to the skinny Australian. His eyes went wide. The rest of his companions were quick to follow. The Spy was the last to observe this discovery. It was another map. The location in the center of the map appeared to be the coastline of a Middle-Eastern country. He could see Egypt's coastline towards the bottom of the map. In all honesty, he was not familiar with the region he was viewing. A faded red dot marked a location in the strange land, snuggled up against a chain of mountains.
"What is zat?" the Spy asked.
Toaster beamed. "Our destination."
The Spy shook his head. "I don't follow."
"There's a legend about Alexander the Great. Now, put as much stock into it as ya want, but hear me out." Buckaroo clapped a hand on the Spy's shoulder. "They say that the good ol' emperor went out ta this place called the Land 'a Darkness. Now, he wandered 'round there for a good bit 'a time 'till his servant brought him ta a big ol' fountain. After he drank from that, people say he became invincible. If there was ever a spot ta look for the Fountain of Youth, I'd reckon it'd have ta be 'round there."
"Zat is nonsense! I zought Alexander died of a fever," the Spy exclaimed.
Toaster shrugged. "Hey. If you're gonna start somewhere, might as well start with something real. None of that crap about Ponce de León."
The Spy and the Sniper shook their heads. Now they realized what kind of crazy men they were dealing with. To them, a Spanish explorer in the Florida Everglades searching for the Fountain of Youth was foolish, but a Greek conqueror finding the same monument in some nonsensical Land of Darkness seemed legitimate. Not that either option was more grounded in reality than the other. Granted, they had just found some strange documents, but that might have just been luck or sailors screwing around with the scholars of Alexandria.
"Well, now." Boomer's voice rumbled next to the two men. "You two blokes did a fine job. Say hi ta Marian for us."
"Wait. Aren't ya—" The Sniper's question was cut off by a sharp uppercut to his jaw. He crumbled to the floor as Toaster snatched the scroll from his hands. The Spy whipped his head around, ducking another clobbering blow by mere inches. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do about the punch to his solar plexus. Boomer certainly lived up to his name. The Spy stumbled over the table, collapsing over discarded scrolls and the Sniper's legs.
Darkness and sneers buried the two men beneath the sands of Alexandria.
Hi, I'm the same dude who complained about shipping ruining the story at the beginning of the thread.
I was referring to the homosexual team-shipping that plagues this site like a horde of locusts, not canon like Ma/Spy (though Ma dating both spies is shipping, I'll admit).
You've got a very, VERY nice story here and I'd very much like to read more. Keep on truckin'.
Sorry for the slow update. I meant to get this out yesterday, but I was being an emotional little dink.
But, hey! We finally get a little action, for once.
Failure was a heavy burden to carry. The Sniper wasn't easy to haul around, either.
It was hard to pinpoint why the Spy was disheartened. He had several reasons to fret, but he found them mostly lacking. His captivity had allowed him some mobility. He and the Sniper had done as their kidnapper demanded. Hell, they even had a lead for their next location. It didn't make much sense to him, but they had a name for their destination. Still, the weight on his shoulder and the heaviness in his chest dragged him down. He could run. Even with the Sniper being no more conscious than a sack of potatoes, he could escape to the nearest airport. There was no saying how he'd ever get home before Marian noticed he was gone or what she could do to his Bostonian paramour if he ran away.
He had no choice but to return to his gilded cage in the hotel.
Thankfully, the establishment had an elevator. He was able to get to his room without too much fuss. Some men gave him strange looks as he passed through the halls, but he gave them no attention. The only stimulus from outside of his brain that he paid attention to was the soft groan that came from his teammate. The Spy smiled, despite himself. At least he wasn't so alone anymore.
"Thass an awful rug," the Sniper slurred.
The Spy shrugged the Sniper off his shoulder. "I believe you owe me one, Bushman."
Taking a moment to regain his balance, the Sniper stopped. He placed his hands on his back, then arched backwards and cracked it. "Did—did ya get 'em?" he asked.
"No. Zhey incapacitated me as well." The Spy chuckled to himself. "Not our finest moment, I'm afraid."
The Sniper grimaced. He reached up to fuss with his hat, only to find it missing. He pulled a face as he found it on top of the Spy's head. Yanking it off the Spy, the Sniper continued their conversation. "We'll just have ta pay 'em back. We know where they live, after all."
"I save your foul hat from being lost on zhe street, and you do not zhank me?" The Spy feigned a wound, but continued on with the topic at hand. "Zhey must have left as soon as zhey could. I doubt we would find zhem in zheir former abode. Of course, we could have pursued zhem, but I had ozzer issues at hand. Namely, a razzer unconscious teammate…"
"Oy! You take a blow ta the jaw 'n see how well ya hold up." The Sniper massaged his jaw. "Crikey. Moight as well just had the Heavy work me over."
That brought another chortle out of the Spy. It was surprising how just having someone to talk to pulled him out of his slump. "All zhe same. I appreciate your continued efforts in not getting yourself killed. I might get more done, but frankly, it would be quite lonesome wizzout some companionship."
"Anythin' fer ya, Spy." A goofy but genuine smile spread its way across the Sniper's face. "Anyway. How hard d'ya suppose Marian's gonna beat us fer losin' that map to those buncha kooks?"
"You lost the map?"
The Sniper and the Spy froze just outside of their hotel room. A cold chill ran down their backs as they turned to address their mutual kidnapper. Marian looked like she hadn't woken up all that long ago. Her make-up was finished, but her hair was half curled, half flat. Her scowl was striking, dark red lips well defined against perfect teeth. Both men turned their backs to their hotel room door, lest their asses be chewed off.
"Zhere was a minor scuffle between your former employees and ourselves. Nozzing to be concerned about," the Spy bluffed. He spoke softly, his voice attempting to smooth over her ruffled feathers. "It may not be what you like, but we did do as you asked and discovered zheir current residence. If it is any consolation—"
A manicured hand slammed into the wall next to the Spy's hand. "Any consolation? Dammit, you two! I wanted you to find those morons so you could get into the serapeum and get that map! I'm surprised you didn't just roll it up and make a cigar out of it, for all the help you're being!"
The Sniper pushed forward from the hotel door. "Now, wait a moment, Miss Grey. I know where they're goin'. If we hurry, we can beat them to the punch."
"If you hurry, you two can go finish them off properly and get me that damn map!" Marian spat.
The Spy stepped away from the door, placing some space between Marian and his teammate. "Zhere is no point in chasing after zhem. Zhey incapacitated both zhe Sniper and myself. We were both out for a few hours. Zhey could very well be out of zhe city by now. We need to focus on planning zhe course to our next destination."
Crossing her arms, Marian stepped back from the two men. She cocked the curled side of her head, giving both of them a mischievous look. "Fine then. Tell me, my fine gentlemen. Where are we to go next?"
The Sniper gave the Spy a wary look. He nodded, encouraging his teammate to speak. Clearing his throat, the Sniper replied, "It's called the Land 'a Darkness."
A dreadful pause settled over them as Marian furrowed her eyebrows. For as ill tempered and angry as she had been with them before, she was now quiet. Her small nose twitched once. Both men took a step back, suddenly concerned with where her massive bodyguards were. Certainly, they could escape from the petite business woman if she decided to scratch their eyes out. Getting past her other men would be like trying to go over the Iron Curtain.
"Tell me more about this Land of Darkness," Marian said.
"It's the name of a forest in Abkhaz ASSR. Used ta be known as Abkhazia. Not too far from here, really. North 'a Turkey 'n east 'a the Black Sea," the Sniper explained.
Marian lifted her head. "ASSR? You don't mean—"
The Sniper nodded. "That's right. It's a soviet territory."
"Damn! That's the last thing I need! Communists with the water of life!" Marian spat.
Both the Spy and the Sniper kept quiet on the subject. It probably was better for her not to know that they worked with a former resident of the Soviet Union. The Spy attempted to calm her down. "It will be fine, assuming we can sneak into zhe country. I know some Russian. We can bluff our way zhrough."
Marian shook her head. "I'm not worried about that. Have you seen a Russian woman? That's all we need! Slavics with a liquid that will make them beautiful forever! Might as well just have the damn spring in Sweden!"
"Most people would be concerned about that eternal life bit, I'd imagine," the Sniper said.
"Most people aren't trying to make a living selling high-end cosmetics, either," Marian retorted. She paced back and forth, massaging her temples. "Fantastic. This is just what I needed."
The Spy halted Marian's pacing. He placed his arms onto her shoulders. "Now, look. We can do zhis. I am an expert in sneaking people in and out of places undetected. Zhe Sniper is a master navigator and outdoorsman. You have made it so zhat we have no choice but to help you. So, we shall. Before we can do zhat, zhough, we need supplies. I am assuming you can get zhat."
Marian bit her lip, nodding. "Yes, of course. I'll send out an order to prepare my plane. It shouldn't be hard to find an unscrupulous pilot to get us into the country. I've got the funds to prepare us. This should be simple."
"Zhere you go," the Spy smiled.
She pulled away from the Spy, shrugging his hands away. "All right, gentlemen. I've got work to do. Now, I'll have Bruno and Cliff keep an eye on you while I prepare our next excursion. Get yourselves read to go."
"Who?" the Sniper asked. He glanced down the hall and got his answer. The stone-faced man from the plane and a companion came down the hall. Both of them were as solid and stoic as ever. He backed towards their hotel room, not in the mood to deal with any other large men. His jaw was smarting enough as it was.
"Have fun, boys," Marian cheerfully waved at them. "I'd shave if I were you. You're looking a little scruffy."
In a seedy airport on the outskirts of Alexandria, four men of questionable character sat outside their plane terminal and watched eight strange people in the next gate over. The group looked like they had just landed. Where they had come from, though? That was the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Half of them were American, so it was most likely that they had just come from the United States. No duh. The other half? One had to be some kind of top-secret Soviet Union experiment in building the world's strongest man. The second looked like he'd just jumped off the same mountain that Julie Andrews had been on. God only knows what unusual turn of events spawned the black Scottish man, but something terrible must have happened to him to lose that eye. As for the fourth? No clue. It couldn't have been a sane fellow, though. Nobody stomped around Egypt in an asbestos suit save for the nutters.
"What the hell brought them together?" Toaster asked.
Buckaroo scratched his double chins. "I dunno. New musical group?"
"Buncha loons, if I ever saw some," Boomer muttered.
Sensei agreed with his friend. "Yes. She seems nice, though." He tilted his head towards the little woman with black-blue hair. For being the smallest of them all, she did a nice job in organizing them. She only served to confuse them even more. Still, she was cute as a button. It was amusing to watch how the seven men followed her around like confused puppies.
Toaster grinned. "Man. I don't know what they do, but I gotta get a job like that." His companions nodded in agreement.
The four men had been stuck in their terminal for a few hours. Taking amusement out of their surroundings was the only way to fight off boredom. It hadn't taken them long to vacate their previous residence. With any luck, they'd be on their way to the fabled Land of Darkness by the afternoon. Of course, it didn't help that they'd hired the flightiest pilot out of the shed. There wasn't much they could do, though. It was rare to find anybody that would want to smuggle a group of rugged, undocumented foreigners into soviet territory. They had to take what they could get.
Just as Toaster considered stirring up some trouble with the eye-glassed cutie, the group's pilot appeared. He was an old, fat little man with a well trimmed and graying mustache. His nose was as large as a half-dollar coin, his eyebrows filled with wayward, curled hairs. He greeted his passengers with a hearty laugh and a slap to their backs.
"Sekani, you bastard! I was starting to think you'd showed up to work drunk again," Toaster roared.
Sekani rumbled with a low, pleasing laugh. "My American friend, you are so impatient! You think you could give your faithful pilot a break. There was business to be done!"
"Business, huh? Hope it was legal," Toaster said.
"Of course! Of course! You know me. I am a good, law abiding citizen." There was a roll of harsh laughter after Sekani's words. He nudged the taller American towards the doors leading outside. "Come, come! I am a very busy man today. Many people wishing to go on your path."
Buckaroo raised an eyebrow, but fell in line behind the captain. "Oh, yeah? How many people usually want to go from Egypt to Abkhaz?"
Sekani shrugged. "Egyptians? A few. Foreigners? Not so much. Today is different, though. I got a phone call from a very urgent person. They even asked me to use their aircraft. My friends, you might get to fly first class for once!"
The group stopped just outside of the door. Boomer asked the question on all their minds. "Wait a tic. How many foreigners are ya talkin'?"
"Oh, nothing to worry about." Sekani gave another light chuckle. "A few Americans. Little of this, little of that."
A frown went across Sensei's face. He glared at the plane outside their terminal, his skin blanching. "Bara ka?" The ability to speak rationally in English disappeared with his sudden realization of the situation. He snapped his head towards the pilot. "Furansujin? Osutorariajin?"
"Sorry, my friend. I do not know what you're talking about," Sekani cocked his head.
Toaster's mind was spinning. "The other passengers! Are any of them French or Australian?"
Sekani didn't answer Toaster's question. The sudden cursing from over his shoulder gave him all the answers he needed. A crowd of men dressed in black suits filed behind them, each with a face cut from the strongest marble. Two men were pressed in the center of the crowd, both of them surprised as well. They were being led around by a familiar auburn-haired woman. Her infamous temper was in check. Toaster's hide crawled. Marian Grey had caught up with him and his men.
"Of all the goddamn luck," Boomer hissed.
"Gentlemen! I'm so happy to see you." Marian gave Buckaroo's face a pat, enjoying the pale terror on his chubby face. "You know, my new employees were smart. There was no need to go after you, after all! I just had to find the crummiest airport in the city, and voila! There you are."
Toaster growled at the two men behind Marian. "You cowardly sons of—Hey! Are you listening to me?"
Neither the Spy nor the Sniper cared about the insults Toaster was throwing at them. Their eyes were wide, jaws dropped. Across the terminal, seven and a half pairs of eyes were glancing back. There was hope in one set, shock in the other. It didn't take long for Toaster and his group to put two and two together. Go figure! They were friends of the weird troop!
Marian stared at the strange group of men across the way. "Oh, damn."
The eight strangers bolted for Marian's flock of men. A young man with bucked teeth cut his way to the front of the group. He was spitting obscenities. "You goddamn sons 'a bitches! Let 'em—"
It did not take much to stop the foul-mouthed youth. One of the guards broke rank. As soon as the man was in arm's reach, he threw a hefty right hook. The kid went sprawling into a row of chairs. The Sniper and the Spy flinched as one of the chairs cracked and broke under the impact. If the kid had a gun or a bat, that huge punk wouldn't stand a chance. For now, his weapons lay tucked in customs or spinning in a luggage carousel, far from where he could possibly use them.
Marian wasn't going to give the rag-tag bunch half a chance at getting their friends back. She barked at Sekani. "Get us off the ground! Now!"
"Yes, m'am." Sekani tapped Toaster twice on the back. "My friend, I'm sorry, but—"
"I don't think you know what being a friend means," Toaster hissed. Two of Marian's men shoved him onto the runway. His companions were quick to follow, if for no other reason than to escape the oncoming tide of mercenaries. They were a fevered group, possessed by a strange passion. Three more of Marian's guards joined the first in repelling them. One decked the German man with two sharp blows. Another smashed the man in the fire-repellant suit into the ground. The strange Scotsman weaved past two blows, but was flattened by a third. Another foul mouthed American with a crew-cut managed to rip one of the chairs off the ground and smash it against the skull of the first guard. He cackled viciously as he stood over the body of the downed man, but was knocked on his ass by a blunt blow to his jaw.
Marian yelled at the rest of her men. "What are you waiting for, a signed invitation? Let's go!"
One of Marian's guards yanked the Spy off his feet, almost crushing his voice box. He spat at the guards at his throat. His chance to get home and save the Scout's mother was right there! While he was hauled away like a belligerent poodle, the Sniper squirmed out of the pack. He clambered over one of the guards, struggling to reach his teammates. He was in hand's reach of the Russian when thick fingers wrapped around his neck and yanked him backwards.
"Give back tiny baby men!" the Heavy growled. He pummeled into one guard in front of him, cracking the unfortunate man's left ribs. Another rushed the Heavy, but he was much too weak to stop the Russian titan. The Heavy swung the guard over his shoulder, sending him splattering into the floor just inches away from where Miss Pauling stood.
The Heavy's Texan teammate was equally enraged. One guard shrieked as he grabbed the unlucky bastard with his prosthetic hand. He slammed the man into the ground, his calm exterior gone. "Where in the hell do ya think yer goin', pardner?"
There was a sputter of noise on the runway. The last conscious few of Miss Pauling's men snapped their attention towards it. The plane had started up. They threw aside the trailing guards, rushing after the plane. It was madness, yes. They were damned if they were just going to let the Spy and the Sniper slip out of their hands so easily. Neither man was willing to be carried off, either. The Spy was digging his heels into the pavement, his shoes tearing apart as he fought. The Sniper kept biting at the arm at his throat, fingernails lodged in the skin of his captor.
None of them could make it. The Scout was the only one who could have possibly caught up with them at this point. It didn't mean that they didn't try their damnedest. The Heavy shouted at his teammates, his voice carrying over roaring propellers. "Little men! Hold on!"
The Sniper found no strength in his throat to cry back. He was thrown inside the plane, drug further within by meaty hands at the plane's stairs. The Spy squirmed and shouted, but his voice couldn't carry outside of the roaring propellers. As soon as he and his guard were inside, the ramped snapped up. Without sparing one moment, the plane reared around and barreled down the runway. The Spy's hopes and stomach fell towards the ground in crushing defeat. He didn't even have the sense to warn them about the Scout's mother. The oppressing dread of failure overtook him once more.
The Heavy and the Engineer stopped their jog, watching in horror as their friends were spirited away. It did not take long for the plane to disappear into the clouds. Both men placed their hands on their knees, gasping for air. A third set of lungs joined them as Miss Pauling bolted to their sides. Her face was pulled into a concerned frown. It threatened to give way to sorrow as the Heavy shook his head, his cheeks bright red from his exertion.
"I am sorry, Miss Pauling." The Heavy hung his head in shame. "We lost them."
That end fight...
Geebus, you know just how long that group's been together, how close they've come as a team.
You don't fight that hard for people you don't care about.
Those punches and curses were heartfelt.
Which made the end all the more heart breaking.
I just realized at five in the morning that four guards are lying knocked out on the floor. Whoops. That might ruin the dramatic tension or give me a great start for the next chapter.
Unbeta'd! Uncensored! Unloved!
Here's the next chapter. I doubt it will live up to the outline I made for it.
A medley of emotions fell upon Miss Pauling as she stared at the Heavy and the Engineer. Their arms and knuckles were scraped, red splashes dripping onto the tarmac. Both of their faces were pulled into a defeated frown. They had been so close! If they had reacted just a second faster, had their weapons at hand, fought just a little harder, then maybe they would have recovered the Spy and the Sniper. Having their victory and their friends slip through their grasp hit them hard. Perhaps the Administrator would have berated them for yet another failure. She couldn't find it in herself to yell at them. It was difficult to see battle-worn, stubborn men beating themselves up for their loss.
Still, they were being a little overemotional about their set-back. Miss Pauling sighed, then crossed her arms. "Gentlemen, think for a moment. The game's not over."
"I don't see what else we can do right now, Miss Pauling," the Engineer huffed. He pulled himself upright, his shoulders still slumped. "The only lead we had were those coordinates that our computers got us. We'd have ta wait for the plane ta land before we know where in Sam Hill they were taken."
Miss Pauling grabbed the Engineer by his helmet, trying to get him to focus. "Genius, you're missing a very important step here. We're in an airport full of people. There's got to be someone around here that knows where that plane went."
The Heavy snapped his head upright. A spark went off in his brain. "Da! I know who we ask."
"Who?" the Engineer asked.
"Tiny baby men we crushed in airport! They must know something. They work for strange, small woman, da?" The Heavy grinned, placing both hands on his hips. "They tell us. If they do not, I punch them again. Is good plan?"
The Engineer snapped his head back. He lifted his goggles, staring with wide eyes at the Russian. "Good thinkin', pardner!"
"I meant that maybe we could ask an employee, but…" Miss Pauling threw her hands up. "I suppose that works, too."
A thick, rolling laugh escaped the Heavy. "Of course! We go. Doctor needs to fix our arms. Then I fix baby men's faces."
Perhaps encouraging another round of assault at the airport was not a smart idea. To be honest, Miss Pauling was surprised that the Alexandria Police Force wasn't already pinning them to the ground and hauling them away in cuffs. Good luck to the man who could find handcuffs that could restrain the Heavy. Grabbing both men by their shoulders, Miss Pauling lead them back into the airport. Their teammates were coming to, sitting in terminal chairs and patching themselves up. The four abandoned guards were not as fortunate. They were still laying in a sprawled mess, dazed by the attack.
The Heavy picked the most conscious one off the ground. The man was huge, easily twice as big around as Miss Pauling. He was a small fry compared to the Russian that was hauling him around. Slamming him into a terminal chair, the Heavy took a seat across from his subject. The Engineer was quick to follow, grabbing the guard by his wrists. With a quick tug from his belt, the Texan took his electrical cord and ran the length of the yellow cable around the guard's arms. He sat down to the Heavy's right and began adjusting his prosthesis.
"Ya see this here, pardner?"The Engineer wiggled the mechanical fingers on his right arm. "Built this myself. Call it the Gunslinger. It's a real fine piece 'a work, too. Built ta last. Strong enough ta bend steel. I hate ta think what this could do to a man's spine."
The subdued guard snarled, thick teeth clicking against each other. "Do it, then. In front of the entire airline. I dare you."
A dark chuckle escaped the Engineer. It made the Heavy's skin crawl. It sounded less like his teammate and more like his foul doppelganger from the other team. "My pal, don't think I wouldn't. Ain't like that cute little attendant over there's gonna help ya out. How legal d'ya suppose this place is, anyway? Got a flight without even havin' ta show my passport. Can't imagine why they're not runnin' for the phone ta call the cops right now. Whaddya think it is? Part 'a the French Connection?"
"Fine. You've made your point." The guard leaned back. He was keeping rather cool, considering his precarious situation. "I suppose there's some reason you've got me tied up. Probably not rodeo practice, either."
The Heavy smiled, placing a massive hand on his jaw. "He learns quick. I like this man."
The hostage grunted. "Cliff."
"Good name. I like it," the Heavy nodded. He continued the interrogation. "You answer one question, and we let you go. Is simple, da? Then you go back to little country of your choice."
Cliff huffed, then complied. "Okay. One question."
The Engineer leaned forward. "Where did that woman take our friends?"
"Oh, just that? That's easy," Cliff said. "Of course, you'll have to wait until I get a deposit in my bank account before I let you know. Job confidentiality agreement, you know. I can't say a thing until she pays me."
"Yer pullin' my leg!" the Engineer growled.
Cliff shrugged his square shoulders. "Hey, once the check from Miss Grey clears? Then you'll know."
Both the Heavy and the Engineer sat back, their backs rigid. Well, that certainly hadn't worked. It was strange to hear someone else be obstructive based on their contracts. Helen had her own set of rules, of course. Still, it was peculiar to hear from someone else outside of their company. The Heavy shrugged, then grumbled. "Maybe we do ask little employees where she went, then."
"Sure, they will! They'll have time to talk to you right after they get that last shipment of China White sent to Paris," Cliff smirked.
The Engineer gave the Heavy a low frown. The Russian sighed, then nodded his head. It was one thing to hurt or kill members from the other team. Regular people? Civilians? Now, that was harder to do. Laws got trickier. Mortality was something that stuck. The Engineer could growl all he liked, but he didn't have the guts to make good on his threat. Particularly not when there were strangers around.
Luckily, morals were not something that burdened the Medic as heavily. The German gave his current patient, the Demoman, a pat on the arm. He spun around in his seat to face the conscious guard, sending his teammate on his way. He propped his head up, placing his elbows at his knees. Leaning forward, a crooked smile wormed its way across his face. The fluorescent light caught in his glasses just for a moment, giving a tiny warning flash to Cliff.
"You know," the Medic said, "I liked your employer. Really, I did. Ve vere having such a lovely dinner, before she tried to kill me."
Cliff was not sure what to make of this declaration. "She doesn't do that often, for what it's worth."
The Medic continued beaming. "I suppose not. But you know, I don't make cosmetics. It does nozzing for me. But, experimental drugs? Now, ve are talking."
"Do I even want to know what you are talking about?" Cliff asked.
Snapping upright, the Medic strolled to the guard's face. He held his grin, speaking through his teeth. "I vas going to sell a few ozzers zhings to additional companies, you know. One of zhem? Vell, it's a crude truzh serum. But, I haven't tested it out on enough people. It could have some unintended side effects. Perhaps you vould like a sample? I do have some viz me. Ve could learn all sorts of zhings about bozh you and your employer!"
"You wouldn't," Cliff snarled in the Medic's face.
The German was not threatened. He just kept smiling. "One zhings, or all zhings. Your choice, mein comrade."
Cliff held his gaze, unsure of what to think of the Medic's threat. He glanced at the motley group, a growl sticking in his teeth. They certainly weren't worth wasting his time. He gave one final grunt, then relented. "Sukhumi. Abkhaz ASSR."
The last four letters were the ones that struck the most in the ears of one of the team's members. The Soldier snapped upright. The thrashed man was filled with life once more, revived by patriotism and Cold War dread. "ASSR? That's Commie territory!"
"It will not be big deal," the Heavy shrugged.
The Soldier shook his head. "For you, maybe!"
Cliff shook his head. For a bunch of aggressive, muscle-bound men, they sure could complain. "Look. I told you what you want to know. If you ladies are done, then I'd like to book a plane for myself and my friends here. Something tells me that my employer will not be back to pick me up."
The Engineer looked to Miss Pauling for her approval. She agreed. They had enough of a lead to work on. As she booked eight tickets for the next flight out, the Engineer went and undid the bindings on the guard's wrists. He tested the rawness of his arms, then stood up. Perhaps punching them in the face would be satisfying. Still, they had let him go. At least they were good on their words.
"Not too bad. Boy Scout?" Cliff asked the Engineer.
Another teammate opened his eyes. The Scout wobbled upright. "Did someone say my name?"
"No," the Engineer shook his head. "And yes, I was. 'Course, I didn't quite complete it. Sarge over here was an Eagle Scout, though."
"You don't say." Cliff turned his attention to the young man on the ground. Something was familiar about this one. He studied the man's face for some time, letting the pieces fall together. He smiled, a black and white photo in his mind. Of course. The lad's nose gave him away. It looked just like hers. That couldn't have been a coincidence.
Cliff walked away from the group, muttering over his shoulder as he picked up his men. "I thought her kid would have had black hair, too."
The group cocked their heads, not sure what Cliff was getting at. The Scout bounced to his feet, quick to tail the burly guard. "Whaddya mean by that, pal?"
Cliff gave the Scout one last grin, then pulled his baseball cap over that familiar nose. "I'd go call your mom, if I were you."
The guard left the team puzzling over that statement. The Scout was more angry than frustrated. Touching a man's hat? That was a capital offense. Nobody messed with anyone's hat on the team. No way. A hat was a badge of honor. Having someone screw around with it was tantamount to peeing on their leg. He snapped his hat upright, grumbling under his breath. He hated it when people treated him like a kid.
A late epiphany and a low dread hit the Scout. "Wait. How would that asshole know what my mom looks like?"
There was no reprieve from the Spy's melancholy.
It was bad enough that he had been torn from his teammates. Little tormenting faults kept piling on top of his capture. He hadn't warned them about the threat against Scout's mother. He didn't fight to get to them. Hell, he hadn't even helped the Sniper try to escape. His friend wasn't angry with his lack of responses. He was crestfallen, hiding his pained face beneath his hat. It was bad enough that the Spy had become complacent with his capture. Watching his friend's optimism and fire get cut down was worse.
Of course, Marian always found a new way to sour his mood. This time, it was because she had his gun. Not just any of his guns, though. In her well-manicured talons was his customized revolver, a hand cannon so powerful that it could obliterate skulls. She had one hand gripped around the rosewood handle. Her other was lying across its muzzle, fingernails tracing the delicate carving across its surface. The Spy's skin prickled as those nails stroked the engraved face of his paramour.
"You had better have a damn good reason to be playing wizh zhat," the Spy snarled.
Marian nodded. "Of course. Gentlemen, if you would."
A few of her remaining guards came forward, flanking the seats where the Sniper and Spy sat. They also surrounded the four hapless tag-a-longs across the row. The Spy furrowed his brow, his mind putting the pieces together. This was going to be unpleasant. Someone was getting a pink slip courtesy of his Ambassador. He slunk into his seat, but did not fight to get out. She could do him a favor by putting a bullet in his head.
"What the hell is this?" Toaster asked.
"A little come-to-Jesus meeting." Marian lowered her eyes, continuing to play with the engraving on the Spy's gun. "Well, I suppose this might be more of a go-to-Jesus meeting. Let's say I didn't anticipate having two sets of treasure hunters on the payroll. As you know, an important part of any business is trimming the fat. I think you can see where I'm going with this."
A soft rumble escaped the Sniper. "Just get on with it."
Marian shook her head. "Really, Mister Sniper. You are so impatient. I'd kill you first, but unfortunately, I need you."
"Goodie," the Sniper replied.
Toaster shook his head. "Wait, wait, wait. What do you need him for? Shooting cans off a fence?"
"It's my understanding that he is the most experienced survivalist amongst all of you. If we're going to wander off into the wilderness, I need someone that I can trust to take care of me. It would be unfortunate if I were to disappear, after all," Marian said.
The crasser of the two Americans from the other party rolled his eyes. "What, you want to get lost in a forest for two weeks? I've got a map! I'll get you there, no time flat!"
Toaster did not realize his mistake until he was yanked onto his feet by one of the burly guards. The man kept an iron grip on his neck, searching the scruffy American's jacket and pants pockets. There was nothing to be found there. A smarmy grin appeared for a split second on Toaster's face, only to disappear as soon as the guard kicked his boots off. There, in the left boot, was a rolled up scroll. The guard pulled it out of the man's boot, then tossed it to Marian. He threw Toaster into his seat as Marian went over the map. She smirked, then nodded her approval.
"Very well done! Pity you didn't pick a better hiding spot," Marian exclaimed.
Buckaroo grumbled into his boss's ear. "Told ya. Should have put it in yer suitcase."
"Oh, yeah! Then the airport staff could have taken it from me, instead!" Toaster growled.
Boomer snorted, disapproving of Marian's decisions. "So, what? You take that scrawny bastard and that fruity tart? Doubt he'll be any use t'ya."
Marian shook her head. "On the contrary! I might need him for breaking into additional locations. That's one thing he has up on the lot of you, I should mention. You leave me hanging for weeks just to get one lousy key, and he cracks a door open in minutes! Even without getting the rest of the keys! You can see where I appreciate his efficiency."
"I suppose zhat my complacency does not hurt," the Spy murmured.
His captor shot him a cheerful smile. "Now you're getting it. You are a clever fellow, aren't you? Not to mention good at keeping your friend under control. He was a little dicey in the airport, but I think we can overlook that. For your woman's sake, of course. You might have to think about someone else for your best man, though. You can't reward his erratic behavior."
Toaster's crew shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Boomer spoke their opinion. "Bloody hell, woman. If yer just gonna drag this out, might as well just shoot us and get it over with."
"I am getting to that," Marian replied. "I just wanted you four to realize why I am killing you. You know, so when you get another go at life, you can know what you did wrong!"
There was a click as Marian took the safety off the Ambassador. The Sniper sunk further into his seat. Even for a murderer as lethal as he was, he thought this was awfully cold. He glanced at the Spy, his eyebrows pressed down. The Spy grimaced as the tiniest pang of sympathy went off in the recesses of his chest. They were morons, yes, but they didn't deserve to die like this. He grumbled, but shook his head. He could get away with being somewhat irritating to Marian. He might as well help the other men out. After all, they were in the same terrible situation as he was. He could relate to that frustration.
"Before you murder zhem, may I make a suggestion?" the Spy asked.
Marian cocked her head to the right. "This had better be good."
"I noticed zhat my friends managed to take four of your men down," the Spy pointed out.
"Don't bring those asshole teammates of yours up to me," Marian hissed as she began toying with the gun's sights. "Stubborn bunch of old bastards."
The Spy's brain worked fast enough to keep up with his mouth. "Zhink about it. You need four guards. You have four men whom you are no longer using as treasure hunters. Perhaps you can give zhem a temporary reassignment?"
Marian paused in her actions. She glanced up at the plane's ceiling, weighing the Spy's words. The four men across the way sat up, staring with shock at the Spy. They hadn't anticipated this. They watched Marian wave the gun back and forth, wondering what she was thinking. She couldn't be mad enough to put the men she was about to assassinate in charge of protecting her life. That was sheer lunacy.
"I'll give them a try. No guns, mind you. Still, I could use the extra hands," Marian nodded. She put the safety back on the Spy's gun. "Smooth thinking. I knew there was a reason I blackmailed you."
"I'm flattered," the Spy dead-panned.
Marian strolled to the front of the plane. "Well, gentlemen! I think we've come to a grand solution. Rest easy, now. We've got quite a bit of work ahead of us."
The guards around the men broke rank, rejoining their boss. Toaster let out a sigh of relief, slinking into his seat. His teammates all settled down, preparing to get a little rest on the flight. Sensei glanced over at the Spy, giving him a small, appreciative nod. The Spy returned the gesture. The brim of the Sniper's hat brushed his neck as his friend mimicked his movements. He turned to find the Sniper had raised the palm of his left hand up. The Spy placed his hand into the Sniper's, receiving a light squeeze. It was a peculiar way to be thanked, but the Spy enjoyed it all the same.
Toaster shook his head. "God almighty. We just got rescued by a couple of fruits."
Aww, I'm always happy to see where this will go next...
i love the way you've written this bond the team has, it's absolutely perfect. it's actually touching, and it's great to see the team getting along without all of them specifically being in relationships with each other. not that i have anything against shipping, i like it a lot, but the way you've written this bromance between all the teammates is just great.
loving this story, heartily awaiting further updates!
So, I was having the Second Act Blues this week. It's this nasty feeling I get towards the middle of a story where I think "Hey, nobody's reading this. Don't bother writing." It is a very poor attitude, I'll admit, but it's hard for me to get over.
Luckily, I found the cure for it. Magic Kangaroo Wine! Err, I mean patience and confidence. (Does the D in my name stand for Demoman now?)
Boredom was a greater threat to the Spy than anything else.
He sat in his airplane seat, trying to keep quiet as the loudmouthed American to his left kept whining and complaining of his inconveniences and slights. His teammates were somewhat better, if only because they kept bitching back to their leader. The Sniper was less than fun, spending the trip with his nose pressed against the airplane's window. Not that the Spy particularly wanted to watch anything outside. All he could see was an endless ocean of clouds, turbulent and violent with an incoming storm. Beautiful, yes. For the first few minutes, at any rate. After that, it was merely the same puffs repeated without end.
"Zhis is getting to be unbearable," the Spy muttered. He glanced towards the front of the plane, where his captor was experimenting with some new kind of foam curlers. He pushed himself out of his chair, then stretched his legs. Perhaps Marian could persuade the pilot to step it up a bit. Who knew going five-hundred miles an hour could be so dull?
Of course, his motions caught the attention of Marian's remaining guards. They locked their eyes on him, black pupils keeping as sharp of an aim as the Sniper's laser sights. He made no additional movements, deciding to speak to Marian from where he stood. "Miss Grey, how much longer do we have left?"
The auburn-haired woman perked up at the sound of the Spy's voice. She shuffled through her purse, then produced a time piece. "Well. I wouldn't have expected this to take so long. Bruno, if you would. We should speak with the capitan."
The same stone-faced man from before lurched out of his seat. He strolled past the Spy, nudging him into his chair. He extended a broad hand, then escorted Marian to the front of the plane. The Spy scrunched up his face, annoyed once more with his treatment. It was only the thought of his beloved American woman that kept him from pulling a knife and slitting his own throat. He frowned, thinking of what he should do to confirm Marian's threat. He'd have to secure some kind of currency in Sukhumi, then find a payphone. Perhaps he could find what he needed by begging. Maybe stealing. Neither was particularly an honorable act, but he would do it. Anything to get away from this situation.
There was the question of what to do about the Sniper, as well. He sat next to his teammate, eyeing an obscured spot in the small of his back. He could kill his companion. The Sniper would be miffed about it for a while, but he'd get over. Hell, he'd even considered offing him a few times already. He couldn't find a good justification for it, even if it meant releasing his friend from this wild goose chase. He was not the wild, snarling beast from the other team. They might share faces, but he was not the Spy's enemy. He found it hard to harm his friend, even if it was for a good cause.
"Somethin's not roight," the Sniper murmured.
"I zhought we were taking a long time as well," the Spy replied.
"It's not just that." The Sniper pointed his finger at the window. His digit poked at a blue pit below the cloud veil, set with hundreds of thick trees. "Ya see that?"
The Spy nodded. "A lake, I presume."
"Yeah. That's the thing. The capital 'a Abkhazia? It's coastal," the Sniper said, his voice even and calm. "So, ya tell me. Where's the beaches, mate?"
The Spy did not remain so mellow. He clapped a hand against his forehead. "What? Zhen where are we, Bushman? My god, why didn't you say somezhing before?"
"I didn't know we were so off course! The clouds just finally broke up a little." The Sniper waved his left hand, trying to get the Spy to relax. "It's alroight, yeah? Our pilot's gotta know where he's going."
"What do you mean you fell asleep?"
The panicked shriek put all of the passengers in the plane on edge. They all glanced to the front of the plane, watching in horror as wild gesticulations hit the drape behind the cockpit. Toaster spat a dozen phrases, each worse than the previous. The Sniper's lips pulled back into a growl. The Spy should have been overcome with a feeling of dread as well. Instead, he felt merely dull acceptance. Of course their pilot was a complete knucklehead. After all of the events that had unfolded over the past few days, he simply didn't accept sanity or competency to be a universal trait.
Marian stormed out of the front of the plane, hissing. "You get us back on course, dammit! I am not paying you to take us out on a tour while you nap off!"
The flustered, short pilot ran after her. "Madame, I am sorry! I did not mean to—"
Marian snapped on her heels. "Oh, my God! Get back to the cockpit!"
Sekani scuttled to the front of the plane, cursing in Egyptian. Marian was in no greater mood. She sucked oxygen through her teeth, trying to reassume her collected nature. She strolled to the middle of the plane, trying to reassure the rest of her traveling crew. "There was a slight mishap with our pilot failing to take both a navigator on board and a nap prior to our flight. Not to worry, though. I have persuaded Bruno to keep an eye on him while we get back to Sukhumi. Then, we can continue our little—"
The rest of her speech was cut off by a sudden thud on the right-hand side of the plane. The guts of the plane turned ninety degrees as the plane dipped onto its side. The contents of the overhead bins shifted, rolling and scraping along the plastic walls. A short grunt escaped the Spy as the plane threw him on his side. He pulled himself back into his seat, then snapped his belt on.
"I'm gonna kill that son of a bitch!" Toaster snarled.
"Not if I murder him first!" Marian scrambled into one of the seats, buckling in before she could be tossed about any further. "Sekani, you oaf! Are you trying to kill us?"
There was no response from the front of the plane. It shuddered once more as something hard grazed the belly of the plane. Soft, wet slapping brushed the top and bottom of the airplane as it began to point towards the ground. The Sniper gasped below the Spy, both men struggling to breathe as earth reached up to meet them. There was a terrible screech as the right wing of the plane snapped off. The plane rolled forward. It wheeled on its nose, rolling into an awkward somersault. There must have been a dozen screams around him, but the Spy could only focus on the terrified trembling in his heart. He wanted out of this adventure, but not like this.
The plane collapsed onto its spine as smoke flooded the cabin.
In the depths of night, there sat a small ranch house on the outskirts of Teufort proper. Not the base—the town, full of sane, civil people. They would watch explosions, hear the gunfire in the distance. To them, it was as if ghosts were haunting the desert. Some said it was aliens. Others thought it was a government project, something like Area 51. At least one woman in the town knew it was none of these things. Rather, it was the work of her son.
She had moved to the area a few years after her youngest son's initial employment. She did not know the particulars of his job all that well. He would ramble as he spoke, talking about capturing briefcases or bombs or metal disks. It seemed like a silly game to her. Still, he was being paid handsomely for his work. Even more intriguing, that Frenchman was here. That man, the one that had stolen her heart decades ago with his soft accent and gracious demeanor. He would come in one color suit, then the other. At first, she thought they were the same man. Her son had corrected her, and she figured out which was which. Only her paramour would remove his mask in her presence.
It was good to be here with both of them. The rest of her sons were full grown, out raising hell or children where the wind had scattered them. This son—her baby—still needed her. That was why she came, why she sold her little house in Boston and relocated to arid New Mexico. Perhaps it hadn't been the easiest for her to re-assimilate, but she was happy. She had her men, and they had her. That was how she could sleep at night, with strangers for neighbors and shadowy men lurking around the corner.
If she hadn't slept so hard, perhaps she would have heard the ringing phone or the lock being broken in the kitchen.
The Spy awoke on his back, coughing and shaking in wet mud. He was coated in filth, his suit beyond repair. He struggled to sit upright. His gut and legs fought him, his nerves frayed. He was alive, but he had no reason to be. His lungs felt like they were full of hot ash, every cough sending fireballs rolling out of his throat. Just his luck. He would survive such a crash only to die of asphyxiation.
There was a sloshing sound next to him as the Sniper scrambled to meet him. "Spy? Thank God, mate. Thought yer noggin' took a good ding there."
Wiping debris from his face, the Spy got a good look at his friend. He was soaked to the bone, skin prickled and shivering in the rain. There were a few good gashes in his right arm, but he was lively enough. Better off than the Frenchman was fairing, at any rate. He placed a hand to his temples, finding sticky blood dried to the side of his face. He took two good huffs, then patted the Sniper on the back. Survival didn't seem like such a dreadful thing, particularly with a skilled wilderness expert at his side.
"Did anyone else make it?" the Spy spoke, stopping to gasp for air. Oxygen felt like a cool salve in his body.
The Sniper nodded. "Yeah, mate. The mouthy American git 'n his friends got out. Marian, too. Some 'a her guards. Lost her favorite 'n the pilot, though. Nasty ride."
"You don't have to tell me zhat." The Spy paused to breathe, leaning his head forward. As he regained his composure, the Sniper placed his hand on the back of the Spy's head. Tension from the two men drained into the mud, washed away by the rain. The Sniper pressed his forehead against the Spy's, his breathing low and soft. Warm rain fell down his face. They sat together a few minutes longer than most men would have, drawing strength from the earth. With an awkward squelch, the Sniper pulled himself out of the mud. He extended his hands and yanked the Spy upright as well.
"Come on, then." The Sniper patted his right leg, summoning the Spy to follow. "I was able ta pull some supplies out with ya, before the plane went completely belly up. Marian's still got the map. I think if I can get the time 'n our rough location, we moight be able ta walk outta here. If not, then we should get workin' on settin' camp as soon as possible."
The Spy shook his head. "Bushman, you—how—" He grimaced, his fancy shoes sticking in the mud. "Zhis is madness, you know. We could have faked our deaths, zhen gotten out of here. Perhaps we could have found out what she did wizh ma petite."
The Sniper nodded. "Already thought about it. Couldn't do it, though. Figured they'd wonder where our bodies went 'n then call some kinda kill squad on yer lady. Marian's got this top-notch phone. Ya ought ta see it. Uses satellites! Truckie would want ta make somethin' like that. Oh! Can't let our mates just wander around and wonder what happened to us either, ya know!"
"I suppose zhat would have been an inconvenience for zhem to come all zhe way here, zhen have us respawn somewhere else. Not 'dying in a forest' inconvenient, but all zhe same." The Spy lifted his head, keeping a few paces behind the Sniper. The husk of the plane smoked next to them as they crossed over to meet the remaining survivors of the crash. There was a splatter of something as thick as raspberry jam on the shattered cockpit. The Spy did not peer long inside of the plane's body. He knew what dead men looked like. There was no reason for him to look further at it. His body gave an involuntary shiver as the plane's hull groaned, shifting from heated beams. He should have died.
The Spy's breath caught in his throat. "You pulled me out, did you not?"
"Ah, no big deal," the Sniper shrugged. "Figured you'd have done the same. Besides, I didn't—well, I couldn't—well, ya know, Spook."
He did know. The Sniper certainly didn't need to clarify his sentiments. The Spy sighed. "Zhank you, Bushman."
"Anytime, mate," the Sniper smiled, his teeth a brilliant white in the dark, stormy forest.
It didn't take long to find the survivors of the plane crash. Most of them were milling around just outside of the fire's reach. Sensei had taken to mending wounds of several of the guards. Toaster had white gauze wrapped around his head in a tight, pristine band. Marian and her guards were fumbling with the satellite phone, trying to point the phone's antenna into the hole they had punched in the forest. Buckaroo and Boomer were poking their noses around a dilapidated sign. The Spy and Sniper joined them.
"Well, if it ain't the poodle!" Buckaroo grinned from ear to ear, slapping a hand on the Frenchman's back. "Ya gave yer friend a little scare, ya know. Just about gave ya yer last rights."
The Spy shook his head. "It was nozzing I could not survive. What are we looking at, here?"
Boomer flicked the broken sign. "Some kinda trail marker. Busted all to hell."
Crouching for a moment, the Spy looked at the sign. Most of the red lettering was washed away. He could make out some of the Russian symbols. It was harder to match them to his limited vocabulary, but he made his best effort. "Avadhara—ten kilometers east. Lake Ritsa—five kilometers west."
The Sniper perked up. "Sounds loike we're not too far gone from civilization, then. Moight get ya blokes snug and secure indoors by tonight."
"Splendid!" Marian was almost in the conversation, but was pulled out by her malfunctioning phone. "Yes, George, we're—George, I'm—damn technology!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hang on." Toaster was less enthused by the news. He leaned over Marian's shoulder, studying the map propped open in her hands. He started measuring coordinates out with his fingernails, glancing up every once in a while to try and find the sun through thick clouds. He waved Boomer over, getting him to study the same map. His friend jolted upright, his laugh a coughing cackle. He gave Toaster a playful punch on his shoulder, then received one back. Marian hissed at the two of them, but continued to try communicating without getting burned.
Toaster hopped away from Marian's side. "You want to know all the damn luck? We need to go two klicks north. That's where it is. X marks the spot!"
The Sniper snapped his head up. "What? Are you sure?"
"Hell yeah! Check this out!" Toaster dragged Sniper along by his vest. He pointed towards their destination on the map, splattering mud over it and Marian. She pulled another face, but let the American ramble as she listened to empty static. The Sniper made the same calculations as the rash American, his jaw dropping. It made no sense. There was no way something as mythical as the Fountain of Youth could exist just outside of a resort hot-spot.
But, the American was right. There was a blue splotch on the map, barely visible after centuries. Water, no doubt. If the sign was correct, as well as the Spy's translations, then they were within five kilometers of Lake Ritsa, the most prominent body of water within Abkhazia. Coupling that with the sign's directions towards Avadhara, the Sniper could figure out a rough range where the two distances would overlap. Translating the map's original units of measurement to meters, it was clear that they were just a little south of the prominent mark on the map.
The Sniper's jaw dropped. "Wow."
Toaster slugged the Sniper in the shoulder. "I told ya! Sekani, you old bastard! I take back everything I ever said about ya. Rest in peace, you crazy son of a bitch!"
"Zhis is madness!" the Spy exclaimed. He pulled the two men from Marian's side, trying to talk sense into them as she swore at the phone. "Some of us are injured. We have little to no supplies. We cannot be wandering around loose in zhe forest looking for some damned magical fountain. Especially not in zhis weather, wizh zhis fire raging beside us. We need to get help."
Toaster shrugged. "You know what? Good point. Let's put it up to a vote. That'll make it fair, right?"
Both men stopped their dispute as Marian snapped the satellite phone into its case. She smiled, then threw it over her shoulder. "Two kilometers, you said? We'll have to walk at least twice that to get to civilization. Mister Sniper? Toaster? Both of you can find north, correct?"
The Sniper nodded. "'Course. It's that way. Bit hard ta tell with the smoke 'n the rain in the way, but—"
"Splendid. Then let's walk." Marian reached down and fidgeted with her boots. With a little effort, she snapped the heels off both of them. Everyone was taken aback as she began walking north. For a pampered businesswoman, she certainly was prepared to slog through whatever nature threw at her. It made their bruises and scrapes seem inconsequential. Her guards followed with no complaints. It didn't take long for Toaster and his crew to fall in line, either. The Spy sighed, then trailed the Sniper as they caught up with the pack.
Hell, if she got him killed, he'd just go home faster.
Eh, happens to me too. There's no way to know if anyone's actually reading what you post, and you start scratching your head and wondering if there's even a point to finishing what you started... You don't want to start fishing for comments, but you're desperate to know if there's anyone actually waiting to see what happens next.
Booze can help. The sex scenes in my last story were fuelled by a bottle of pre-mixed mojitos.
No, please, please continue, this is amazing and well-written and exciting and I can't get enough of it. I look forward to every update, I really do.
seconding >>44 I can't wait for more!
I'm not going to lie. I think I just wrote some mind-boggling, crazy, impossible crap.
Then again, impossible things are happening every day.
The Spy was lost in a green labyrinth. Foliage shot meters above his head, covering the sky in dark leaves. They choked out the sun, the tiniest rays squeezing past the canopy. His shoes were beginning to cut into his toes. His knees protested at the steep incline that the group continued to climb. He could see his body lying unattended for days, swallowed up by soil and mushrooms long before anyone would find him. Well, that is, if the respawn allowed him to lie in this emerald casket. He wondered how strong the satellites were, hanging so far above the verdant-blotched sky. Perhaps he would test their strength today. Most likely not. He still had a job to do.
His teammate was not any more at ease. The Sniper kept stopping, taking a deep sniff and shaking his head. There was a pungent smell in the forest. The Spy could not place it. It was foreign, but familiar. Woody, obviously. It must have been the fragrance of some plant. The smell brought a chilling sensation through his nose, something that soothed his sinuses.
"What is zhat?" the Spy asked.
The Sniper pursed his lips together. "I almost want to say…but, that's mad."
The Spy shrugged. "Mon ami, I am trekking zhrough a forest looking for some fountain zhat most likely does not exist. Anyzhing would be possible at zhis point." He glanced upwards again. "I can see where zhis place gets its name from, zhough."
"Yeah. Land 'a Darkness, alroight," the Sniper agreed.
A rumbling voice interrupted the two men. "It's eucalyptus oil."
Both the Spy and the Sniper glanced over at the burly Australian allied with the other explorers Marian had dragged to this strange forest. He was scratching his dark moustache, trying to force back a sneeze. The Sniper cocked his head, thinking Boomer was loony. "Mate, that's daft. How would a eucalyptus plant even get out here? Unless ya think some nutter a couple thousand years ago went flingin' seeds. Had ta have one hell of a boat, too."
"That's what it smells loike ta me," Boomer replied. "Got a better explanation?"
The Sniper scratched the back of his head. It still was insane to him. Never the less, he muttered, "Fine, then. Better not start a fire. Don't want ta risk anythin'."
"Why is zhat?" the Spy questioned.
Boomer slapped a hand around the Spy's shoulder. "Eucalyptus plants secret a moighty fine oil, lad. When the wind's just roight, and there's just a bit 'a energy in the air—boom! Natural forest fire. Hell, the bastards'll blow up on ya, if they're chock full 'a oil. Toaster learned the hard way, ya know. Never saw such a pretty forest go down so fast."
Toaster called over his shoulder. "Hey, screw you! You were the one that wanted to grill!"
The Spy scrunched up his face. "Charming."
"How unfortunate that I missed such an incident." Sensei glanced around him, murmuring to himself. "It would be most informative if one of you told us telling physical traits of these plants."
The Sniper responded first, much to Boomer's chagrin. He marched ahead, almost neck-and-neck with his kidnapper. "Could look loike a lot 'a different things. It's a genus. Not just—Holy dooley!"
It did not take long for the Spy to understand why the Sniper was awe-struck. He clambered behind his friend, pausing at the strange growths bursting out of the ground. The Frenchman wondered if he was intoxicated. Sprawling out from the forest floor were thick, warped trees like he had never seen. The roots were spiraled, winding crooked as a witch's nails towards thick trunks. The plants shot above his head, sprouting out in tufts of leaves. Impressive bands of color ran up and down the trees' barks. They were bright neon streaks, orange, yellow, green, and purple. These trees could not be real.
"Okay. I was wrong," Boomer shrugged.
The Sniper thought otherwise. "No, mate! Spot on. These moight be Rainbow Gum. Ain't seen any 'a these since I got outta New Guinea. What in the hell are they doin' here?"
"Hell of a boat," Boomer replied dryly.
Buckaroo tapped both his friend and the Sniper on their shoulders. "I hate ta break it to y'all, but yer missin' the bigger picture, here."
The Sniper tipped his head to the side. "What in the hell could be bigger than—oh."
An inorganic, grey structure sat amongst the colorful trees. The peculiar rainbow trees refused to grow next to it, seeds lying dormant on the ground surrounding the location. It was as if someone had scooped a miniature fortress out of the middle of nowhere and plunked it in the forest, with no care for purpose or aesthetic value. No glass or door stood in any of the carved stone frames. What should have been towers were engulfed by dead ivy growths. This place could have been a national treasure, if saved and preserved. Rather, it had been left to die in a sea of green life, a poisoned blot in the middle of an impossible forest.
That was nothing to say about the unattended corpses strewn about the place. No one made a sound as they approached the fortress. For some, it was out of terror. Others, respect. The Spy did have to give his captor credit. She did not scream or swoon upon seeing the skeletal remains. She paused at one body, taking a moment to study its armor. It was mismatched, a perplexing mix of ruined cloth, greaves, helmets, and shields. She and the rest of her crew went to each skeleton, each one with more incorrect attire than the last.
"Egyptian. Persian. Greek. Roman." Buckaroo shook his head, confused by the arrangement of men. "This makes no sense. Were all 'a these guys stationed together?"
Marian scoffed. "That's ridiculous. A fortress guarded by multinationals?" She gave the Spy a sly glance. "Why, that almost fits your job description, doesn't it?"
"I would have done a better job of it, at ze very least," the Spy replied.
"Well, there's no point in waiting out here." Marian dusted her hands off. She procured a small lotion bottle and rubbed some of its contents on her hands. "Let's get inside and see what this dusty old manor has to offer."
She crossed the threshold to the fortress, her men close behind. The Spy spared a glance towards the Sniper. He was chewing on the inside of his cheek, one eyebrow raised. He looked towards the Spy, then gave a low shrug. The Spy nodded, following his friend in turn. They had come this far, after all. It would be in poor form if they ran off now.
The interior of the fortress was haunting, beautiful in its decay. Vines had grown across the stone floors before shriveling and dying. They spilled through the skeletal remains, cradling each corpse with a light touch. Corridors and passageways were open, letting choked sunlight stream inside. Wooden tables and chairs had rotted into soft clumps. Ornate dishes were shattered on the floor. Decorations were slashed and torn, hands clutching to fabric in death. It was as if some malevolent force had cast a dark spell upon the fortress, sundering its occupants and their possessions in its wake.
A strange expression crossed Marian's face for one moment. She grimaced, something painful in the back of her throat. She did not keep the glance for long, moving abruptly between rooms as she searched the abandoned fortress. The Spy initially thought that perhaps she was disgusted by the corpses. Maybe it was not something he could blame her for, but it seemed a little callous none the less. He followed her footsteps, observing the rooms that had drawn that face from her. He found that he had misjudged her. There were bodies lying in front of hearths, arms folded around smaller skeletons. Women. Children.
This wasn't right. This couldn't be a fortress.
The Sniper spoke softly behind the Spy. There was a slight tremor in his tone as he spoke. "No nicks. No damage. They…they weren't murdered."
"I would hate to know what zhey died of," the Spy replied.
The Sniper placed one hand on his shoulder, then moved onwards. The Spy did the same. There was nothing he could do for them. It did not put him at ease, but that was the reality of the situation. The duo left the corridors winding around the location, stepping into a small courtyard. It was large as any grand ballroom. Dead plants were thick around the center of it, deep enough to scratch against the Spy's calves. A reflecting pool was there as well, empty save for a brown sludge smeared across its face. All of these were nothing compared to the massive rotting stump sprouting in the center of the pool. It was wider than tractor tires, its bark peeled in sharp slabs. The dead plant was lanced by six lead drains that poured into the pool. They were stained with the same crude, gummy substance.
"Ever see somezhing like zhat?" the Spy asked.
The Sniper shook his head. "Not a tree like that, mate. It's got me stumped. Sorry, wrong choice 'a words." He patted his gloved hand on the trunk. "Wonder how far down she grew."
"Suppose zhey collected ze sap from zhis?" The Spy touched one of the drains coming from the tree. The substance stuck to his hand like molasses. He wiped his hands clean on the back of the Sniper's vest. The Australian shot him a dirty look, but made no further fuss.
"That can't be it."
Both the Spy and the Sniper turned to face Marian. She studied the dead tree for a moment, then fixed her gaze to the strange ducts running from it. Like the Spy, she took a swab of the gunk from the drainage pipes. She sniffed it once, then balked in disgust. It was as pungent as juniper, burning her sinuses. She waved two of her guards over, having them investigate the stuff as well. They were no clearer on the situation than she was.
The Sniper was the first to interrupt Marian's investigations. "Look. This—this coulda just been a big ol' joke. A snipe hunt, ya know? Somethin' ta confuse visitors. Ya can't still think that there's some kinda miracle fountain out here. Certainly ain't this one."
"I didn't come here to leave empty handed," Marian denied the Sniper's statement.
The Spy didn't know whether she was being stubborn or crazy. "Look. It is alright, non? You found zhis abandoned fortress full of strange people. Zhis will keep historians busy for some time. Zhis could be ze next Pyramids of Giza, for all you know!"
Marian hissed at the Spy. "This place has gone missing for centuries, and for what? A practical joke? Dead children are not cultural pranks. We're standing in an incredibly important place, and not just for historical reasons. There has to be something astounding here, and by God, I'm going to find it!"
The three would have argued further, had a startling whoop not just rang out through the courtyard. There was a flash of color as the chubby man from Toaster's group bolted in. His face was bright as plump cherries. Crammed under his left arm were at least a dozen rotting scrolls. He almost dropped them as he approached the group. He tossed most of them into the Sniper's arms, then cracked one open. The papyrus tore as he unrolled it, then began rambling at the mouth as his companions finally caught up. The tub could sure bolt.
"They killed it! It killed them, and they killed it!" Buckaroo whooped.
"Who killed what?" Marian asked.
"The men! The soldiers—the dead men outside!" Buckaroo began skimming the scroll he had flung open. "Here! They talk about families all dying of fevers. They burned up in minutes. There was nothin' their doc could do. Here's where it gets really weird. They were all foreigners!"
Marian shook her head. "You already said that. Greeks, Persians—"
Buckaroo interrupted his employer. "Not the soldiers. Their wives! Look, look!" He snatched another scroll, tossing the open one across the Spy's head. As the Frenchman rolled up the Southerner's previous reading material, Buckaroo continued to foam at the mouth. "When we grew weary of battle, we rode for many years and sailed for more thereafter. We came to a land of darkness. The trees blotted out the sun, and the people were—"
"To the point!" Marian demanded.
"They took foreign wives! Their wives introduced them to these trees—this tree!" Buckaroo swatted the dead trunk with his hands. "The women said that these trees 'n the water around them would grant anyone who drank from it eternal youth and beauty. So, they took saplings and seeds from their homeland, then came back to this place! They planted them all over the goddamn globe, waited a few years, and harvested the offspring just to make sure they had seeds to get here! They were tryin' to make a fountain here!"
The Sniper shook his head. "Wait, wait. How far did they sail, exactly?"
Buckaroo tossed another scroll aside, then flung open a scroll containing a crude map. "Look at this. Look!"
Buckaroo's crew, Marian's men, and the duo from Teufort crowded around the map. Both the Sniper and Boomer's jaws dropped. The crude map was drawn somewhat incorrectly, countries jutting just a little wrong into the Indian Ocean. These men had cut through Persia and India, skimmed around Burma and Thailand, trailing south and east. There were dots where they had stopped in Malaysia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Their last stop cut deep into Queensland before they had folded and come back along their navigated course.
It had to be impossible.
"That's a load of crock!" Boomer exclaimed.
The Sniper agreed. "Someone's gotta be pullin' our legs, here."
The Spy massaged his temples, rolling one of the discarded scrolls up with his other hand. "Perhaps zhis is true. Fine. Zhey go to Australia, zhen come back with wives and children. Why did ze natives die from zhis plant? You would zhink zhat at ze very least, ze women would have immunity to whatever toxins ze tree produced."
"I dunno! They just go on about gibberish. Bad water. Gold blood. I don't get it," Buckaroo replied.
Toaster scratched his head. "You're not the only one, pal."
Sensei sighed. "It is too bad that none of the bodies were preserved, hmm? Perhaps I may have been able to perform autopsies. We could have seen what started their illness, maybe."
"Alright. Gentlemen, we need to regroup." Marian took charge of her chatty men. "First, we've discovered this place that we thought was the Fountain of Youth. For all we know, it might have been. Second, it's populated by trees from New Guinea and Australia, both of which are uncharacteristic if not impossible for this environment. Third, this place is full of dead people. We have documents stating that they all had fevers and died, most likely in connection to this dead tree. The last few people killed this tree, then either all died or never spoke of this place again. Is that correct?"
The Spy nodded. "Zhat would sum up our situation, yes."
Marian took a moment to gather up her thoughts. After several seconds of pondering their situation, she began giving commands. "All right. First things first. We take samples of the sludge, the stump, and the piping. It's lead, correct? If that is the case, perhaps that was just what made everyone sick. After that, we head to Australia."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Toaster threw his hands up, trying to get Marian to slow down. "Did you forget the part where we just crash-landed here? We're down your plane and a pilot, not to mention some of our supplies. Hell, we've got to walk two clicks to get back to where we hit the ground, then we've gotta make it to some place where we can buy tickets! I don't think they're gonna look too kindly on a bunch of us bein' American, either!"
His tirade was cut short by thick whooshes in the distance. Everyone glanced towards the sky. Just above the canopy of the forest, a grey flash cast its shadow across their faces. A level of dread struck the men as black blades continued to roar away. That had to be a helicopter, no doubt.
"That's headed toward our crash site," Toaster mumbled.
"Probably to investigate what happened," Buckaroo agreed.
A wicked smile curled its way onto Marians face. She turned to face her men, grinning like a cat. "You fine fellows did save some of your weapons from the plane, correct? Hopefully, a few guns?"
Nobody liked what she was implying for them to do next.
Eh, if the ancient people responsible for this had some sort of occult technology for seafaring or even an occult food source, they could have covered great distance even in that time. The biggest issue would be navigating the distance. You should also determine what language they were writing in.
Sitting on the edge of my seat, here. Can't wait to see what's next!
I was going to wait until someone else had updated a story here before I wrote another chapter. Then I realized that I was going to be busy this weekend.
So, have a fight scene!
The Sniper was quiet, lying on his belly ahead of the group. His right eye was focused through the large scope perched on his rifle. No light came from the laser sight, which had been turned off to conceal his position. As he continued surveying the men meters below their position, the Spy found himself amused with his teammate. He blended well into the shade beneath the centuries-old trees, calm and serene in his task. If the Spy didn't keep a constant eye on his companion, he would have lost him. Bright shirt and all. He did not need the Spy's tools to conceal himself. He wore nature like a dark, verdant cloak. No wonder why there was such fear in the eyes of the men he'd killed back in the United States. They almost never knew he was there until white-hot lead seared through their brains.
It was several minutes before the Sniper wriggled back to the mismatched group. He dusted off his shirt, then spoke quietly. "There's at least twenty-foive blokes down there. Not countin' the pilot or copilot, mind ya."
Toaster whistled lowly. "Didn't think they'd send that many fellows out to look for us."
"Zhey have a good reason to panic. It is not every day zhat an American commercial flight crash-lands in Soviet territory," the Spy said.
Marian asked, "So, how many bullets do you have?"
"Ya can't think I can take 'em all. They'll catch me after the first round." The Sniper rubbed the back of his neck, small droplets of sweat sticking to his collar. "I'd get lucky if I take three or four 'a them."
Marian frowned. She massaged her sore ankles as she spoke. "I don't see how we're going to get past these soldiers unless you do your job. You are a professional headhunter, aren't you?"
The Spy nudged his way towards his teammate. "Zhis would be where I come in. I have my little gadgets, you know. We could hit zhem on both sides, assuming I can sneak down wizzout getting detected."
Marian raised an eyebrow, amused with the Spy's offerings. Sensei seemed less entertained with the memory of the Spy's wristwatch. The Japanese doctor shivered. "Ah, yes. He could do it, I think. He is very good with his watch, you know. He has a habit of ruining dinners."
"It is not a habit if you only do it once," the Spy smirked.
Toaster scratched his head. "Well, that's fine and dandy, but what are the rest of us supposed to do? Sit on our asses until Commie soldiers turn us into Swiss cheese?"
"Gentlemen, that will not be a problem." Marian nodded her head towards the remains of her aircraft. "If those two can create a distraction for us, we can get to the plane and get into my cache of weapons. It won't be the most pleasant way to deal with them, but I guarantee that we'll flush them out."
All of the men winced, wondering what Marian could have brought along. Knowing her, it had to be something toxic. One didn't run both a chemical warfare plant and a cosmetics corporation without knowledge of some seriously caustic materials. Just the thought of what might be in that plane made the Spy's throat scratchy. Perhaps it was lucky the plane's cargo wasn't punctured in the crash. The environmental damage alone could take years to scrub clean from the planet.
"In times like zhis, I wish I had zhe Pyro's mask," the Spy murmured.
The Sniper agreed. "Too roight, mate." He laid down once more, then started crawling back to his lookout. "Let me know when I should open fire."
The Spy gave his teammate a small, dark smile. "You may begin shooting when zhe screaming starts."
The Scout was going to pull his hair out.
Several situations were gnawing away in the pit of his stomach. He was in a strange part of the world that, until today, he didn't know existed. Everything around him was in Russian or Georgian or something he couldn't read. The team had been lucky enough to find a translator in the airport that could speak to them. Unfortunately, the only language she knew other than Georgian was Russian. That left the Heavy to represent the entire group. The Scout didn't need to understand Russian to know that the translator had a serious crush on the Heavy and that he wasn't noticing her advances. Apparently, body language was not as universally understood as he thought.
Of course, the biggest issue on his mind was already pouring out of his mouth. "Guys, I dunno what I'm gonna do! I mean, my momma could really be in trouble, here! Why wouldn't she have answered da phone?"
The Pyro patted the Scout on the back twice. He replied, "Mrrff fee fuffn fuf fu hudnemo."
"You're totally not helpin' my dilemma," the Scout grumbled. The Pyro sighed, then took his hand away from the young man's shoulder. Sometimes, there was no helping the Scout when he was in a sulk.
The Soldier shook his head, the straps of his helmet striking the sides of his face. "You know, son, you might be over-thinking this. Your mother is a lady of the night, after all. She could be busy doing—"
"You had better not finish dat goddamn sentence," the Scout interrupted.
Giving the Soldier a sympathetic look, the Demoman sighed. He threw an arm around the Scout's shoulders, locking him in a squeeze. "Aw, mate. I wouldn't worry 'bout yer mum if I were you. She'd a tough bird. I mean, raisin' eight boys just like you? Ain't a feat for a weak woman."
The Scout perked up a bit. The Demoman was right. His mother was not someone to be messed with. After all, she was the one that taught him how to saw off and wield shotguns. Hell, every door-to-door salesman in a three mile radius from their old home in Boston feared her accuracy. One incident with a Fuller Brush man had gone down in spectacular infamy. Nobody stuck their toe in her doorway without fear of losing it.
He gave the Scotsman a wide grin. "Thanks, man. Dat's what I needed ta hear."
The Demoman gave the Scout another small shake. "Ya've got it, lad. Yer mum is a fine lady."
"Ah, man, Tavish! Yer makin' me blush!" the Scout smirked.
The Demoman nodded. "Ya know, the Soldier's probably right, though. I mean, she is a—"
"Okay, new rule!" the Scout yelled. "No more talkin' 'bout what my mom does outside 'a da house! She ain't a hooka!"
"Wuddhen fee brr drrn ed en der hrff?" the Pyro asked.
The Scout shook a finger in the Pyro's mask. "What in da hell did I just say?"
The Spy slithered through the brush, leaves shimmering as he passed by them. His watch kept an invisible layer over his body as he traveled around the outskirts of the Soviet army that was investigating the crash. It did not take him long to find a spot to rest and stake the area out. With any attack, it was important to decide who to remove first. Obviously, the largest threat always deserved the first stab to the back. When he was fighting the Mann's ridiculous little war, it was easy to pick his targets. The Medic or the Engineer had to be dealt with first. Plucking the healers away from the opposing team always gave his group an immediate advantage. It was much simpler when he was dealing with stragglers or loners, so he sometimes snapped them up.
With this group of soldiers, it was a little harder to know who to strike first. It would be wise to disable any communications devices. However, that meant tampering with the massive Mil Mi-10. While he could probably figure out what to disconnect eventually, he did not wish to accidentally ruin the helicopter. That transport might be the fastest route out of the forest. It was best to preserve it at all costs. He continued his observation, searching for his friend in the distance. He couldn't even catch the scope's lens flaring, what with how little light was coming through the canopy.
It did not take long for two men to break apart from the pack. One man had a hand on his belt buckle, fumbling with the zipper. The Spy pulled his teeth, then drifted deeper into the foliage. He certainly didn't need to have someone urinate on his shoes. He had enough of that back in the United States. Reaching into his suit jacket, his fingers ran across some of his knives. He stopped on one blade, its golden lacing and opal gemstones familiar even beneath his gloves. It was the perfect choice for this situation.
The Spy slunk to the side as the two officers passed him. He did not wait long before he struck. While both men were equipped with front-plated body armor, it did little to protect to their backs. That made his lethal blows all the easier. The Spy drove his knife through the back of the first man, his fingers quick to stifle any screams. As the Spy withdrew his blade, its strange properties kicked to life. He was coated instantly with the appearance of the enemy soldier. There was no need for a disguise template. The knife simply did what it was designed to do—to instantly take the form of any man slain by it.
It did not take him long to overtake the second man. Hell, the next soldier never saw him coming. His moves were smooth, powerful. He slipped the knife into vital organs, never once nicking bone. Within seconds, he had his next disguise. So far, so good. At least twenty three men remained, though. It was hardly any time to celebrate.
The Spy flicked his watch on once more, then crept towards the crash site. Some of the soldiers threw their gaze in his direction, staring where their men had disappeared. The Spy found himself feeling some peculiar regret. It had been a while since he'd murdered someone without them coming back to life fifteen seconds later. If the circumstances were different, he would have no reason to kill them. He did not mull over his actions for long. Perhaps it was sociopathic for him to slaughter strangers, but he needed to get back to his paramour. If this was the only way for her to be safe, then he would stain his hands for her.
Five men approached the spot where the Spy was hiding. Trickier, no doubt. They were now searching for the bodies of their friends. They would not find anything. This strange knife was a literal body snatcher. It would never leave a corpse. Rather, it would bend matter to have the Spy assume the dead person's form. He waited for them to pass, then struck once more. Five turned to four, four to three, three to two, two to one. The last man died without any struggle, having no way of knowing what monster had just gobbled up his fellow soldiers.
The Spy spun on his heels, prepared to take up his spot again. As he did so, his watch gave a tiny shudder. It was running low on power. He dropped down to the ground, tapping the wristwatch twice. The device began recharging again, much to his satisfaction. He thought the damned thing had crapped out on him.
As he sighed, someone collided into him. The Spy glanced upwards, finding himself looking up the nostrils of an iron-jawed Soviet. The man had that massive jaw dropped, a scream threatening to roar out of his throat. The Spy must have looked like some fearsome spirit. He had the appearance of one of his dead teammates, outlined in an eerie glow. Perhaps he would have been more terrifying if he had been standing up.
Never-the-less, the Spy had his fun. "Boo!"
The man's scream had barely emerged from his mouth when a bullet went speeding through it. It wasn't a direct shot made from the front. Rather, the bullet pierced the back of his head and went out through his mouth. Thick pulp and gore followed it, splattering across the Spy's face. The Frenchman growled. Leave it to a Sniper to get him covered in someone's bodily fluids.
The stealth part of their operation was over. Most of the regiment turned to face where the Sniper was hidden in the forest. They opened fire on him, rounds bursting through the thick trees. Their fire was wild, inaccurate. Three shots came back in rapid succession. Red stars blossomed in the foreheads of the hapless soldiers. Their helmets were useless against the caliber and speed of the Sniper's bullets.
Everything became a jumbled, chaotic mess. Marian's employees slipped from the forest, making a beeline for the airplane's wreckage. The Sniper kept his position, suppressing fire against the group. It did not take long for the Spy to join in the melee. Several screams erupted from the regiment as the Spy moved from man to man, taking the lives and forms of each as he moved. He was a haunting specter, one that made grown men shriek.
A noxious smell rolled over the dwindling survivors. Thick white fog leapt from strange devices held by Marian and her crew. She adjusted a face mask before flipping the switch on her weapon as well. Those that had no breathing apparatus wheezed and hacked as her men cut threw them. It was enough to make the Spy's stomach roll as well. He barreled out of the group, making his way to the helicopter. He had to secure that, no matter what. Marian's merry band could finish off the rest of them.
The Spy jumped into an open panel on the side of the Mil Mi-10. As he stepped both feet onto the metal floor, a man grabbed him by his neck. The enemy combatant slammed the Spy into the side of the helicopter, unafraid of the mortal spook in his grasp. The Spy slashed once, catching the man in the arm. His disguise disappeared in the attack, unable to be replaced by that of another. The soldier grabbed his right wrist, shoving that above the Frenchman's head. He pressed into the Spy's neck, squeezing the blood and air out of the Spy's throat.
On the verge of darkness and defeat, lightning saved the Spy's life. Another round from the Sniper's rifle had pierced the assailant's shoulder. It passed centimeters above the Spy's own torso, singeing fibers in its wake. The Spy threw the man forward, stabbing him through his neck. The man gave two long gurgles, then collapsed into the aether as the Spy took on his form.
It was then that the Spy realized he had killed the helicopter's pilot.
Of course, the situation could only get worse. Having seen his teammate being shot and stabbed did not sit well with the copilot, either. The butt of a pistol struck the back of the Spy's head. He collapsed from the shock of the hit, his disguise disappearing in a shimmer of light as the knife slipped from his hand. He reached for it, only to have his wrist stomped on. The copilot placed the barrel of his pistol against the Spy's forehead, a dark sneer pulling over thick teeth.
Perhaps the bullet to his brain would have spared the Spy from this insane adventure. Perhaps it could have reunited him with his beloved. Another round spoke louder, demanded more from him. The shot went into one side of the copilot's head and out the other, from ear to ear. He dropped to the ground, pinning the Spy beneath his dead weight. The Spy looked out the helicopter door, spotting a glimmer in the distance. The Sniper was rushing from his position, abandoning his safe haven to reach the Spy's side.
Within less than a minute, the Sniper bounded inside the cockpit. Marian and her men were hot on his heels, clambering into the vehicle as well. The Sniper braced the Spy, quick to throw his arm over the Australian's shoulder. Sensei started prodding at the wound in the back of the Spy's head. It could have been worse. That didn't stop it from stinging.
"Good God," Boomer growled. He rubbed his bloody knuckles, a few centimeters of scraped skin hanging from them. "Did the both 'a ya have ta kill both the pilot and the copilot?"
Marian shook her finger at the burly Australian. "Now, now. Don't fret. It can't be that hard to fly a helicopter, can it?"
Toaster shrugged. "I think I can do it." Everyone in the group gave him a dark glare. He crossed his arms, suddenly defensive of his request. "Oh, come on! I've already been in one flaming crash today. What's the chance of me gettin' in another one? God's gotta cut me a break, right?"
Buckaroo lifted an eyebrow. "The Lord doesn't work like that."
"You two. You are ex-Air Force, correct?" Marian pointed two of her guards to the front of the helicopter. "Go figure it out."
Nobody could believe her ludicrous requests. Then again, it was hard to think that any of today's events could be real or logical. At that moment, the Spy didn't put that much thought into it. His head felt like it was full of bees, swarming and stinging the inside of his skull. Somehow, they had pulled another victory out of their asses. After tossing the remaining corpses out of the helicopter, Boomer slammed the doors shut. It was not long after that event that the helicopter's blades wound to life. They jerked from the ground, then ascended into the heavens. It did not take long before Marian's men got a handle on the strange, foreign machine.
There were only two things that the Spy gave a damn about, at that very moment. The first was the thought of his raven-haired American beauty. Hopefully, she was sleeping soundly through the night, never knowing of the ruin raiding or the stranger slaying that the Spy was doing at that very moment. She knew he was a killer. He just hated that she knew his dark occupation. The only other thought he had at that moment was how grateful he was for the man sitting next to him, his piercing eyes softened with concern over the Frenchman's state. Perhaps he was a schmuck, just as easily manipulated as the Spy. He owed that man his life several times over today. It was hard not to look at him with the same care and respect.
He could not fail either of them. Not after he'd come so far.
Even though we are viewing this from the Spy's point of view, it seem like Sniper is being a bit neglected too much.
I mean, Sniper has been kidnapped and dragged across the world too, but it seems as if he's completely unaffected.
I really like the action in this chapter, can't wait for more. It's not easy to combine action with dialogue and description, and I love it when a capable author does credit to the source material like this. Excellent work!
If I had any criticism, I'd say I agree with above poster. I notice we get Medic and Miss Pauling and Scout Ma and Scout's point of views, but not Sniper's, who is the only person with Spy whose perspective the audience would be interested in. I don't think it detracts from the story, and I'm sure there are reasons for it that would make sense further along in the story and whatnot, but yeah, that thought occurred to me also.
You know what? That's some of the best criticism I've gotten in a long time. I'll make sure to write from the Sniper's perspective a little more, the next time I work with him.
But...ah...I did write this instead. So, next chapter, I think.
The Engineer's toolbox was a mess. He had purpose in his arrangement, every flat devoted to their own tool or component. The lighter nuts and bolts went to the top, the heavier wrenches and hammers to the bottom. Wires were wound neatly in small spools, put side by side in correct color order—red, orange, yellow, so on. To see his box jumbled into a heap was the last straw. It must have been dropped, screwed with by airport security. Worst of all, his most expensive tools were missing.
He slammed the steel box down, anger accumulating like a ball in his throat. His mechanical hand squeezed the handle, threatening to snap it off at any moment. The only thing that stopped him was a note towards the bottom of the box. It had been battered and torn in corners, but it was still legible. He unwrapped the note once more, his teeth gritting as he revealed the small battery lying in the middle. It was gouged, coated with battery fluid. A knife had struck it.
The note was terse, written with poor handwriting. "You were right. Damn Spook never saw it coming. I owe you one."
A shaky smile crept onto the Engineer's face. It had been the Sniper's idea. He didn't know why the Australian gave him so much credit. Sometimes, the Sniper could be a bit of a Luddite, but he had a streak of crazy ingenuity to him. It had been his plan to create a shield for his spine. Something to give him one shot against the enemy Spy's knife. The Engineer had only given him the battery and some wires as a token of good will. Neither of them thought it would work. Granted, it hadn't tricked their mutual enemy since then, but it did give the spook a good jolt.
The Engineer didn't realize he was crushing his chair's right arm until the Soldier interrupted his thoughts. "Engie, you're breaking that."
Glancing up, the Engineer let go of his chair. "Sorry, Sarge. Just thinkin' too hard."
"If anyone's going to be thinking too hard, it had better be you." The Soldier took the note from the Engineer, reading it over and eyeing the battery in his lap. "Ah, Engie—"
The Engineer dropped his head. "I guess yer right. Can't stop thinkin'. If I'd fought a little harder—just been a little faster—"
The Soldier lifted an eyebrow. "If you would have fought any harder, you probably would have punched a hole in the walls or the floor or something. Hell, maybe even the plane!"
"Maybe so." The Engineer laughed once, but couldn't bear to look the Soldier in the eye. "Guess I don't take losin' so well. 'Specially not…well, not when…" He gave up articulating his words, merely ending the sentence with a low grunt.
The Soldier was a thick man, but not that dense. He sighed, then patted the Engineer on the shoulder. Most of the time, he was the brains of their company. The man with the plan and the tools to carry it out. At times like this, though, the Soldier wondered if that was truly his position in the team's body. The Medic was more like the physical heart of the team in the way that he controlled the flow and pulse of life on the battlefield. He didn't get this drug down and beat up, not like the forlorn Texan in front of him. When he was struck down, the team's mood tumbled with him. Perhaps the Texan was a heart, too.
A body with two hearts? That seemed ridiculous.
"You're selling them short. They're fighting to get back to us. Hell, you saw the way our Kiwi Cupcake clawed his way to us. He got pretty close, too." The Soldier paused for a breath, tipping the Engineer's head upright. "They aren't running at full capacity right now. Something's holding them back. I saw the way that French frog just stood there, shaking in his leather shoes. He might be a lot of things, but he's not a coward. Well, not that much of a coward, anyway."
The Engineer frowned. "Ya think Marian's holdin' somethin' on them? Blackmail?"
"What else would stop two men that can't die?" the Soldier responded.
"Ya've got a pretty good point." The Engineer leaned down, wrapping his note around the dead battery and tucking it away. He snapped the top of his toolbox shut, then continued. "Glad yer brain's still runnin', Jane. I think mine burned a fuse."
The Soldier crossed his arms. "Some of us are meant to be the captain, and some of us are meant to be the navigator. Or the doctor. Or the science officer. Maybe the communications officer, if you can wear that short little skirt."
The Engineer shook his head. "I ain't got the legs fer it."
"Neither do I," the Soldier said. He pulled the Engineer up by his overalls. "Come on. Back to the war room with you, genius."
The war room, as the Soldier called it, was the only hotel room rented to the group with a television set. After a day of set-backs and no progress, most of the teammates were crowded around the twelve-inch screen, staring with wide eyes at grey squares. Perhaps their teammates would have made the news. It had to be rare to see an Australian and a Frenchman walking the streets in Abkhazia, after all. The only channels they were able to get in were news and propaganda stations. Of course, they were either in Georgian or Russian. The Heavy had gotten tired of translating for the group, so he had tucked himself into the corner of the room and started reading through the collection of novels he had packed. That left everyone else trying to bluff out what they were viewing, or worse, making up stories as they went.
Miss Pauling gave the returning men a smile, then scooted aside so they could sit with her on the bed. "Looks like we're watching the six o'clock news, now."
"I suppose they don't have American football scores here," the Soldier sighed. "Wait! I should take notes. It's always a good time to spy on Commies."
The Heavy shook his head, lifting his gaze from his book for one moment. "You do not know how to speak Russian. How you plan to do this, I wonder?"
The Soldier cocked an eyebrow. "I—um-I hadn't thought of that."
The Scout was having none of what was on the television. He groaned, then rocked backwards. "Heavy, your country's TV sucks."
"Is not my country," the Heavy replied. He lifted his novel, then gave it a light shake. "Why you think I am reading?"
"I'd never thought I'd say this, but blokes, I miss the BBC. Even limey gits in goof-arsed costumes with cardboard aliens is better than this," the Demoman groaned.
The Medic massaged his temples. "Zhe propaganda is getting old, at any rate. And I zhought Americans were bad wizh zheir zealous patriotism."
"There is nothing wrong with the burning, passionate pride I feel for Lady Liberty and her residence!" the Soldier huffed.
"Ad feesd, nud da banen pad," the Pyro agreed.
The Heavy glanced away from his novel once more. "Little men need to be quiet."
"Hey! Ain't no reason ta be sour 'bout America!" the Scout yipped.
Shaking his head, the Heavy pointed to the television set. "Quiet! Need to hear program."
Everyone piped down as their massive Russian focused on the news. A diminutive reporter was droning in Russian, his voice flat and dull as the grey colors coming from the television. Leaning forward, the Heavy hung onto his words. The Medic cocked his head, his brief knowledge of the language serving only to confuse him further. The reporter's words were made clearer as fuzzy still shots were placed onto the screen. It was a downed plane, smoldering in the forest. There was dark ooze coming from the front of it, but it was mostly clean otherwise. Half of one of the wings was missing. The body was turned to the camera, a symbol etched onto its side. It was a rose with five petals, the words beneath it too garbled in the poor quality to read.
The Demoman's eyes widened. "That's Miss Grey's plane!"
Miss Pauling put a hand to her face. "Oh my God. I hope they're okay."
"Dhey'd better be! I didn't come all da way out here just ta have dhose two morons spawn back in da U S of A," the Scout muttered.
The Heavy's face continued to sink. He shook his head, rubbing his cheek in concern. The Medic lifted his chin, not sure if he was hearing the reporter's fast words correctly. The look on the Russian's face said it all. Something appalling and disgusting had happened, no doubt. He placed a hand on the Heavy's shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. The Russian tapped his hand, touched by the gesture but still concerned.
"Whud huddened?" the Pyro asked the Heavy.
"Is bad. Very bad." The Heavy collected his thoughts, then spoke. "There was a military investigation. All men? All dead. Some stabbed. Some shot through head. Some gassed."
A painful knot thumped in the Engineer's chest. "Well, guess we know who did two 'a those actions. Musta had a good reason, though. Can't—I mean, I don't think—well, they wouldn't kill 'nless someone was harmin' them."
"It didn't sound like zhey caught our comrades," the Medic stated.
"Nyet. They stole helicopter. Are on loose," the Heavy said. "No casualties for them, I think. They must still be well."
The Scout jumped back into the conversation. "Man, where in da hell were dhey? We were lookin' all over dhis damn place. I ain't seen a forest like dat in the city!"
"Sounds like Lake Ritsa. Doubt they are there now," the Heavy replied. He rubbed a hand on his head, his face pulled into a deep frown. "Military lost them. No clue where they went. Is bad. We lost them too, now, I think."
Miss Pauling hopped off the bed. It was time to pull the team together. "Listen. We need a plan. The first thing to do is figure out where they're going. Mister Conagher, I'm trusting you can figure that out?"
"Of course," the Engineer nodded. "I'll get on the phone with Helen as soon as possible. We'll have ta take quite a few coordinates, but I'm guessin' we can figure out where they're headed next."
"Okay. Make sure you are absolutely positive before we move out again," Miss Pauling agreed. She turned to the rest of the team. "In the meantime, gentlemen, we need to prepare. Get packed up as much as you can. If you are able to, get some sleep. We need to be quick if we're ever going to catch up to them again."
The Soldier interjected into her speech. "What about if the Commies attack us, too?"
There was a loud groan from both the Heavy and the Medic. Miss Pauling clicked her tongue, then shook her head. "Fine. If you think we need a plan to fight a Soviet army, then make one."
"Cool," the Soldier smirked. "I think I'm starting to like this vacation."
Her neighbor was sitting in her kitchen.
The Scout's Mother stood in disbelief, her hands braced against a wooden frame. Perhaps her Spy had been right. She needed more locks on the back door. At least she'd been sleeping in pajamas last evening. Lately, the temperature had been too hot for her to bear. Adjusting to New Mexico's climate was taking longer than she'd anticipated. The only thing she had accumulated to was her little neighborhood. Even her son's war was too nonsensical to fully grasp.
"George? What are ya doin'?" she asked the man.
There was a snuffle from the kitchen table. Mister George Huntsman was an odd fellow. He was short, plump. His hair and beard grew in crazy black tufts. Not an attractive man by any means, but he was kind enough. He had a good green thumb, and he enjoyed helping her set up her own little garden. Granted, it was mostly cacti plants, but it was something for her to dote on. To see him slumping at her table, uninvited and all, was a little unusual, to say the least.
"I'm sorry. I couldn't do it," George wailed. His face was bright red, cheeks stained with tears.
The Scout's Mother tucked a strand of hair behind her ears. It shined with streaks of blue in the morning sunlight. She made sure her robe was closed tight, then entered the kitchen. "Here. Let me make ya some coffee. Cream? Sugar?"
George continued his blubbering. "Doesn't matter. I don't deserve it. I'm so sorry."
She worked quietly, quick to fill up the pot and place fresh grounds in the filter. She eyed the broken door in the back of her kitchen. Splinters were swept away, her broom out of place and the dustpan full of debris. "Did you do dat?"
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. I know. I'm a terrible man," Mister Hunstman wept.
"Oh, come on. You're not half as bad as some a' da guys I know 'round here." The Scout's Mother placed two pieces of toast into the toaster, then pressed the lever down. She fetched two coffee cups, the ceramic sides clinking against each other. She went to the refrigerator, then pulled out a rubber container filled with strawberry jam that she had recently made. She placed all of these items on the kitchen table as soon as they were ready.
She nudged her neighbor. "Come on. Have some breakfast. Can't start da day widdout it, ya know."
"Thank you," George said. He downed his coffee in one gulp. "I can't tell you how incredible you are. A fellow breaks into your house, and you serve him breakfast?"
The Scout's Mother shrugged. "Nothin' to it. Not like you were gonna kidnap me or something."
George gave her a panicked look. He sniffled once more, then grabbed for something in his pockets. He fished out a note, then passed it to the Scout's Mother. She flipped it open, her curiosity turning to anger. In her hands was a contract for her kidnapping, complete with a price and two initialed letters. She should have been angry. Instead, she found herself sighing. She'd expected something like this would happen sometime, given the shady business that her boy was involved with.
"So, who put ya up ta dhis?" she asked.
George replied. "You're not going to believe me. Marian Grey."
The Scout's Mother lifted an eyebrow. "What? You mean, da make-up broad?"
"It's complicated, but…the short answer is yes," George said between two bites of toast. "She wanted to have me keep an eye on you. 'For motivation', she told me. Something about a research project and a secret agent. I'm guessing that's your fellow that comes 'round here from time to time. The one in the suit?"
"Mon caniche sauvage?" She hissed. "Dammit. I knew this would happen someday. Kinda surprised it didn't happen sooner."
George grabbed a paper napkin from the center of the table. "I'm so sorry. I don't mean to be blubbering all over your kitchen. I just couldn't do it. I've done it before, but this time? I just couldn't! You were too nice of a woman. You've always treated me so kindly. I just—I just couldn't."
The Scout's Mother rubbed her forehead. "Ya don't strike me as someone who's good wit' dhis kinda work."
"Guess I had a change of heart," George replied.
She took a drink of coffee, then leaned back. "Where is she, right now? Marian?"
"She took your man and another with her overseas. Last I heard, she was in Egypt. It's been a day since then, though. She could be anywhere." George leaned forward. "Marian's a crazy one. She's looking for the Fountain of Youth. I don't even know why she thought the two of them would be any good at it. I mean, maybe that Australian guy she found, but your man? He seems a little too clean-cut to be diving into ruins."
The Scout's Mother groaned. "She got Mister Mundy, too? Man, she is a greedy little gal, ain't she?"
After gulping down the last of his toast, George sighed. "Probably would be too much if I asked for another slice, wouldn't it?"
"Whatever makes you feel better," she replied. She got out of her chair and made two more slices. As she waited for the toaster to pop, thoughts swirled in her head. Vindication was at the front of her mind. Not against George, no. He was a pawn. Just a hired hand. No, she needed to expose Miss Grey for this deed. Get back her man. Get some revenge. That sounded pretty good.
She served George two more slices. As he helped himself to more jam, the Scout's Mother leaned forward. "Ya think she'll call again?"
George nodded. "As soon as she gets to a phone. I'm supposed to deliver you to her, no matter where she is. Just in case that French fellow of yours gets rebellious."
"Okay." The Scout's Mother nodded. "Tell ya what. Next time she calls, get her ta ask ta send me. Dhen let me know, all right? I'll pack my bags."
George's eyes widened. "You can't be serious! You know how she'll—"
She shook her head. "I don't care. Listen. She's got my man, and I ain't standin' fer it. I'm gonna get him back, you hear me? Just point me da right way, and I'll go. You just stay here and hold tight. Maybe fix my door."
"You're going after her? On your own?" George smiled. "You're a brave woman."
The Scout's mother nodded. "Gotta be brave. A weak woman doesn't raise eight sons on her own."
I JUST finished reading the last update before you posted this one. That made me happy because I wouldn't have to wait so long for this update.
THEN THIS UPDATE ENDS WITH A DOUBLE CLIFFHANGER SO WHATEVERIDONTCAREIMNOTMADTHATIHAVETOWAITAWEEKFORACLIFFHANGERSOLIKEWHATEVER
I love this story a lot, and most of the time i just don't have anything to say, but today I noticed something.
Spy used the eternal reward to kill those men, and you clearly stated that their bodies dissapeared, yet on the news they speak of stabbed victims. It couldn't have been boomer or one of the others, since the soldiers had guns up until Spy and Sniper took most of them out... Is it a mistake or did I misread ?
Anyway, awesome story, I'll be here waiting for it.... Forever.
>>54 Crap. You're right. Total mistake.
just gunna say, Scout's Mom's nickname for the Spy = completely completely completely perfect. Loving this fic, keep up the good work! <3
I can't think of anything constructive to say here. Go Scoutma!
Kiwi Cupcake & Mon caniche sauvage - Goshdarn, you have the best nicknames!
Suppose I'd better get this posted before real-life yanks me back into its folds.
Think I might have played a little fast and loose with history. Then again, pyromaniac Abraham Lincoln.
Home never seemed so far away.
The Sniper was ashamed and irritated with the way he yearned for the dark interior of his van, the coolness of the garage back in New Mexico. His stomach burned with hunger, craving for those bologna sandwiches that the Heavy always had prepared. He wanted to crawl beneath the covers to his fold-out bed, to fall asleep to the rhythmic clanging of a wrench against some metallic contraption. He was embarrassed with how domesticated he'd become. If anything, he should be celebrating his return to his land of origin, a country teeming with dangerous wildlife, beautiful vistas, and saucy citizens. He was homesick, but not for Australia.
He must have drifted off for a few hours. The group's escape from Lake Ritsa had drained him. It was with a little luck that the helicopter's fuel had lasted until they had passed into Turkey. From there, Marian had gotten them aboard a plane headed towards Queensland. It had its stops here and there, but for the most part, it was a direct flight. The near-constant travel was starting to bother his legs. Being in the air so long was causing them to ache.
Turbulence shook the Sniper from his slumber. It was just as well. He hadn't dreamt of anything worthwhile. He turned his attention to his teammate, who was similarly snapped awake. The Frenchman blinked twice, then stretched. He cracked his neck, slowly exhaling as he took a look around him. Marian's various employees were waking up as well. A low murmur filled the plane as they each took to discussing one topic or another.
The Spy turned his attention to the Sniper. "Your eyes are dark."
"Hmm?" The Sniper lifted an eyebrow. "Ah, sorry. Happens when I get tired."
"I understand. Zhis trip has not been easy on eizher of us. It is lucky zhat we have not gotten sick," the Spy nodded.
The Sniper pulled a slow smile, his sharp canines flashing briefly. "Yeah. Just…just a little longer."
The Spy lifted his head, his eyes scanning the area. The Sniper wondered how rough their kidnapping had been on him. It couldn't have been easy to go globe-trotting, especially with a lack of a balaclava. At least he still had his fedora to cast a shadow over his face. Both of them were low on supplies, the majority of their equipment left in a burning aircraft in Abkhazia. Clean clothes and fresh bullets would be a godsend.
"How long has it been since you last visited Australia?" the Spy asked.
The Sniper paused to count. "Five years, I suppose."
"Zhat's quite some time," the Spy replied.
A loud, rumbling voice interrupted their quiet talk. "Five years? Crikey, Cockie. Your sheep are probably all livin' in a jungle now!"
The Sniper frowned. Boomer was up. "Ya know, I had the dogs trained well enough ta—"
"Wait a moment. Sheep? Dogs?" A short chuckle escaped the Spy. "Pardonnez-moi, but I cannot imagine you as a good farmer. I have seen you in zhose fashion abominations known as overalls, but—"
"Never really had one 'a my own. Just helped my parents," the Sniper grimaced.
The Spy turned to face the interrupter. He placed a hand on his chin as he addressed Boomer. "And how could you tell zhis fact about my colleague anyway, hmm?"
Boomer cocked his head, then gave a wide grin. "It's easy to tell the cockies apart from the rest of us Aussies. Those of us that live in the capitals get a lot 'a exposure to Australium. Those out in the GAFA? Not so much. Buncha sticks come outta there."
The Sniper pulled his head back. While he wasn't the brawniest or burliest man, he wasn't exactly a shrimp, either. "Now, see here. I ain't that—"
"See what I mean? Touchy 'bout it, they are." Boomer patted the Sniper twice on the face, taunting him. "Can't grow much of a beard. Dark haired. Burned, not tanned. Definitely not from the coasts."
Retracting into his seat, the Sniper growled. The Spy couldn't blame him, even if he was being a little petty. There was some strange nerve that Boomer had struck. Perhaps there was a greater strife between Australians than he'd previously known. The Sniper hadn't fussed about Australium before, even when the Engineer prattled on to him about its worth in electronics. Maybe it was because the substance was being used practically, not as a steroid or aesthetic supplement.
"I zhink you have learned enough about us, for zhe time being," the Spy covered for the frustrated Sniper.
Boomer snorted, then sat back in his seat. "They're moodier than your last sheila, Toaster."
Toaster snapped upright. "Hey! Don't talk crap about Rachel!"
"Rebecca," Buckaroo corrected, not bothering to look up from his book.
"No, Rachel. She was the reporter, remember?" Toaster's face contorted. "Rebecca was the back-stabber that fell into the Rhine."
Buckaroo shook his head. "Yes. Fell. Say what ya will."
Toaster scowled, his cheeks flaring with color. "Look, get pissed all ya want, but she had a gun ta our doctor's head. She had a good fall comin'."
"I appreciate that," Sensei murmured. "Still, Rachel was not quite so pleasant, either. We worked hard for that ruby, and she did a very good job of stealing it from us."
Buckaroo sighed. "Least it made its way to a museum."
"Yeah. Wish I would have had the money that it was worth, though," Toaster growled.
The four men continued their banter, prattling about one woman after another. It was enough to make the Spy blush in shame. He'd wooed a fair number of ladies in his time. It was part of his occupation, after all. This conversation, however? It was juvenile, sophomoric. He gave up trying to follow it.
He turned his attention to his morose teammate. The Sniper was staring out of the plane. There was nothing out there for him to see. At least, nothing outside of his imagination and daydreams. The ocean was an undulating, nauseating wave of indigos and sapphires. What little of the sky was above them was dark as pitch, save for a few struggling stars. The disappearing world forced their attentions to each other, driven together in the white flying cage.
"What'll happen, ya suppose?" the Sniper asked. "Gonna get home sometime this month?"
"I hope. It may be a little complicated when we return," the Spy speculated.
Nodding, the Sniper sighed. He leaned his head into the headrest, turning to face the Spy. "Moight be. Could change the world, I suppose. Or, we could be hunted down like dogs." He tried lifting his mood. "Long as she's okay, yeah? That's the thing."
A slow smile spread on the Spy's face. "Oui. And our occupations, as well. It would be unfortunate to lose our jobs over somezhing zhis trivial."
The Sniper agreed, a yawn escaping his throat. A rattle from the plane kept him from falling back to sleep. Something cold splattered against the plane's windows. Rain, perhaps. He gave an involuntary shiver, his skin prickling. The Spy's features softened, his eyebrows pulled down. The Sniper sat up, his pride pulling him out of his slump. His eyes could be dark for a little while longer.
There had to be at least half a dozen concerns in the Spy's brain. He didn't need to be one of them.
The sun met them in Brisbane. Their plane touched down as orange light drizzled its way down the black runway. The Sniper's stomach flipped a few times, his feet digging into the floor. The landing was a touch too rough for his liking. As the plane taxied its way towards a gate, the plane's passengers began to gather their things. Neither the Spy nor the Sniper fussed too much with the overhead compartments, each taking their remaining weapons. Strange plane, this was. Hardly any plane would want their passengers to be carrying weapons. Then again, the Sniper had reason to doubt the legitimate nature of this flight.
Marian gleefully greeted her men. She must have rested well. "Gentlemen, welcome to Brisbane! Now, make sure you've got everything. I'm going to be headed straight to my office. Don't worry about finding accommodations. There's a nearby hotel for you to crash at, for the day."
"Not getting straight to cracking zhe whip?" the Spy asked.
"Heaven's sake, no! We've got to have a plan before we start searching again." She brushed past most of her guards, fiddling with the remnants of her luggage. "Now, while we plan, you all can go buy supplies and clothing. Take a bath, too. Not to be rude, but you smell like gunpowder and bacon."
The Spy pulled a face. "I most certainly do not!"
The Sniper caught onto different words. "We?"
"Well, yes. I'll need you and Boomer darling to help me chart our course. I'm not just going to hire a helicopter and fly it around Queensland," Marian smirked.
Boomer shrugged his massive shoulders. "Long as we get toime ta prep afterwards, that sounds fine ta me."
As the group began to exit the plane, the Spy tugged on the back of the Sniper's shirt. He pulled a tag out of the back, silently reading the measurements. After he was done, he stuffed the tag down once more. The Sniper fidgeted, surprised with the Spy's actions. "Thought ya'd have me sized up by soight alone."
"I did. It is good to know I was right," the Spy smiled, his expression reserved and dry.
"Ya don't have ta worry 'bout finding me anythin'. I'll want ta walk about later, anyway," the Sniper said.
The Spy shook his head. "Yes. Zhat is what concerns me. Just get your little meeting over with, zhen find me. Zhat is assuming you don't fall asleep standing up, of course."
"I'm not that—" the Sniper started, but cut himself off with his own yawn. The Spy did nothing to taunt him, but he raised an eyebrow. He gave his teammate two taps on the back, guiding him over to Boomer and Miss Grey. As they exited the plane, the Spy left with the rest of Boomer's group and some of Marian's guards. It did not take long for her to bluff their way through customs and hail a cab. Impressive, considering the rifle strapped to the Sniper's back. Then again, most of his countrymen would snap his neck before he'd be able to fire off a single shot.
Brisbane grew like a proud giant, blue steel greeting the morning as it clawed its way into the heavens. Buildings spiraled upwards, communications towers on every other roof. They cut through sky, angled and curved in perfect lines and arcs to catch the sunlight. The Sniper must have looked like a simpleton, staring for minutes at the sharp structures that dwarfed him. If it weren't for the comfort of the soft, green trees growing in precise rows out of the ground, the city's sheen would have made him blind. He wanted to see more of nature, to crawl away and slip into the river that wound beneath the city.
The extension office for Marian's corporation wasn't as impressive as the Sniper thought it might have been. Then again, real estate in one of the most lucrative cities on the planet must have been hard to purchase, especially for a foreigner. Perhaps she didn't need anything too flashy, if she wasn't going to be at it a lot. It was about ten or fifteen floors high, polished and gleaming like every other building. A pink rose with five petals adorned the front door. She ushered her guards and contract employees inside, paying no attention to the gawks of the rest of the office workers. Apparently, they hadn't expected her to be stopping it.
Her office spread over most of the top floor. She invited everyone to sit down in thick, plush maroon couches. They were comfortable, definitely better than the seats that they'd just been in. All the same, the Sniper kept standing. He had to work out the kinks in his legs. He poked and prodded around her plants, bouncing leaves off the tips of his fingers.
Marian dropped the map from Lake Ritsa on her desk. She also placed a map of Australia on the glass surface. She studied it for a moment, watching the way the ancient trail traveled like a tangled mess. She waved both Boomer and the Sniper over.
"Well, my good men? What do you think?" Marian asked.
"It's probably not by any city, yeah? We'd have found that by now." Boomer crossed his arms, chuckling once, "Ya think how screwed the rest of the world would be? Aussies with the ability ta regenerate at any toime? Drives the Seppos nuts enough that we've got the power!"
Marian agreed, putting the dig against her countrymen aside. "Makes sense. A forest, then? Perhaps a rainforest."
The Sniper scrunched up his face. "Ya'll have ta be more precise than that. We got tons 'a forests around here."
"Well now. Isn't that why I brought you here?" Marian fluttered her eyes twice. The Sniper wasn't sure if it was a come on or if she was mocking him.
Boomer started with his deductions. "The Gondwana Rainforests are probably too far south fer these travelers."
Marian asked, "Near Mount Warning, right?" She got sidetracked, her mind wandering as she rambled. "Weird place for a name, if you ask me. What's up with that, anyway? That, and Lake Disappointment. I just don't get you people."
"Humor? Fact? We call it like it is," Boomer replied.
The Sniper peered over the map, pressing a finger against the ridge of his nose. "Karawatha? Mmm, probably not. Maybe Daintree?"
"We'd probably have found somethin' in Karawatha, if it were there. Daintree, though…Ya could be onto something." Boomer leaned closer to the map, trying to unravel the twisted trail. "Buncha sloppy travelers, for people that made it half-way 'round the world."
Marian narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out what was going on with the map. She placed her chin on the desk, staring at ink long since faded. The Sniper followed her glares, trying to figure out what she was seeing. There was something off. Most of the ink had washed off along the coastline, like a drop of rain had erased it over dozens of centuries. It left just a hint of its original path, a brown streak leading out into the ocean.
"Where did it stop?" Marian asked.
Boomer nudged the paper. "What, this? Hell, I don't know. Looks loike a stain ta me."
"People just don't stop out in the middle of the ocean," Marian grumbled.
"They don't. Not arguin' with ya," Boomer agreed. "Just doesn't make sense ta me."
The Sniper leaned closer to the map. The map's coastline was familiar to him. He flipped between the two maps. Neither map was in scale to the other, so it made it somewhat difficult to figure out where that stain was leading. If he was reading the map correctly, then the trail ended on an island. He jerked his head back, recognizing what island would be in the vicinity.
"Fraser Island," the Sniper murmured.
A look of panic crossed Boomer's face. "Oh, mate. Are ya invitin' trouble?"
Marian cocked her head, fussing with her pillbox hat. "What's wrong with Fraser Island?"
"What's wrong with Fraser Island?" Boomer huffed, his nose and moustache twitching. "First off—the name? Place's named after a lass that survived a shipwreck. Then, the goddamn Maheno gets itself blasted by a bloody cyclone into it! So, we rigged the damn thing with explosives during World War Two—tests, ya know—so the island's got bombs goin' for it as well. That's nothin' compared ta the sick and dead loggers!"
The Sniper raised an eyebrow. "Don't think I heard about that one."
"Probably because ya were too busy wranglin' sheep," Boomer sneered. He shook his head, pulling away from the map. "Bad business, mate. Musta been around the late fifties. Whole crews were comin' back with fevers and meltin' skin. Nobody could tell what they got into, either. Pollies thought it moight be nuclear, but there wasn't any radiation. Hell, not even the Aboriginals wanted ta go there after that one."
The Sniper rubbed a hand against his temple. Was he that out of touch with his homeland? Certainly, he would have heard about something like that. Then again, he spent most of the fifties wriggling his way through the heart of the country, charring his skin and chasing after monsters that would make most Australians turn white with fear. Not that he wanted to doubt the words of a city man, but it seemed preposterous to him. Then again, he'd seen several impossible things in his lifetime.
"Suppose ya don't have hazmat suits," the Sniper asked Marian.
"I'm sure I can find some. Besides, we do some chemical testing here. I'm certain R&D can spare a few suits," Marian smirked. "Should I get another plane set up? Perhaps another helicopter? It might take a day, but—"
Boomer gritted his teeth. He hissed softly, "Do what ya loike. Don't say I didn't warn ya."
Marian taunted the larger Australian. "I'll take it that you're still coming with us, then."
"Money's too good," Boomer agreed. He gave the Sniper a quick glance. "Whaddya say, Cockie? Ready ta go up again?"
"'Course," the Sniper nodded.
It wasn't as if he could let the Spy go out to some bomb-riddled, disease-filled death trap on his own.
Aww, friendship <3
Heyy, you didn't say you'd actually updated this!
Your OC's are so canon to TF2. Although I want to kick all of them in the face, I love them for existing.(?)
Not much to see here. Just some fluff and clockwork. The next few chapters will be all steak and potatoes, though.
The Spy entered his latest boudoir in the middle of the afternoon. He took a moment to study the hotel room, slipping his leather shoes off one at the same time. It was by no means a five star suite. Still, the room had its charms. The walls were painted a warm cream color. Prints of animals were hanged on the walls, brightly colored and spiraled in their patterns. The furniture was made of a cheap but aesthetically pleasing wood, reddish and stained to bring out the grain. He strolled to the opposite side of the room, placing his purchases down. He had found a few items that may prove useful on their next journey to whatever environment awaited him. Boots, canteens, binoculars, ammunition. He'd picked up some fresh clothing, although he wasn't too fond of the style. Beggars couldn't be choosers, though. His suit was by no means clean, and it was beginning to smell of his sweat. He needed it dry-cleaned as soon as possible.
Shrugging off his jacket, he reached for a white cotton polo. He threw his dress shirt aside, then reached for his knife. He paused for a moment as he caught his reflection in the blade. He could hardly recognize himself. His stubble had grown, brown and grey hairs sticking out of his chin. His face was getting tanner, the outline of his balaclava disappearing as the sun erased it. His hair was curling with the heat. Wild streaks of silver hair ran above his ears. He looked away from his visage, cutting the price tag off his new shirt and flinging it into the garbage can.
As soon as he'd slipped into his polo, there was a knock at the door. He flipped his balisong closed, but kept it in his right hand. He pulled the door back, finding his teammate behind it. The Sniper gave him a greeting grunt, then kicked his boots off. He tossed his hat onto the dresser, eyeing the bed just behind the Spy's back.
"I zhink not," the Spy grumbled.
The Sniper scrunched up his face. He pulled his sunglasses off his nose, placing them next to his hat. "Yer right. Probably should bathe first."
"Shower before me? I dare you," the Spy snorted. He drew his teammate away from the door, locking it. "It would be best for you to stay awake for a few hours and fight your jet lag, don't you zhink?"
"Suppose so," the Sniper nodded. "Not gonna be doin' much, though. Marian's not plannin' on headin' out 'til the mornin'."
"Where are we going?" the Spy asked.
"Fraser Island. Couple 'a hours north-northeast 'a here. Not the kinda place ya take yer fancy shoes." The Sniper tapped his right foot against the Spy's shoe, his toe touching the point. He stifled a yawn, trying to keep focused on his surroundings. Talking seemed to help him keep going. He turned his attention to the white bags propped up next to the bed. "So, what'd ya buy?"
The Spy snapped the collar of his new shirt. "Ahem."
The Sniper caught on. "Oh! That's—that's lovely. Quoite nice. Good pick."
"I found one some clothes for you as well. You must be getting tired of wearing zhat filthy uniform," the Spy said. He tugged the Sniper towards his purchases.
The Australian gave the bags an uneasy glance. The Spy placed several articles of clothing onto the bed. The ones the Spy tossed in front of him looked like they would fit. He looked at the care tag on each one, then grimaced at the price tag. He was surprised the Spy had this much money on him. It was a little awkward to have someone else taking care of him, particularly when it came to his clothing.
"You don't look enthused," the Spy grumbled.
"No, no. I mean, ya did a good job. It's just…" The Sniper brought his left hand to his right arm, rubbing the patch on his arm. "That shirt's just not my color, ya know?"
An empathetic frown settled on the Spy's face. He understood. Perhaps he didn't wear his emblem on his sleeve like the rest of his teammates, but he could comprehend the Sniper's hesitance. His color and his symbol were his ties to the rest of the men they had left behind. He didn't wear that shirt out of comfort. It was out of allegiance. As a man who slipped between teams like a sly snake, the Spy didn't have that same attachment to his clothes. Of course, he treasured his standard attire, but it wasn't because of its team markings. All the same, he knew what the Sniper was feeling. He felt that same pang of loneliness.
The Spy sighed, then fished a box of detergent out of one of the bags. "Zhis would ruin my suit, but I zhought you might want it. I would zhink soaking your shirt in ze tub will do."
The Sniper lowered his head, speaking softly. "Thanks, mate."
"If you would refrain from washing it before both of us get cleaned up, I would appreciate zhat. Now, I must go scrub off whatever filth is embedded in my skin. Lord knows what parasites feast here," the Spy grumped.
His attitude drew a bark of laughter from the Sniper. "So, ya put a clean shirt on yer dirty body? And that made sense because—"
The Spy grimaced. On inspection, it did not. He grabbed the rest of his purchased clothes from the bags, then stormed off to the restroom. "Just don't fall asleep, Bushman."
"I won't," the Sniper replied. Never-the-less, he flopped onto the bed and closed his eyes. "Be easier ta stay awake if I had somethin' ta eat."
The Spy replied, "Second bag. Ham and cheese."
A muttered "Thank you!" came through the bathroom door. The Spy locked it in response. He placed his purchases on the floor, quick to toss his new shirt aside before he got it any more soiled. He put his knife on the vanity, then undid his belt and laid it alongside the blade. It did take long for him to lose his remaining articles of clothing. With a sharp hiss, the shower head turned the bathroom into a crude sauna, warm fog rolling over the wall-length mirror. The stains of his adventures rolled down the drain, washing sand, mud, and rain away.
As the showerhead rained hot water onto his scalp, the Spy found himself unwinding. The muscles in his back were the first to go, his aching slowing into a dull, pleasing throb. He held his left hand above his ear, water rushing past his thumb and down strands of hair. He closed his eyes for a moment, allowing himself to lose some grasp on his situation. He had sharp eyes outside his door. He was safe, for the moment.
His mind was quick to conjure her presence. A roll of hot mist became her breath, a gentle murmur fresh in his memory. He brushed water from his hair, trickling down his back with the tenderness of her touch. A genuine grin spread across his unclean face. That's right. That's why he was here. This was a foul, dirty job, but even a poor memory of her was worth it. As soon as he could wash his hands of this mess, he would be at her side once more, his arms around her smooth shoulders. He sighed, leaning against the tiled walls. He was becoming weaker as he aged. There was no doubt about it. Yet, it was a weakness he was willing to let be.
He opened his eyes, then grimaced at the complimentary shampoos with a five-petalled rose.
The Engineer's voice was so cracked that the rest of his teammates didn't understand him when he first spoke. He'd stayed up through the night and most of the morning, constantly needling the Administrator for coordinates. After several hours of data, the points settled down and nestled onto the eastern coasts of Australia. Despite his sleepless night, the Engineer was smiling. He pulled his goggles off his red eyes, a wide smile beaming above his jutting chin.
"Did not copy. Come again?" the Soldier asked.
The Engineer leaned against the hotel doorway, his metal hand bracing him. "Brisbane. Australia. They've finally stopped moving."
The Scout cocked his head. He scrambled for his hat, his hair an uncombed mess. "What in da hell are dey doin' over there? Sniper adoptin' a baby koala or somethin'?"
"Ah. So, that's it." The Demoman turned his attention to the Medic, who was hardly more put together than the Scout. "'Member, Doc? Isn't that one 'a Marian's international spots?"
The Medic brought a hand to his chin. Even after a day without shaving, all he'd managed to sprout was a tiny bit of peach fuzz. "Ah, yes. Zhat is correct. I believe zhat zhere is a testing facility zhere."
"Strange place to stop, I think. How long will they stay?" The Heavy pushed himself off one of the beds. He reached for his suitcase, carefully placing his effects inside of the beaten luggage. "We will not have long. They move too much. Best to go now."
"Ai ergrr," the Pyro nodded. "Hrr nrrs phren prhell fop ugun."
The Soldier jumped onto his feet. He gave dignified orders for a man in a bathrobe and fluffy slippers. "Then we will get moving immediately, troops! I can't believe I'm saying this, but follow the Commie's example! We will head back to the airport and get moving as soon as possible! Miss Pauling, can you get us tickets?"
Everyone paused when their perky assistant didn't respond. She was slumped in a nearby chair, her glasses placed on a near-by table. Her black hair was sticking out from her buns, unruly and frayed. The men flushed in embarrassment. She must have been wiped out. It couldn't be easy to keep seven men under control, particularly seven killers. The Medic scratched his forehead, the Scout slapping his. She wasn't the Administrator, but they didn't want to accidentally piss her off, either.
"Change of plan, then." The Soldier readjusted his orders. "Everyone, pack up. The first man who gets done will assist me in purchasing coffee for the group. Whoever finishes packing last will be charged with waking up Miss Pauling. Is that clear?"
The mercenaries rushed to the conclusion of his commands, frantic to beat each other. Even the smallest of challenges could set off their competitive behavior. Of course, sabotage was inevitable. The Scout started the feud by stealing a pair of the Pyro's socks. He winged it at the Medic's head, which bounced off the German's forehead and landed in the Heavy's luggage. The Russian flung the socks back, knocking the Scout's hat clean off. Unable to leave it be, the Bostonian tossed it once more, missing the Heavy and nailing the Demoman in the eye patch. The Demoman retaliated by pitching something horrid, odiferous, and all together gut-curdling at the Scout's nose. The crude game of dodge ball escalated, every man taking a turn at tossing some awful article of clothing at each other. It only got worse when the Soldier tried quieting his restless team by wrestling them into an unfolded bed.
By the time any of them came to their senses, the Engineer had taken care of both awakening Miss Pauling and fetching coffee. It just seemed simpler to just get it done. If there was anything the half-conscious Texan appreciated at that moment, it was simplicity.
"Do you have your toothbrush?"
The Scout's mother nodded. She patted George on his face. "For da hundredth time, yes. And my hairbrush. And my shotgun, for dat matter."
The man who was supposed to be her kidnapper flushed with embarrassment. He stumbled away from her front door, giving her room enough to lock the place up. There was little she could do about the back door, for the time being. George would just have to fix that up while she was out. He broke it, after all. It only seemed fair. Besides, any thief would be sorely disappointed in the contents of her household. The worst they could do would be to steal her four engagement rings and two wedding rings. Even then, she hardly looked at the jewelry anymore.
"I wished you'd let me drive you to the airport," George said.
"You can't. What if Marian's got goons dhere? She'd have da whammy put on ya in half a heartbeat." The Scout's mother walked to her transportation. It was a classic vehicle, a powder blue boat of a car with fins that would make any science-fiction ship blush with shame. "I got dis under control. I know how ta handle uppity broads."
George shook his head, his oily black hair flopping. "I can't believe how strong you are."
"I wasn't made dis way, ya know. Scared ta death. It's been years since…" She paused for a moment, staring at the clouds above her head. It must have been the last time she was in Paris. A small bit of color made its way to her face, her temperature rising. That had been one of the most romantic and infuriating times in her life. Of course, she'd always wanted to visit France with her man. It was unfortunate that he had a doppelganger with an all-consuming desire and lust for revenge. She shook her head, trying to focus on the situation at hand. "Well. Anyway. Ain't nothin' in Australia dat could keep me from my boys. Not poison, not bugs, not nothin'."
"Suppose a gal that lives on her own has to squash her own bugs," George chuckled.
She nodded her head. After unlocking the driver-side door, she tossed her luggage into the passenger's seat. A thought struck her as she turned to face her house and her plump neighbor in front of it. For a marked woman, she was awfully lucky. Most women didn't mean a single assassin in her lifetime. She knew at least twenty. She didn't know what she was doing to keep her death at bay, sometimes.
The Scout's mother stepped away from her vehicle. She approached her would-be kidnapped and gave the man a hug. "If it weren't for you rattin' on yer boss, I wouldn't be able ta do dis. Thank ya."
"Something tells me I'm going to have to sell my house," George sighed. "This might be the last time we see each other."
She pulled away. "Well, I'm sorry ta hear dat. Hope dat's not da case." She gave George a playful slug in the shoulder. "Listen. Call me if ya need help, okay? My man, he'll help ya out. He's real good at hidin' things, ya know? Comes with his job."
"I'll be okay. You just…" George sighed, a laborious action for a man of his girth. "You just keep yourself safe."
The Scout's mother turned away from him, quick to bounce to her car. With a deep roar, her beloved machine came to life. Within a blink of an eye, she pulled out of her driveway and zoomed out of her little cul-de-sac. George watched her go, a mixture of fear and amusement running through his veins. He blew air out of his lips, then stomped to his ranch house. A cold chill swept through him as he stumbled towards his kitchen. He didn't dare look at himself in the reflective surface of his stove. He reached for the phone, dialing a number etched in his brain.
The line rang three times before it was answered. No one spoke on the other end of the line. There was merely low breathing, a quiet hiss slithering out of the earpiece and into his mind. He exhaled once more, then spoke. "She's on her way."
A pleased, sultry voice skulked into his ear canals. "Good job. My men will be waiting. Your check's in the mail."
"I hope you know what you're up against," George growled to his employer.
"Don't make me laugh, Mister Huntsman. I've got two master assassins wrapped around my finger." The voice chuckled derisively. "How much trouble could one little homemaker be?"
Aw, I like seeing the stuff that goes on between action sequences, too. The characters need a little down time! Besides, it's fun seeing them interact off of the battlefield or some other dangerous place.
Excellent work as usual. I love the details in your description, very evocative imagery, but doesn't interfere with the character interaction or dialogue. Can't wait for more!
Okay. Here it comes.
The Scout's mother stepped off the plane, her carry-on in tow. Even if she had only been sitting for hours on end, she felt exhausted. She couldn't sleep, her mind frantic with activity. She placed a hand on the back of her head, her hairdo in impeccable shape thanks to some industrial-grade hairspray. The black-haired woman shuffled her way through customs, wary of the people around her. There were hundreds of burly people around her, men and women alike built like Olympian gods. She was used to her paramour's friends, some of whom shared a similar overbearing stance. But now, surrounded by shining specimens of human potential, she began to wonder if she was in over her head.
Well, even a large person could fall to a shotgun blast. She just had to go get it.
It didn't take too long to go through customs. The little woman was quick to declare her items. Nobody seemed to make a fuss about her weaponry. Funny. Then again, if she understood the country correctly, they were all a little mad. She passed through, quick to pick up her luggage and weapon case. Easy. All she'd have to do is—
"M'am?" Somebody tapped her on the shoulder.
The Scout's mom spun on her heel. There were two men flanking her. Both of them had thick, bushy moustaches and hair that would make Norse gods jealous. They were dressed in crisp suits, complete with white gloves. Their brawny stature and sharp appearance did little to intimidate her. Never-the-less, she kept polite. "Did I do somethin' wrong?"
"No." The man on her left turned perpendicular to her. "We were sent ta pick ya up."
"No one's expectin' me." She snarled, white teeth bright against red lipstick. "Just who do ya think ya—"
One of the guards pressed a hand on her shoulder. A cold sensation made her shiver. He pulled his hand away, gauze in his palm. Chills shot through her. There was a buzzing sensation in her head, a weird scent like mint filling her nostrils. She turned her head towards her shoulder, noticing a shining spot on her skin. It looked like lotion.
It didn't take long for the slime to knock her off her feet. She stumbled backwards, brain stupefied. One man took her items. The other grabbed her by the waist, forcing her to trudge towards the exit. To any other traveler, it looked like two security guards were helping a drunken woman outside. Hardly anything as insidious as a kidnapping.
Her consciousness was slipping fast. She knew that she should have fought, bitten and scratched her way to safety. Hell, even screaming would have been helpful. There was nothing to her. She was all fluff, no substance. It was amazing she was still on her feet. The least those bastards could have done was carry her away.
Her two abductors forced her outside, pressing her towards a waiting car. It was long and black. Just like every villainous car ever, she supposed, save for the decals. One opened the passenger door for her. He scooped her off her feet, dropping her inside. At least he had the courtesy to buckle her in. The other man tossed her luggage into the trunk. Both were quick to hop into the front. It didn't take long for the car to rumble away. She leaned her head against the car's window, staring at her feet. She'd lost a shoe. Oh, well. A giggle escaped her. Maybe a prince would find it.
The Scout's mother closed her eyes, absent-mindedly wondering why the car was decorated with roses.
It was not an hour later that another set of strange foreigners landed in that same international airport. There was a small dark-haired woman amongst them as well. She did not attract as much attention as her companions. Even amongst the most muscle-bound, the Heavy was a towering titan that attracted the swoons and fawns of many a thick-mustached Australian woman. This did little to please the Medic, two different kinds of jealous combining to give him a double-dosage of grief. His vanity and his possessive nature nipped at him. The Soldier, the Demoman, and the Engineer each got their fair share of fascinated glances as well. So did the Pyro, but that may have been more out of confusion than general interest. Of course, that left the Scout more or less ignored.
"So, dis is Australia, huh?" The Scout grumbled. "Thought dhey'd have kangaroos out in the lobby or somethin'."
Miss Pauling cocked her head, somewhat confused. "Well, that woman has one on a leash, for what that is worth to you."
The Medic fumbled with his glasses. "Are ve sure zhat is a kangaroo? Could be a wallaby."
"Or a wallaroo. Is that a thing? It seems like it should be a thing," the Soldier rambled.
The Pyro shrugged. "Drr arr rood raig diand rads da mrr."
"Giant rats? Bitte." The Medic shook his head. "If anyzing, zhey look like veird deer."
"I think Pyro was closer with da whole rat thin'," the Scout interjected.
There was a grunt from behind the team. The Engineer was struggling with his luggage. The Texan had a bad habit of over-packing. His toolbox was heavy enough to put a man in a coma, if anyone dared to throw it. The Demoman and the Soldier paused, each man grabbing a second bag. The Engineer extended his gratitude. "Thank ya." He sighed once more, then continued. "I'd hate ta interrupt a thrillin' debate, but perhaps we should consider makin' a plan."
"Is fair suggestion," the Heavy agreed. He shifted the weight on his back, thinking for a moment. "Doctor and Demoman know where little make-up woman works, da? Then we set up camp there. Wait for her to return. Then, pow!"
The Demoman liked where the Heavy was going with his plan. "Ay, mate! I'll strap some stickies to th' doors! That ought ta flush them out!"
"I can't believe I have to say this, but could you gentlemen not kill anyone?" Miss Pauling rubbed her temples. "God help the Sniper and the Spy if the Georgian government ever catches up with them. I don't need you men to around murdering anyone else in public."
The Heavy's face went dark. "It would be bad. Neither baby man has enough fat to make it through winter in Gulag. Would freeze." As soon as he'd gone macabre, he snapped back to his joyful self. "But, if they die, they come back to us. Right?"
Whistling low, the Engineer provided an answer. "It'd take a ton 'a time, though. They'd have ta be lucky enough for the respawn's satellite to pick them up, then they'd have ta be beamed back ta New Mexico. Probably take at least twenty minutes."
The men collectively shuddered. Even fifteen seconds in respawn was uncomfortable. Twenty minutes? They'd be more ghost than man by the time they got a new body. The other side was not as barren and empty as their employers claimed it was. They still had their minds, and they could watch and shout at their friends for all eternity. It usually did no good, too. Respawning came with a feeling of incredible helplessness, of being reduced to nothing but vapors and visions. There were things in the afterlife that they could not shake, shrieks and ghastly figures to haunt them. No, fifteen seconds of limbo was bad enough. Twenty minutes would shatter a man's sense of self.
The Soldier snapped them back to attention. "Alright. I'm going where the action is. One-Eye, City Boy, you're with me. We're going to camp the hell out of that building."
"Fair enough. I'll take lead on trackin' our boys down. They can't be too far away now," the Engineer smiled. "Doc, ya think you can organize supplies in case we have ta take off?"
The Medic nodded. "Ja. No problem. I vill take care of first aid and supplementary items. Heavy, you can handle getting veapons prepared?"
"Of course, Doctor," the Heavy agreed.
"Fair enough." Miss Pauling turned her attention to the Pyro. "That leaves you and me to go to either location. I have no preferences on which direction to go. If you'd like to go with a certain group, now would be a good time to speak up."
Miss Pauling was so different from their mutual employer. Helen certainly wouldn't have given him a choice. She would have merely pointed a finger, then yell at him to get moving. It didn't take long for the Pyro to make a decision. He gestured towards the Soldier, then threw a thumb over his shoulder. "Ruu? Frrr. Mrr? Rrt."
"Fine by me. Just don't start any brush fires, all right?" Miss Pauling nodded.
The Pyro shook his head. Why did everyone assume that he caused things to spontaneously combust? "Rrr brr frrn."
The motley group of foreigners stumbled out of the international airport. They did a fair bit of gawking as they made their way towards public transportation. Brisbane was more glass and steel than they'd anticipated. For a culture so dedicated to the concept of keeping rugged and wild, their environment was awfully clean and sanitized. As the troop rolled out, the Scout stumbled over a bump in the road. He grumbled, hoping that he hadn't accidently ran over a platypus or something. He glanced down to see the scuffed item in the road.
It was a woman's high heeled shoe, small and dainty. Not exactly the kind of shoe that could fit the feet of the Australian amazons. He flipped it over with his sneaker's toe. It was scuffed, the black trim ripped. The heel's tip was scraped away. Inside of the shoe was an American company's label, as well as a petite size. That was not what kept his gaze. He bent down, picking the shoe off the ground as his teammates circled back to figure out why he'd stopped. He shook his head, his lips pulled back in a confused expression.
"What's th' matter, Boyo?" the Demoman asked.
The Scout showed him the inside of the shoe. He glanced down it, his good eye shoved almost into the shoe itself. The Scotsman saw the same information as the Scout had. He gawked at the final piece of writing below the manufacturer's label. There, in black felt-tipped pen, a woman had written her name. Every cocked their heads, all staring at the shoe in confusion.
What was a high-heel with the Scout's mother's name in it doing in Brisbane?
For a while, the Spy wondered about where the Sniper had come from. He was nothing like his people. While the rest of Australia was thrust forward into glittering technology and shimmering buildings, he remained at its heels, like a tall shadow reaching back in time, clinging to something nostalgic. Here, on this island, he finally knew his teammate's lineage. He saw it in the Sniper's eyes, the way they matched the ocean's clear waters. He moved through the sand with ease, nature never holding him still for long. Massive trees and ferns sheltered him, hiding his movement as he stepped into a forest so thick and intense that it may have well not been disturbed since dinosaurs walked the earth. Verdant, aquamarine, tawny—he was not just of this country and its colors. He was wholly made of its elements, built of a substance older than mankind itself.
The country knew him as its son, and it nurtured him.
The Spy did not ponder the majesty of this place for long. There was work to be done, after all. He didn't dare stand still for long, anyway. Fraser Island was alive, teaming with croaking and shrieking things. He did not wish to meet any of them. At least they had a convenient landing spot. Marian had commissioned a well-sized helicopter to be flown out to the island, deciding not to fight with getting a ferry to land in the reefs. They had gone to the furthest side of the island, east and a little north. A sizable crew had come along with them. There was Toaster and his group, of course, as well as a great number of guards and handymen. The Sniper had suggested landing in this spot, as it was the largest open area in the immediate region. At least the tide was high when they landed. They wouldn't have to worry about their chopper being pulled out to sea.
Nudging his way towards his teammate, the Spy struck up idle conversation. "What are all zhese infernal noises, Bushman?"
The Sniper glanced upwards, his concentration on Marian's map now broken. "Just birds, mate. Probably kookaburras. No biggie."
"Zhat is easy for you to say! Zhat sound I am hearing? Ze last time I heard zhat, I almost got decapitated by ze enemy Medic!" the Spy grumbled.
The Sniper shrugged. "The birds are hardly anythin' you should be worrin' about." He pointed up, idly laughing. "Whatever ya do, don't let the drop bears get ya. They tend ta land on yer head and dig around in yer skull for tasty bits."
The Spy frowned, searching for an animal that was not there. "You have got to be kidding."
"Maybe a touch," the Sniper smirked. "Just relax, would ya? Nothin's gonna hurt ya. 'Cept for maybe the snakes, 'a course. Or the spiders. Ya know, while I'm thinkin' about it, you moight want ta be careful if ya go for a swim on the beach later. Sharks, ya know. And little stingy jellyfish."
"Merde," the Spy sighed. "Anyzhing else I should be aware of?"
The Sniper rocked his head to the side. "I'll let ya know if I think of it."
Pushing further into the forest, Marian's group came across dozens of wonderful, unusual sites. A misplaced step from Toaster sent a pack of swamp wallabies into a panic. They bounced away, quick to go into hiding once more. Some small green bird skittered across the Spy's toes, unfazed by the stranger's shoes. Trees parted for twin lakes, waters a deep green from all the life in them. The sand from which the trees sprung was smooth and glassy, reflecting the canopy in its surface. If he was alone, perhaps the Spy would have found it restful. Hell, even if it was just him and the Sniper exploring, he could have found genuine peace.
Gentle murmuring and silence in the group did not hold for very long. The forest opened up once more, and everyone was on pins and needles to see what it would reveal. Instead of some marvel of nature, dilapidated remnants came into view. Part of it looked somewhat recent, perhaps no older than a decade. Fallen, rotted tents and ramshackle wooden buildings stood side by side. Amongst them were collapsed shreds of homes, easily hundreds of years old. The entire mess was overgrown by trees, the newest of which sprung from the center of the ruins. Lying amongst the clutter were axes, guns, and the remains of several dozen humans.
"Good Lord. What happened here?" Buckaroo pondered. He crossed himself as he set out amongst the dead.
Sensei was quick to follow him, poking his nose into whatever he could examine. He stopped at one set of remains. Most of the clothing had worn away, but enough shreds remained to identify these men as lumberjacks. They were men. He was certain of it. All of them had narrow pelvises. He wandered over to some of the ancient homes, then dug below the plants and sand. Nothing more than splinters of bone remained there.
All of the bones were peculiar. Toaster was quick to ask about this as he stood over the shoulder of the crouched doctor. "What's wrong with that?"
Sensei cocked his head. "Ah. Well, bones exposed to the elements will degrade after—"
"Not that!" Toaster poked his toe at one half of a skull. As he moved it, the bone caught a little light from a hole in the canopy. Despite the grime on it, the fragment shimmered like a roughly cut gemstone. It was subtle, but sure enough, it caught and dispersed light sharply.
Sensei frowned, the shook his head. "Maybe that was a decoration."
"Doc? Maybe ya should have a look at this." The Sniper waved the short doctor over. He nudged one of the lumberjack's remains. Beneath black, papery skin, his bones glimmered as well.
"I do not understand," Sensei replied. "We will have to study this."
The Spy tapped on his teammate's shoulder. "Sniper, zhat is not important right now."
The Sniper screwed up his face. "Shiny bones, Spy. It's a little weird, don't ya—oh."
At the Spy's insistence, the Sniper turned his attention away from the dead men at his feet. There, towards the west of the ruined encampment, were brightly hued trees. A mix of panic and excitement rushed through the group. It was the same Rainbow Gum species that they had seen in Lake Ritsa. What was more astounding was the sudden, massive flush of life behind them. Something gargantuan towered above them. At first, it looked like a bunch of trees had grown out of a hill. Upon close examination, it was clear that the ground was flat beneath it, muddy and runny with something a little thicker than water.
They all moved towards the massive growth. Limbs as large as oaks shot off from its sides. Its roots were thicker around than any man there, plunging up and down, braiding around each other. Its bark was deep, at least a foot thick. Leaves as large as their faces floated down, landing on their heads. The entire tree wound together, like some master feng shui artist had bound twelve or thirteen of the same tree together to create one monstrous Frankenstein of a plant.
That was not the most surprising part. Rather, it was the strange passageway that the winding roots created that shocked them the most. Marian was the first to step into it. Her guards followed next, then Toaster's group. The Sniper and the Spy brought up the rear. It was peculiar to go into the forest within the forest, to find bends that could fit humans easily. Had someone done this? Had the plant merely grown this way?
As they stepped inside of the plant, its last surprise revealed itself. Inside the winding leviathan was one last plant. It had grown inside the spiraling monstrosity, barely peeking its head above its natural barrier. Its bark was weak, rubbed away by its oozing sap. The stuff pooled from its tender body onto the ground. This sap was thick enough to weigh the sand down, going as deep as at least a meter.
They had found what had been called the Fountain of Youth.
Well, I love this story, and I know how much it bothers me when nobody responds to a new chapter, so here I am to comment!
I am really enjoying this story, mainly because it is not focused on romance and rather on other (less cliche and obvious) things. I wish I had more to say about what you could improve or do differently, but I do not. I hope you're satisfied with just having me as a happy and interested commenter.
"swoons and fawns of many a thick-mustached Australian woman"
Been a long time since I've seen a beautiful, nice and long finished story on here. I can't wait for the ending! Please keep it up.
Thank you, guys. I really do appreciate knowing that you enjoy this.
Here's a fresh batch of...something special for you.
There was a tremendous roar as most of the men in Marian's group cheered. The Sniper and the Spy were not amongst them. They were quiet, pondering their fate. Now, finally, they would be able to go home. Their teammates would grill them for information, no doubt. The Administrator in particular would want to know every last detail about this plant. That was, of course, assuming that she wouldn't massacre them for their absence. Discovering an object of legend like this? How could it not change the world?
Hell, what would it do to them?
Marian was calm, letting her men have their moment to celebrate. When one tried running for the pooled sap, however, she threw out a hand and stopped him. "Be patient, would you? We need to approach this logically."
The Spy raised an eyebrow. "Logically?"
"Of course. You never release a product to your market without testing it first." She turned her attention to the Spy, a devilish smile already formed on her lips. "After all, every place that has had this kind of tree has also had several corpses around it. If this works, then fine. If it's a lethal agent, however? Well, I'll still want it, but I'd rather see what it does first."
"Don't make such a bloody big deal outta it. Just scoop some of it up, take it back ta Brisbane, then do yer tests. Ya brought some containers, right?" Boomer grunted.
Marian nodded. "It would have been foolish not to have some way to hold samples. All the same, I'd rather test here. Cities have a bad way of leaking information, you know? I'd rather not have anyone else find this—whatever this is."
The Sniper frowned, then rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. "How do ya propose on doin' this?"
Marian laughed once, then playfully whacked the Sniper in the chest. "You are such a romantic." She stood in the front of her men, eyeing them over. Obviously, running this test against the only doctor in the group would be moronic. She needed some of her guards for transporting the liquid, but some could be spared. That left three of Toaster's group, a few of her guards, and the Spy and Sniper as potential test subjects. Well, she knew which one would have to follow her orders. She grinned as she made her decision.
"You will do," she said, pointing at the Spy.
The Spy remained cold as she chose him, his face frozen. He was not enthused to be selected as a guinea pig. If this was a fatal substance, so be it. He would wake up in the nearest team base, no worse for wear. Still, his death would create some complications. The first would be how Marian's group would react when his body disappeared fifteen seconds after his death. The second would be what they would do to the Sniper. He did not want to leave the Australian trapped on an island full of poisonous life and people. The potential for his harm was too great. The Spy imagined that his team would be irritated with him, as well. The worst problem was the fate of his paramour. If she was at home, tending to her garden and cheerfully whistling through her day, then he would rush to her and protect her from Marian's forces at all costs. Both of them would strike back. If she wasn't there—if Marian had taken her somewhere—
There were things more horrible than being trapped in an island jungle. The venom of the civilized world could be more lethal.
All the same, he could not refuse. He could die and come back. Not that Marian knew that, but it was one privilege he had above most of the men here. If he made a fuss, Marian would make a call. That could be it for his petite. He had to protect his lady above all things. If that meant dying and leaving his teammates to the mercy of villains, then he'd do exactly that. No one would accuse him of being a coward by taking a bullet. The Sniper would not call him a traitor for abandoning him on the island to save his loved one. Even so, he felt vile and sick.
"Fine," the Spy consented.
There was a warm hand on his right shoulder. The Spy turned to find his teammate grimacing. A dozen objections were behind that frown. He remained quiet. The Spy put his hand over the Sniper's, giving it two soft pats. The Sniper squeezed his shoulder, then released his friend. That was a strange quality about the Sniper. He had a strong voice and enough peppered words to make any argument. His most compelling protests were always done with his hands, through small gestures. Neither man had to speak their concern for the other. It was communicated well enough.
The Spy approached the meter-deep pool lying beneath the tree. He pulled the gloves off his hands, plucking each off by the fingertips. They were the last of his attire from Teufort, now tucked into a satchel on his hip. He knelt down next to the substance, observing it for one moment. The liquid was an eerie blue-green color, splotched in the distribution of its pigment. He ran his bare fingers through the pool. They did not burn. The liquid resisted, being a substance closer to half-formed gelatin in texture than water. There was no immediate change in his hands, but he could feel them tingling.
"Should I jump in, or should I drink?" the Spy asked.
Marian shrugged. "How's your hand doing?"
"Just fine," the Spy said.
"Okay. That should do for external testing," Marian replied. "Go ahead and drink it."
The Spy sighed. That was easy for her to say. He hesitated, studying his reflection in the pool. It was muddled by the unclear quality of the liquid, but he could see himself. He mapped his features one last time, trying to make notes of his aging. How far back would this take him? Surely it wouldn't turn him into a child. That would be preposterous.
There was only one way to find out.
The Spy cupped his hands, scooping up the substance. Stomping down any last-minute protests from his brain, he swallowed it. The taste was bitter, tainted with the contents of the plant. He clicked his tongue, grimacing for a moment. The liquid ran through his chest like a cold rush of water. It settled in his stomach, a small icy ball burning away.
He could feel the moment the liquid hit his bloodstream. Its contents snaked through his arteries, rushing to every organ at once. He was seized up by a cold blast. He stumbled backwards, his sinuses throbbing with its intensity. An arm was around his shoulder as he collapsed, but he was too scrambled to get his eyes to focus. His brain was trapped in a numbed body, every part of him trembling and shifting. Even his bones felt like malleable dough, icy needles prickling every last nerve.
As soon as the chills had run their course, a burst of heat scorched through his skin. Hot sweat rolled off him. It felt like heavy water as it splashed away. His gut contracted, his teeth vibrated. He spat little chunks of metal out of his mouth. His fillings, no doubt. He lifted his head as his thoughts cleared up. The liquid had repaired his teeth. That was strange. He exhaled, his breath hotter than jungle steam. He kept breathing, each pant colder than the last.
The Spy slumped backwards, head resting on the chest of the man who had caught him in his exhaustion. He didn't need to open his eyes to know who it was. He latched his fingers into a solid leather vest, pulling himself upright as he fought to regain his consciousness. He rolled his head up. His eyes were coated in a thin layer of muck, but he blinked it away. He fumbled for a handkerchief in his pocket, but found it missing. The Sniper had already snatched up and was busy wiping sweat away from his face.
"How do I look?" the Spy asked, managing to catch a glimpse of his friend through new eyes and the constant patting at his brow.
The Sniper paused, handing the Spy his handkerchief. His eyes were wide, his face pulled into a worried frown. Despite his concern, he managed to make a smile. He had no mirror for the Spy. All he had was his kukri. He passed the blade to the Spy. The Frenchman tilted the broad side towards himself. There, in clean metal, he found himself staring at a man he had not seen since World War II.
His silver streaks were gone. That was the first change the Spy noticed. Knicks from shaving had disappeared. The crow's feet that were just beginning to appear around his eyes had vanished. He moved his eyebrows up and down, noticing the way his forehead didn't wrinkle like it used to. He opened his mouth, seeing how his teeth had repaired themselves. He glanced over his arms, cuts gone. Lifting his shirt, he sought to find a stab wound that he had earned one dark night over twenty years ago. It was no more.
He was a new man.
The Japanese doctor and the mad American businesswoman quickly joined the two. Sensei made the same deductions as the Spy had, his jaw dropped just a touch as he investigated what had happened. Marian was pleased. She studied the Spy's face, murmuring. "Reduced pore size. Distinct return of color in the hair. Stronger skin elasticity." She whistled once. "I think it worked."
"It would be a good idea to take various tissue samples, don't you think?" Sensei asked Marian. "Skin, tissue, blood, bone marrow—it is best to check these through."
Marian agreed. "Not a bad idea. When we get back to Brisbane, we'll do that." She produced a journal, then began writing information down. "Any side-effects, Monsieur? Other than the obvious, of course."
"Zhere is some dizziness. A slight bit of nausea." Despite the Spy's tiredness, he managed to push himself onto his feet. All things considered, his legs felt stronger than before. "If it is all ze same to you, I would like to rest for a moment."
Marian nodded. "Alright. Fair's fair." She nodded towards the rest of her subjects. "The rest of you are up."
Most of them were enthusiastic, eager to undergo the same miraculous process the Spy had. The Sniper was a little more hesitant. As a handful of the guards and most of Toaster's group bounded towards the pool, the Sniper doted more on the Spy. "Need some help out, mate?"
"I should be fine," the Spy replied. The Sniper's anxiety did not elude him. Of course the Australian was panicked. He spent the past couple of minutes watching his friend melt into some person he barely could recognize. That had to create some uncomfortable feelings, at the very least. The Spy placed his hand against the Sniper's back. "Take your canteen. Fill it, zhen come wizh me. We can go outside."
If the Spy's suggestion was objectionable, Marian didn't say anything. She was too enthralled watching the other men around her. The Sniper agreed to the Spy's plan. He took his canteen, then poured the last few drops of clean water away. Finding fresh water in a jungle was not a problem for him. He filled his canteen, shivering at the first contact with the liquid. Screwing the cap on, the Sniper stood up once more. He offered the Spy his help, and the Spy took it. Both men wandered outside of the tree.
They took a few paces outside of the massive plant before settling down in the ruined encampment. They found the most covered building, one with half of its roof still on. The Spy crouched next to the molding doorframe, the Sniper quick to settle next to him. The Australian cracked open the canteen, hesitating for a moment. He frowned once more.
"It'll be okay, yeah?" the Sniper asked.
The Spy nodded. "I survived. So will you."
There was no more faltering. The Sniper threw back the canteen, drinking its contents in one go. He growled, finding the taste as disgusting as the Spy had. At least the Frenchman had the experience needed to guide the Sniper through this process. He spoke softly as his friend began to lose focus. "You will feel some tingling. Zhere will be coldness. It will pass. Do you feel it?"
The Sniper murmured, his tongue heavy. "Yeah."
"Alright. Lie down." The Spy pressed a hand on the Sniper's shoulder. He forced his teammate onto his left side. "Zhere will be warmth. You will feel as zhough you are melting. It, too, will go. Are you wizh me?"
All the Sniper could manage was a slight nod. His eyes were half-opened, hypnotized by the Spy's quiet words and the burning washing through him. They closed, the fevered waters now rushing into every organ. His skin prickled, goose bumps quick to follow. He gave a low sigh. Sweat rolled from his pores. The Spy sat up, watching as an unnatural golden sweat poured from the Sniper. Was that why the Sniper had been cleaning him? He plucked his handkerchief out of his pocket, then studied it. His mopped sweat shimmered in the cloth. Why did it do that?
Taking the other side of the handkerchief, he brushed sweat away from the Sniper's face. "Zhere. Très bon. You are doing well." He didn't think about what he was murmuring to his teammate. The transformation was peculiar to watch. The Sniper had his fingers curled, digging into the ground to find some stability. Every part of him was tense, coiled. Heat escaped him in rolls of sweat, his old visage cascading away with it. He gave a strong cough, then a growl. The Spy lifted his head. Was it almost done?
Another cough escaped the Sniper before the Spy realized what he was hearing. That wasn't normal. Before he could react, the Sniper had propped himself onto his elbows. There was one more awful sound, then the Sniper's stomach tensed. Golden, wet slop left his mouth. The heavy vomit splattered onto the ground in a thick, nauseating squelch. The Spy's gag reflex almost triggered at the sight. The Sniper regurgitated once more, spitting the last of the substance out of his throat.
He collapsed. It was all the Spy could do to keep him from landing in his own sick. He pulled the Sniper to his side, cleaning the remnants of the vomit away from his face. It was the same eerie color as his sweat. The Sniper's chest heaved twice, but nothing came of the action. He opened his eyes, blinking away golden mucus.
The voice that came from the Sniper's throat was not the one that the Spy recognized. It was not the deep tone of a smoking, smartass assassin. It was the whisper of a young farmhand. "Spy?"
The Spy's skin shivered in the sweltering heat. "Yes, Bushman?"
"Issat it?" the Sniper slurred. His eyelids were heavy, threatening to close once more.
"I zhink you are done," the Spy replied. He held the Sniper upright, his face too fresh, clean from the long scar across his left cheek and the bags under his eyes. "Mundy, are you—"
Howls from the jungle stopped him. It was not that of any wild animal. They were confused, low and high, shrieks, screams, and bellows. They were human. A childish, terrified emotion swept both men. They clung to each other for a moment, fingers wrapped into each other's shirt, around lively ribs and new skin. This horror had both men frozen.
Something had happened to the others.
"We should…" the Sniper huffed. His energy was gone, his mouth unable to form the last of his sentence. All the same, the Spy knew what he was going to say.
He grabbed his teammate's right hand, one too smooth, free of calloused skin. "Stay here. Keep awake."
The Sniper nodded, leaning himself against the remnants of the wooden building. Another painful roar made both men cringe. It took all the strength left in the Spy's mind to leave his sick teammate lying in that rotting building. He couldn't abandon him for long. Neither of them had the strength to be apart from each other. There was no fight in them now. It was washed away, slow to be replenished. All it would take was one wrong animal, one well-placed bullet—
The Spy shoved himself through the folds of the gargantuan tree one more. The hot stink of bile and sweat rushed over him. There were new faces among the throng, men he couldn't recognize. That was not what struck a cold bolt of terror in his spine. There were men on the ground. Sensei was prodding around one, his cheerful visage now blanched and frozen. The Spy pushed his way through the guards, finding Marian with the same horrified expression. He stared at the motionless men. All of them were covered in golden liquid, features distorted and gnarled. Their throats were distended. Some had managed to expel some vomit from them, but they had all been choked in the end, slain by internal asphyxiation from their own solid stomach contents.
The Spy's blood ran cold, the howling intensifying around them. He caught Toaster's cry in the cacophony. More powerful and more terrifying than that were the quiet words coming from the mouth of Buckaroo. The fallen preacher's murmurings were familiar, words that the Spy knew by heart. Latin and English fell together, desperate prayers trying to reach someone out of space and time, past any bounds of reality. They were last rites, one final plea for mercy.
Boomer was one of the dead.
HOLY SHIT am I scared now. Oh god what the hell is happening.
WHAT IS GOING OOOON
This fic is the GREATEST.
I'm having a bit of a problem trying to imagine the young sniper and young spy. How many years did they go back? About how old are they now?
Shit got real. Aaaah, I'm on the edge of my seat here.
Do I ever love love love this story! Ooh I hope we'll get to see what, why and how soon!
Wonder how Scout's mom is going to take the fact that her paramour is now younger than her youngest son. Awkward.
>>75 It's going to be interesting. No doubt about it.
Well, I can't live up to the previous chapter. Guess I'll have to withdraw the knife for a chapter. Ya know, so I have it for the next one.
"Looks like we've got a storm rollin' in."
The helicopter's pilot was right. The Engineer peeked out one side of the chopper, his eyes scanning the horizon behind dark lenses. Thick blue clouds were building around them. He glanced down, his stomach rolling with the tide several meters below his feet. Roads and beaches looked like stripes of grey and cream. Automobiles were no larger than toys, trees no bigger than weeds. The view made him feel powerful. His chest swelled, his confidence rising.
They were going to do this. They were finally going to rescue the Spy and the Sniper.
"Probably shouldn't be up here with ya bunch 'a bastards," the helicopter's pilot growled. He brushed back a loose strand of hair, his golden ponytail accidentally whipping the Heavy in the back of the head. "Sorry 'bout that, mate. My hair's got a moind 'a its own."
"If it gets smart, it will come live on my head!" the Heavy laughed.
The pilot gave a hearty roar back. "If ya would have taken care 'a yers, ya wouldn't have ta steal moine!"
The rest of the helicopter's passengers were preparing for their landing. Their nerves were on edge. Nobody wanted to waste any time piddling around in a thick forest, stumbling around spiders, snakes, and whatever of Charles Darwin's demons had survived out there. The Engineer had his toolbox below his seat, his face buried in a crude map of the island. He had a series of dots placed on it. Each fresh coordinate was closer to the last, showing that the group had slowed down. Good. They'd be easier to catch.
The Pyro was amusing himself with a lighter, ignoring the sun as ran its daily course to the west. The Medic was similarly in his own world. He fussed with the controls on his medigun's backpack. Every valve and button was cleaned, every vent cleared. Fluid levels for the pack were filled to the brim. He turned to the Heavy, giving the Russian a perfect grin. The Heavy returned a smile, giving the minigun on his lap a soft pat. They would chew and burn through that forest, if they had to. They were ready for it.
"How much longer until we're there?" the Engineer asked.
"'Bout an hour. Keep yer pants on," the pilot replied.
The Engineer smiled. That was going to be plenty of time. "Alright. Give us a yell when we're in range. I'm settin' up back here."
The pilot raised an eyebrow. "Settin' up? What, ya got a card party goin' on?"
"No cards," the Engineer replied. He tipped his toolbox open, quick to draw his self-deploying dispenser kit. He pulled a heavy wrench from the box as well. Its weight felt good, reassuring. He beamed, a smile more natural on the Soldier's face starting to creep onto his own. "There will be a party, though."
"Somethin' tells me I should have charged ya blokes more for insurance," the pilot said.
The second group of the team from New Mexico sat poised outside of a silvery, shiny building. Miss Pauling had been able to secure a rental vehicle for the group. It was like the Medic's Kombi, if the German had been completely negligent to its care. The undercarriage was threatening to rust away at any moment. There were chips in the windshield from when rocks had been thrown into it. The important thing about the vehicle was its ability to hide. Sitting quietly in a back alleyway, turned off, metal bits falling off of it—it was junk, for all intents and purposes. People ignored garbage much easier than they disregarded the clean and fancy.
"Wish we would have rented somethin' with better seats," the Demoman muttered.
The Soldier gave a low chuckle. "Bucket seats make your ass stronger. Everyone knows this."
Miss Pauling raised her head. "I've never heard that in my life."
"It's a fact. I'm sure of it. Backed up by science," the Soldier replied.
The Demoman shook his head, rolling his one good eye. "Right-o." He leaned forward, glancing around the street. "Anyone see a food joint 'round here? I'm thinkin' about grabbin' some take-out."
The Scout shook his head. "Nah, man. I'd kill for a burger right now."
"I don't know about that, lad. The Sniper kept makin' jokes 'bout kangaroo burgers." The Demoman shivered at the thought. "Ya don't think Australians really eat them hoppy rats, do ya?"
"No. That's incorrect. They eat horses," the Soldier corrected the Demoman.
"Blarney!" the Demoman exclaimed.
The Scout crossed his arms, sighing. "Man, I know Australians are weird, but seriously, Jane? Everyone knows dat horses are good for only one thing, and dat's ridin'. Not eatin'."
Miss Pauling wanted to believe that what she was hearing was some side-effect of not getting enough rest or a reaction to drinking foreign water. Leave it to her men to find some inane topic to argue about. If they got any louder, they were sure to be spotted, crappy van or not. She leaned onto the dash, resting her head on her arms. All this talk about food was starting to get to her too. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to leave for a few moments. It wasn't like the other team was going to be in any position to help them for some time. If they had to strike, then they'd have to wait to—
She lifted her head. "Gentlemen. Look."
The three teammates stopped their squabbles. They glanced out of the van's windshield. A sharply-cut black car had pulled in front of Marian's building. One burly man stepped out of the driver's seat. His companion in the shotgun position was just as massive. Both were dressed in striking suits, the pocket emblazoned with a five-thorned and five-petalled rose.
The team kept quiet as the two men entered the building. The Scout pressed a hand to his earpiece. He glanced over to a fire hydrant across the street. There was a small device attached to it. It was no larger than a penny, bearing features no more interesting than a cell battery's appearance. It was a miniature receiver, something the Engineer had given to them before they'd headed out. He had been testing out the earpiece and receiver with the Sniper and Spy, but theirs had gone missing when they had been kidnapped. This was more or less their spare, and consequently, their last.
The Scout kept quiet as the two men chattered away across the street. "Told you we weren't gonna find that damn shoe."
"Well, goddamnit, Flint. Where in the hell do you think it went?" the man from the shotgun seat cursed.
"I wouldn't worry about it. Someone probably just threw it out," Flint replied. "Not the end of the world. After all, she's got another."
That drew a dark laugh from Mister Shotgun. "Not like she's going dancing tonight, anyway!"
The Scout slipped the headset off as the two men went inside of the large building. A fresh wave of rage coursed through him. He nearly crushed the earpiece in his hands. Tossing them aside, he dove for his sports bag full of weaponry. He couldn't wait. Not anymore.
Miss Pauling reached out for the Scout's arm. "What is it?"
"Bastards got my ma! She's in dere!" the Scout hissed.
The Demoman raised his eyebrows. "What did they say 'boot her?"
The Scout fumed as he stomped towards the front of the van. "Some smart-ass comment 'bout dancin'!" He pressed his hands against the sides of his head. "I can't wait for da odders. I gotta get her!"
"Son, settle down." For a man with little sense in his head, the Soldier made a wise argument. "If we blow into there before the others get back, then we'll lose the element of surprise. We will put our mission and possibly your mother at risk."
The Scout's hands shook. "What are you sayin', man? We're not plannin' an attack. Dis is a goddamn rescue mission. We get da Spy, da Sniper, and my ma, and den we go home, right? So we do dat, and we do it now!"
"Scout, we understand. Your mother is a wonderful woman, and we don't want anything bad to happen to her." Miss Pauling put her left hand on the Scout's shoulder. "We're not dealing with a door to door cosmetics peddler. Miss Grey has God-knows-what for weapons behind those doors. One wrong move, and your mother could meet a terrible fate. We need to be calculated, cool, and collected. Do you understand? We can't attract any attention."
Miss Pauling's words sparked a storm in the Scout's mind. He grinned deviously. "So, what you're sayin' is dat we need a suave, cool guy ta sneak past the cameras and save gals, right? Like da Spy?"
"Preciously," Miss Pauling agreed.
"Tell ya what," the Scout smirked. "Give me a rock, a baseball bat, and two minutes, and I'll get ya somethin' even da Spy could use."
There was nothing he could do.
No man told the Spy this. He didn't deduce this by any logical means. It came to him as he sat shivering beneath the ruins of a hut, his friend resting at his side. The natural machinations of the island whispered dreadful words into his ear. Sweltering humidity brought cold rain, then thunder. The Sniper shivered beside him, still struggling against the effects of the tree's waters. He would survive. He was still that stubborn bushman, somewhere beneath that soft, youthful face. The Spy did not know if such strong character was within him. He relied so much on manipulation and fleeting luck. With nothing to change and no fortune in his grasp, he felt empty.
They were waiting for Sensei to come check them. The little Japanese man had been busy tending to other patients. There were so many men that needed help. Several had died, including that ox of an Australian that had been the doctor's friend. That sum of people was nothing compared to the men that hadn't quite bounced back from their rejuvenation. All things considered, perhaps the Spy was the lucky one. He was the only one who had undergone the miraculous transformation without severe nausea or a fever.
The Sniper lifted his head from the Spy's side. "They 'bout ready, ya think?"
The Spy glanced at the unchanged members of their group. They were filling up jugs with tree sap. Marian's samples, no doubt. She certainly was taking a large amount of the stuff. "I zhink we still have some time."
"Did ya get any 'a that?" the Sniper asked.
The Spy nodded. "I refilled your canteen. We can smuggle it to ze Medic, non? See what he can do wizh it."
The Sniper laughed. "When did ya do that, ya sneak?"
There was a pause as the Spy collected his composure. He placed an arm around the Sniper's shoulders. "When you were asleep."
"…Oh. Sorry, mate." The Sniper leaned his head back. Rain rushed down the brim of his hat. He closed his eyes, his tired smile missing his laugh lines. "Should try harder. Like a concussion, roight? Don't want…don't wanna fall asleep, yeah?"
The Spy grimaced. The Sniper was always like this when he was sick or hurt. He'd simply lie down and sleep it off. Sometimes, he'd even go to sleep in the middle of a firefight. Maybe it was some kind of laziness on his part, but it usually did the trick. Both of their bodies had been through some phenomenal changes in the past few hours. The Spy could use some rest, too. He couldn't close his eyes. Dark shadows were lying in the back of his mind, waiting to pounce on him the moment he let his guard down. He couldn't let them snatch him. Staying awake was keeping him from ripping himself apart.
"If anyone should be apologizing, it should be me," the Spy murmured.
The Sniper shook his head. "Don't…don't be like that. None 'a this is yer fault."
The Spy grimaced. "She is my—what I mean is—" He frowned, surprised to find his tongue lagging. "I stayed because I had to. I had no choice. You did not have to stay on my account."
"It's not loike I didn't try ta get away in Egypt," the Sniper replied. He straightened his back, then leaned forward. "I'm sorry I tried ta run. I just saw 'em, ya know? Our team. I hope we didn't lose 'em."
"Zhey are loyal. Stupid, sometimes, but loyal," the Spy said. He rubbed his friend's shoulder, speaking lowly. "Zhey at least had enough intelligence to find us ze first time. Zhey can do it again."
Another long smile escaped the Sniper. "We've gotta stick together, yeah? That's why I'm here, Spy."
The two men sat together in silence. The Sniper was nodding off again, slouched against the Spy. In other circumstances, the Spy would have been irritated. The weight on his shoulder was keeping him grounded in reality. This situation was grim. It could have been worse, though. The person at his side could have been his paramour, dying from the same test. He could have lost the Sniper. The level of anger from that alone could have been enough to make him snap. He had his mind, his tools, his friends, and his lover. Perhaps that was enough.
Fallen leaves and twigs crunched under the appearance of a visitor. The Spy turned his attention to the dark, crestfallen figure standing in the dilapidated doorway. It was Toaster. His hands were covered in mud, his pants and jacket similarly stained. His jaw was clenched shut. He gave both men sitting on the ground a hard glare, like if he was contemplating strangling the life out of them. His face fell. He sat down across from the duo, then lowered his head, running his filthy fingers through his rain-soaked, choppy hair.
Both the Sniper and the Spy waited for Toaster to speak. It took some time, but the man finally undid a knot in his throat. "I wish it would have been one of you assholes."
"We know," the Spy nodded. It was not what he wanted to hear, but he knew that Toaster was hurting. If he wanted to say such slander, then the Spy would let him. It was better than having the American manifest that killer impulse behind his tired eyes. He was younger now, his face missing gentle wrinkles and scars. With his sorrow, he looked so much older, as if the sap had no effect on him.
Toaster let a hiss escape through his teeth. He spoke slowly, careful not to let his veneer crack any further. "He…he's out here, now. I helped Buckaroo put him under. Didn't go too deep, but…I suppose that won't matter."
The Sniper lifted his head. "He didn't have any family back home?"
"Nah. They…they're all gone." A sardonic laugh escaped the broken American. "Just thought it would have been an animal or a gunshot. Not a damn plant."
Neither the Sniper nor the Spy knew what to say. It had been a long time since they had dealt with a genuine death. They were used to being stabbed, shot, bludgeoned, and splattered, but this was a rare case. In the face of true death, they were silent. The Sniper gave the Spy a solemn glance. He forced himself onto his feet, then sat down alongside Toaster. It was a dangerous move, given the American's brash nature and frustration. When he didn't move, the Spy joined them, flanking the American on his other side. The three sat together silently as Toaster wept and spat obscenities at the ground.
It did not take long for Sensei to appear. He gave the trio a quick once-over. "Ah. I must admit, I did not expect to find you here, Toasta-dachi."
"Thought I told you to stop calling me that," Toaster grunted. He leaned back, letting his arms rest between his knees. "Just hangin' out with the only bastards on this place that aren't gonna try killin' us."
"Perhaps it is good for you to be with company right now. Please excuse me." Sensei crouched down next to the Spy. He flashed a small light, tracking the motion of the Spy's eyeballs. He put one hand to the Spy's head, examining his scalp. Flicking the Spy's joints, he tested his reflexes. It did not take him long to take the Spy's pulse, nor for him to figure out his body temperature. "You are doing better than most, I think."
"What are your criteria for zhat?" the Spy asked.
Sensei tipped the Sniper's head back, giving him the same tests. "Most of the men who have drank from the tree's waters? Dame. Some dead, as you know. Some, very ill. There are some peculiar side effects, don't you think?"
"Can't say I was fond of the pukin'," the Sniper agreed. He closed an eye as the doctor ruffled through his hair. "What are ya lookin' for up there?"
The doctor plucked a hair from the top of the Sniper's head. He presented the strand root-first to the Australian. "You see that?"
The Sniper's eyes widened. At the bottom of his dark hair was a golden band. It was as if someone had dyed just the slightest bit of his roots. The Spy pushed the Sniper's hat back, observing the phenomenon for himself. Golden roots. It was beautiful, in an eerie way.
"Do I have zhose as well?" the Spy asked.
"Everyone who drank has this. However, your manifestations are weaker than others," Sensei replied. He tipped his head to the side. "Strange, don't you think? So much gold. What should we call these symptoms? I would suggest Kin-No-Mizu, but that would only cover the sweating and vomiting effects. I doubt it's actually gold, but—"
Pieces fell together in the Spy's head. Seeing his teammate's hair beneath his slouch hat rolled the thought into the Frenchman's mind. No, it couldn't be gold. That didn't make sense. The human body wouldn't have enough gold in it to produce this much of an effect. There was another element, though. One in mass use by several people in the greatest of the first-world countries.
"All of ze victims…ze ones with ze greatest reactions…" The Spy let his thoughts flow. "What were zhey?"
Sensei was quick to answer him. "Male. Young to middle aged adult. In good physical health. Mostly Caucasian. A couple of the dead were Amerikajin, but for the most part—"
"Zhey were Australian," the Spy finished Sensei's words.
The doctor gave him a short nod. The Spy's deduction had to be correct. He leapt to his feet, his heart fluttering. It made sense. Emitted fluids were golden. Most of those who had died were Australian. Not just any kind of Aussie, though. Strapping, strong men, big enough to bare-knuckle box any feral animal on the planet. They weren't like the Sniper, a man of a lanky build. That was the reason he had survived. They had been from the city, and he'd been a desert man. A farmer's son. A man away from Australia's most profitable and widely-used element.
"I've got to stop Marian," the Spy said. "If she takes zhat fluid to Brisbane, she'll poison ze city."
The Sniper lifted his head towards the Spy. "Spook?"
The Spy revealed his conclusion. "Zhat sap reacts to Australium."
Scout to the rescue!
I'm running out of ways to say I love this chapter and can't wait for the next one.
Captcha: "BARTENDING LyORDS" I didn't know the combination bartender/lyord even existed!
Anyway, I loved the australium twist on the sap, I really loved that explanation. Not far fetched, but not really 'duhhh' either, if you know what I mean. I'm also digging the friendship that Spy and Sniper are building up through all this. I think it shows how lonely Sniper really is, as he is willing to go so far for Spy at the risk of his life.
Can't wait for the next chapter!
Oh, crap. Something big's going to happen tomorrow, and I haven't updated!
Well, time to do this.
Adrenaline coursed through the men's veins. Each one reacted differently to the Spy's deduction. Toaster was livid, set alight with energy and burning passion. Sensei was mortified, knowing what the Spy had said was true. He did not know the best way to prevent others from falling to the same fate as Boomer without endangering the lives of those that remained. The Sniper remained calm, even with his nerves trembling at the Spy's words. His teammates and fellow countrymen relied on him keeping composed. Once a plan was formulated, he could execute it. That left the Spy. As always, he had a mask and personality prepared for keeping his emotional impulses under control. Not that he didn't dread what was to come, but he needed to lead. It was his conclusion, after all. He had to push them towards a solution for their problem.
The Spy began rallying the men. "If you have a course of action to take, now would be the time."
"Look, we've gotta stop this bitch!" Toaster pounded his fist into an open palm. "Let me at her. I don't like hitting women, but in this case, I can make an exception."
"Your misogyny is derisible, Toaster. Besides, fighting would not be in our best interests. Between your remaining men, ze Sniper, and myself, we are only a team of five. Zhat is hardly enough to take on both Marian and her guards," the Spy replied.
The Japanese doctor was quick to turn the brainstorming from picking through the group's noodles to reflecting the Spy's mind. "What do you propose on doing, then? It would just be as difficult to take a peaceful route. I doubt you are planning on letting our mutual employer leave the island with that toxin."
"No. Zhat would be the worst possible event." The Spy paced around the crumbling hut. His shoes stuck to the ground as he shuffled about. He paused in midstride, placing a hand on his satchel. Did he even have all of his tools? He'd packed a revolver and a knife, as well as his golden watch. His disguise kit was tucked into one of the satchel's front pockets, his sapper buried at the bottom of the bag. Rubbing his hand against the buckles and straps, he felt a ball chain. Dangling from that was one more watch, a peculiar pocket piece with an engraved hummingbird on its surface.
Of all of the men on his side, he was the only one who could screw up and get at least one immediate second chance.
The Spy frowned. "I have a plan, but I guarantee zhat you will not like it."
"Spill yer guts, mate." The Sniper smiled, encouraging the Spy.
"I'm going to have a conversation wizh Marian. Perhaps I can persuade her to leave zhis discovery on ze island. She may be mad, but she is capable of comprehending basic logic." The Spy straightened his back, placing his folded hands over the base of his spine. "If I pitch it to her, zhen—"
Toaster cocked his head. "What, like an advertiser? You think she'll listen to marketing crap?"
The Spy raised one finger, then shook it. "Zhat will only be a distraction. If she relents, zhen we will have nozhing to worry about. However, I will need ze rest of you to carry out the rest of my plan. My good American friend, I will need you to escort your men and ze Sniper out to her helicopter. If she runs, zhen take over ze helicopter at any cost. Do not let zhat foul poison off zhis island."
The Sniper balked at the Spy's plan. He pulled himself upright, his head spinning just a touch. "Spy, ya can't be serious. Ya'll be left alone! I can't—"
Placing one hand on the Sniper's shoulder, the Spy murmured softly. "Sniper. I understand ze risks." He sighed, giving the Australian room to fight him.
The Sniper growled, his sharp teeth reflecting a distant flash of lightning. A painful roll bubbled in the pit of his stomach. Damned Frenchman. After all these days of being hauled around by the neck, he had come to depend on the Spy's company. He was the only one left from his current life that had his back. He'd had every last companion taken from him. Losing the Spy was unacceptable. He couldn't be left alone and broken on that island.
He exhaled, his breath low and quiet, his spirit worn. "Still got my rifle. I'll lead us east. If ya don't meet us there, then I swear ta God—"
"Zhen you take zhem east. Stop zhat helicopter." The Spy patted the Sniper's shoulder twice, then rubbed the left side of his neck. "I am depending on you, mon ami."
Toaster jumped back into the conversation. "Look, pal. Marian's not the kind of gal to return anything she considers to be her property. She's probably—no, definitely not gonna listen to you."
"I will not risk ze lives of anyone here, including Miss Grey. Not without due cause, at any rate. Now, are you wizh me on zhis?" the Spy asked.
Both Toaster and Sensei gave each other a glance. Sensei was at ease, his face kept in his standard neutral expression. Toaster was not so hot with the plan. He gritted his teeth, wishing he could whip out an automatic rifle and tear the encampment apart with his hands. He had nothing on him, save for a lighter and his clothes. He shoved his hands in his pockets, his heart contracting painfully. If Boomer was here, he wouldn't be hesitating. Hell, he wouldn't even put up with the Spy's pacifist nonsense.
They had no choice but to play along. At least, for a few minutes. Toaster nodded, "Sure. Whatever. I'm gonna fetch Buckaroo. He should be done puttin' men in the dirt by now." He stood up, then stormed out without a second word. Sensei frowned, but did not speak his most concerning thoughts. He crossed his arms, then stood side by side with the Sniper.
"We will wait for ya on the east side 'a the camp, then," the Sniper said.
"Good man." The Spy sighed, his own dark feelings troubling him. Toaster was right. He was no fool. All the same, his plan was worth one shot. He addressed his teammate once more. "Hear me out, Sniper. If somezhing terrible should go wrong—"
The Sniper winced. "Mate, it ain't—"
The Spy shushed the Sniper. "Hear me out, Bushman. If I fail, you need to find what Marian did to my petite. Protect her above anyzhing else."
There were no words of protest from the Sniper. He nodded, quick to agree. She was the only reason either man was standing on this island, risking their health and lives for some catastrophic power. Every murder and theft they had done was to spare her from any threat. If the Spy was blasted back to Teufort, then the Sniper would have to escape and find her before Marian could harm her. To lose her would be as great of a failure as any disaster that could come from the sap of this island.
The Sniper raised a hand. "Ready?"
"Mas oui." The Spy slapped his teammate's open palm.
It was a great number of seconds before either teammate could part ways. The Spy turned first, quick to go complete his task. The Sniper slipped after him, stride unsteady. Sensei followed him in turn. They slipped into a tangled mess of plant life, sneaking past workers and guards. It was not long until they were free from the vision of her guards. The Sniper shrugged his rifle off his back, snapping off his laser sight once more. He sank to the ground, then gave the earth a few soft taps. Sensei crouched beside them. Both men waited for a sign, hoping they did not have to run.
The Spy lost track of them as he focused on hunting Marian down. It did not take long to find her. She was directing a group of men towards the exit of the camp. Hopefully, they would not come across the Sniper with his weapon drawn. He could not worry about that right now. He had to take care of her first.
"Ah, Marian! Zhere you are," the Spy greeted his kidnapper.
Marian smiled, happy to see the Spy. She had been fiddling with some kind of long-range radio. "Ah! Monsieur Spy." She tipped her head, then frowned. "You must be getting drenched out here. It's a good thing you didn't wear your suit out here."
"Oui. Zhat, I can agree to. However, zhere are some topics zhat I find myself opposed to you on." The Spy frowned, giving a plastic jug a quick glance.
"Oh. I see," Marian grumbled. She knew exactly what the Spy was getting at. She turned her radio off, placing the receiver into a leather pouch on her hip. "I figured you were going to talk to me about this at some point. I suppose you know what I'm going to say as well. So, why don't we just skip this conversation?"
The Spy furrowed his eyebrows. "You know zhat I cannot do zhis. Tell me—what do you zhink happened to your men?"
Marian shrugged, raising her hands in confusion. "People have allergic reactions all the time."
"Allergies? You zhink zhis was somezhing so simple?" The Spy pinched his nose, quick to recollect himself. He couldn't let himself get so frustrated. "Ze good doctor and I have discussed ze symptoms. In our opinions, we believe ze observed fatalities were due to zhis substance reacting to Australium."
Marian's eyes widened, genuinely surprised. Could the Spy be correct? Whatever the case was, she knew more tests had to be run. If the Spy's guess was accurate, then that would open up a whole new realm of possibilities for the substance. Even if doomsday weapons were a dime a dozen, it didn't hurt to have a few naturally occurring substances in her arsenal. Hell, she'd manufactured a strain of toxins derived from poison ivy. Making a profit off such a naturally fatal substance like this tree's sap would be simple.
"If you're correct, Monsieur, then we're standing next to one of the greatest weapons against every first-world country," Marian replied.
The Spy nodded. "Zhat is what I fear."
He expected Marian to show a little more restraint in light of the news. Instead, she laughed in the revelation's wake. "Do you know what this means? Not only do I have the secret to restoring people to their youth! This could be one of the most profitable weapons in the chemical warfare business! Hell, it's the cure for cancer and the atom bomb wrapped into one neat package! All I have to do is separate the two from each other, and—"
"Are you mad?" The Spy interrupted her spiel. He shook his head, then walked in front of her, blocking her from traveling towards her chopper. "You take zhis substance off the island, and then what? Testing? You'd take zhis back to Brisbane and potentially expose thousands of Australians to it! You don't have ze power to keep zhis from getting out of control!"
Marian barked back. "I do so! Now, see here. I got us all to this godforsaken island, right? That took quite a bit of expenses and resource management."
"You got us here? Please!" The Spy shook his head, incredulous at her suggestion. "It is only because you kidnapped my friend and myself zhat you were able to accomplish anyzhing! Need I remind you of your disastrous choice of employees before us? How about zhat crash in Abkhazia? Ze swarms of soldiers zhat followed our accident! You would have been, at best, locked up and thrown away in a gulag!"
"You self-righteous—" Marian stammered, her lips failing to find the proper obscenity for the Spy. She growled, then struck back. "Do I need to remind you about the payment you received? Your little woman? I guarantee that unless you shut your trap and assist me, you'll never get to enjoy either!"
The Spy threw his hands down. "Perhaps I should remind you of the dead corpses lying at each of zhese locations! Why don't you take the body of some woman or child and have zhem tested for Australium? I guarantee zhat you will find zheir shimmering bones to be full of ze element."
Marian narrowed her eyes. She spoke with a sharp pain. "You bastard. Don't you dare bring dead children into this!"
The Spy drew his head back. He'd struck a raw nerve. Marian had reacted the same way back at Lake Ritsa. Was that her weakness? Children? It was not a weak spot that the Spy could mock her for having. He just didn't expect to have someone so ruthless to balk when a child was being threatened. He could use that to his advantage. Finally, he could get some leverage on her.
"Listen to me. You take zhis stuff out of here? I am certain zhat it will harm children. Even if you run perfect tests, even if you correctly label your products with warnings, you will harm a child." The Spy lowered his head, his voice descended to a low tone. "Did you not try on your mama's cosmetics as a child? What if a woman could be immune to zhis substance, but her child was not?"
Marian hissed through her teeth. She did not immediately snap back at him. Her pupils were narrow, lips set into a sharp frown. It took her a few breaths before she could speak. "Can't you see what I'm doing here? Don't you get it? I've put a lot of time and money into this project. I've got to have something for my work. Why don't you have faith in me?"
The Spy replied, "Don't you trust me?"
As fate would have it, the Spy picked a very bad time to ask that question. There were two things that the Spy had forgotten. The first was that eucalyptus trees—the plants that surrounded him—were prone to wild combustion thanks to their secreted oils. The second was that Americans could be somewhat errant and uncontrollable in the face of death. Most other cultures had a sense of fearful reverence about death, merely accepting it as a part of life's cycle. Americans, on the other hand, frequently reacted to death with overemotional displays of anger and sorrow.
In sort, the Spy's attempts at reasoning and logic were destroyed by a vindictive arsonist and an exploding tree of life.
Both the Spy and Marian were thrown to the ground as the legendary source of vitality went up in a gargantuan column of fire. Splinters landed across the encampment, some embedding into the walls of the ruins. The Spy growled, feeling for sharp fragments in his back. No damage that he had taken was fatal or dire. He twisted around, watching men throw samples at the tree, trying to get it to stop burning. All it did was add fuel to the fire.
A curse caused him to realize his own predicament. "You traitorous bastard!"
At first, the Spy thought Marian was talking to someone else, like she had spotted Toaster. As he turned his attention back to her, he found himself staring into a muzzle. Marian had his custom Ambassador placed against his skull, her thumb pressed down on the safety and her finger on the trigger. So, he'd forgotten to get one of his guns back, too. There was no time to worry about that. He could not argue with her. He reached for his satchel, grabbing for the one item that was going to save his life.
As Marian pulled the trigger, the Spy grasped his hand around the hummingbird pocket watch.
The Spy's corpse fell to the ground.
There was a small panicked gasp from Sensei. The Sniper's jaw dropped. Had he reached it in time? Lord, there was no time to wait. They had to act. Energy coursed through him, his ill body rejuvenated by a fresh rush. He had to stop Marian and her men from leaving the island. That was what the Spy had tried to do. If he survived or if he fell, the Sniper had to live up to his word.
Well, he knew the quickest way to do that.
The Sniper jammed his laser sight back into his gun. One shot. That was all he needed. It didn't take three seconds to line up his shot. Marian's hat gave him a perfect target. He lowered his gun just a touch, letting anger and frustration take over any last regrets. Gritting his teeth, the Sniper held his breath.
He was then yanked off his feet by a reprimanding Southerner. "Fer God's sake, man!"
Toaster and Buckaroo had returned to Sensei and the Sniper's position. Both were coated in a thick layer of char. While the Sniper was glad that they had survived, he was livid for having them cost him his shot. "Bloody pikers! I've gotta—"
To his surprise, Buckaroo slapped him. "Damn ya fer pullin' a gun on a woman!"
"She just shot my mate!" the Sniper snapped back.
"Look, ladies? We can have the moral debate later, alright? We kinda need to run right now," Toaster growled.
He was right. Marian's men were heading for their position. Several of them had guns drawn. The Sniper spat, angry that he had to fall back without the Spy. There was nothing he could do for him now. Toaster dragged him away from the site, his associates following in turn. There was no time to stop and aim. They had to get to the chopper first. Each man scurried and leapt through the forest, winding in a serpentine fashion through burning plants and fallen lumber. Storm winds were quick to pick up Toaster's work, sending waves of flame rolling over them. Percussive blasts hounded them, shots just seconds behind each of their steps. It wouldn't be long until one of them was shot dead.
Fear spurred the Sniper onward. It pounded in his chest. He scurried and fled over dead trees, his lungs choking on ash and smoke. Thunder cracked above his head, throwing lightning and rain down in sloughs. Time became meaningless, space mangled and knotted. All he could think of was his friend's fallen body. He should have fired. He shouldn't have been so frightened by that exploding tree. Even now, knowing all of this, he still let panic drive him like a wild horse.
He thought that nothing could possibly be worse at that very moment. Then he ran out of land.
They had broken through the forest, landing on an eastern beach. Unfortunately, the Sniper and Toaster's crew had emerged in precisely the wrong spot. A vehicle greeted them, but it was not a helicopter. A hulking skeleton was beached on the coast, its iron core gnarled and rusting. It was more massive than any whale's carcass. The Sniper's heart landed in his stomach, fear finally overflowing into disbelief. He did not hesitate to leap into its bowels, knowing that his salvation would only come from standing ground here. Toaster's men followed him into the wreckage, each man preparing to engage in their final standoff.
There, on top of the S.S. Maheno's corpse, the Sniper stared into the snarling tempest of defeat and opened fire into its maw.
-spy discussing what he was going to do at length, and then repeating exactly that
-Marian thinking about how she was going to make a profit, and then repeating her points without lying
a bit redundant. The non-speech reminder of Scout's ma seemed unneeded too.
I also think that this update lacked suspense. Feels like mostly everything that went wrong had been brought up.
...Maybe the dead ringer could've been omitted for a bigger surprise later? At the moment I'm only mildly wondering if spy's around.
Anyway, this "Spy's attempts at reasoning and logic were destroyed by a vindictive arsonist and an exploding tree of life" definitely made me smile.
81 makes a very valid point, but I still enjoyed this chapter! I'm looking forward to the next chapter already!
Still a bit sad about Boomer's death. Gonna miss his jabs at Sniper.
Also can't stop re-reading the last few paragraphs. Seriously awesome stuff!
Sorry about the redundancy. It's the computer scientist in me. I have to know that you know what I'm talking about. You know?
Here. Let me give you a PG-13 wet t-shirt bit. Then you can skim the rest and get back to PYROMANIA. WHOO!
Thick rain and heavy ocean mist soaked the Sniper's clothes. His drenched uniform clung to his chest, water sinking through cotton and dripping down his skin in lukewarm beads. His eyes were irritated from smoke rising from the burning forest not too far from where he and the remnants of Toaster's gang had entrenched themselves in the bowels of the S.S. Maheno. Thunder cracked, and he shivered. One of those bolts was going to be a bullet. It was only a matter of time. The best he could do for the moment was hide in the rusting framework of the dead ship, his finger steadied on his rifle's trigger, should any infernal beast come from out of the jungle.
Toaster and his crew were keeping quiet. Buckaroo had been given the Sniper's sub-machine gun. Toaster had his kukri. Sensei was huddled in the middle of the boat's carcass. It was more logical to protect him than to let him fight. Injuries were inevitable, at this point. Perhaps there was no purpose in keeping alive. Toaster was looking for his death. That much was certain. He wanted to go out fighting, coated in the gore of dozens of men. Some poor revenge. Certainly, the rest of his men would take a bullet over days of exposure to the elements. The Sniper didn't know what his death would bring. Perhaps he could find himself in the presence of his teammates, embarrassed and pleading for forgiveness for the pains he put them through. Maybe he'd even be back with the Spy.
The Sniper gritted his teeth. He hoped that what Toaster's group saw was right, that the Spy had died instantly from that gunshot. The Spy was a tricky bastard, though. He had his knives and disguises. More than that, he had his clever little watches. If he'd been able to reach his pocket watch in time, if he had survived, then what horrible fate had the Sniper left him to suffer? Burning alive? Being recaptured by Marian? Both were unacceptable. When he should have fought with his teammate, the Sniper fled. No wonder other men considered him a coward. It was the truth.
"See anythin'?" Buckaroo quietly asked.
The Sniper shifted in his position, keeping silent. He moved his rifle. Dark shadows in the forest were getting bigger. Perhaps he was letting his tired eyes play tricks on him. Lightning flashed above his head, illuminating the shades on the forest's edge. Those men were no illusion. He paused, searching for the right target. One of them had a long-range rifle slung over his back. The choice was easy for him to make.
Pursing his lips, the Sniper took aim. He exhaled, then slowly counted to three. As he chanted, he pulled the man's head into his sights. He waited one second more, just long enough to account for the wind's pull. A sharp crack pierced the night. It was not thunder. His target fell backwards, a red mist dissolving into pink rain. The men around the dead man panicked and drew their guns. The Sniper moved quickly. It was not long before they'd open fire on his location.
"How many more?" Toaster hissed.
"Five in the open," the Sniper replied. He paused once more, taking aim at a new man's head. Just a fellow with a shotgun. Poor bastard. The Sniper split his head in two, then ran again. If he had more patience and time, perhaps he would have tried hiding his shots in the thunder. As it was, he had to be a little less graceful and more lethal.
There was a rattle as Buckaroo opened fire. Someone had slipped a little too close to his position. A pained scream echoed in the storm as the uncertified holy man broke his lord's commandments. The remaining three fellows turned to the portly man's position. The Sniper took advantage of their distraction, popping off another one's head. Buckaroo ended one more life as the men's attention darted around. Toaster snuck to his friend's side, taking the last one for himself. He had too much pleasure in severing the guard's head from his body.
Toaster yelled at the burning jungle. "Is that all, you sons 'a bitches?"
It was not.
A peculiar haze rolled out of the forest. It was not smoke. The smell of the gas was strange, like paint thinner and incense. Men stepped from out of the foliage, gas masks slipped over their head. Toaster retched as the cloud reached him. Some sort of toxin, no doubt. The hapless crew fell back, leaving the Sniper to his precarious position in the ship. He growled, but didn't retreat. He had to stop those men from gassing them all.
His rifle moved easy in his hands, even as the fumes started hitting him. One man fell in a burst of blood, then another. He must have looked no more threatening than a small shimmer in the rolling storm, but the remaining guards knew of his threat. He kept firing. What else could he do? If he was driven into the ocean, then that truly would be the end. He wouldn't let some dime-a-dozen mook take him down, not after the pains he'd endured.
The Sniper lost count of his shots, of the men piled dead in front of him. He pulled the trigger, and they fell. He clicked it once more, and nothing happened. He could barely move it. The trigger was gummed up, jammed by the heat and the miserable conditions. The Sniper fell back, his stomach churning anew under the threat of the gas. He stumbled out of the wreckage, landing on his right side. The dead ship wheezed with the ominous air in its belly. He flopped onto his back, sandy fingers vainly cleaning his jammed gun.
He let go of his rifle. It was futile. God knows where those bastards went, but they weren't coming to rescue him. His stomach clenched painfully, unable to expel any bile. His lungs burned from the fumes. Engines roared in his ears. He opened his eyes, letting his vision drift upwards. They widened at an unimaginable sight. There was a rush of energy that shot through his spine. His spirit lifted.
"Goddamn buncha bastards!" the Sniper cheered as a helicopter above his head opened fire.
There was a bright, colorful ball of energy in the sky. Behind that were two barrels piping lead into the remaining force around the Maheno. A third barrel was spinning, splattering rounds across the ship. Gloved hands were throwing down a yellow rope ladder, letting it drop right next to the Sniper's head. Feet flew to it. Toaster's crew was damned determined to save their lives, no matter who was rescuing them. Another man slid down it, landing next to the Sniper's side. He raised the muzzle of his weapon, then let out a blast of clean air. It rushed over the Sniper's body, forcing the fumes back long enough to let him breathe again. He scrambled to get upright, throwing his rifle over his back. The Pyro pulled him up by his belt, throwing him onto the rope ladder. He was halfway up it, his rescuer a quarter of the way up when the Sniper's stomach lurched again. This time, it wasn't due to the gas. It was caused by the helicopter lifting them off the ground.
The Sniper scrambled into the cabin of the helicopter. Rubber-gloved arms were there to pull him in. He collapsed into his teammate's grasp, his lungs filling with clean air. There were pats on his back, hands gently rubbing his shoulders and spine. He shivered once, his exhausted body trembling in joy. His heart was thumping in his ears. He could barely hear his teammates talking to him, nor the Pyro's slamming of the door shut behind him.
A question broke through his tattered brain. "Herr Sniper! Are you alright?"
"I-I'm foine." The Sniper glanced up. Then he wished he hadn't. He was staring into the eyes of four anxious men, each one more surprised than the last. He'd forgotten about his transformation. Of all the things he had worried about in the last few minutes, his appearance had been the last of them. They held their breath, eyes widened. He shrunk down, wishing he could hide himself in the Medic's lab coat.
The Heavy knelt down next to the Medic. He frowned, shocked and a little uneasy. "Little man. Where is Spy?"
The Sniper shook his head. He couldn't tell them. If the Spy was dead, then he'd failed his teammates by not protecting him. If he was alive, then he'd abandoned him to burn in a forest, complacent with the whims of a bunch of nutjobs. He lowered his head, teeth gritting in a frown, self-loathing burning in the pit of his stomach. God, he couldn't do anything. He'd let himself get turned into something no more powerful or logical than a rag doll.
Toaster growled, snapping the team's attention away from their teammate. "Listen, guys. A dead Frenchie's the least of your problems, okay? You see your friend, there? He got off lucky. We left a ton of dead bastards in the forest, and it's all thanks to that sap we found."
"Sap?" The Engineer tilted his head. "A plant did this ta him?"
"Gets worse than that, I'm afraid," Buckaroo said. "Killed a bunch 'a Australians. That stuff reacts ta Australium, and the bastards got…" He sniffled once, trying not to let Boomer's death sink into his mind.
The Sniper spoke for Buckaroo. "If Marian takes it ta Brisbane, she could risk contaminating the whole population. Could wipe out most 'a the country." He gave a long look at the Engineer. "Not ta mention what it'd do ta others that handle Australium."
"If what ya say is true, Stretch, then damn near every first-world country could be hurt by this stuff," the Engineer murmured as he sat down. He hesitated to place a hand on the Sniper, but finally let his left hand rest on his teammate's neck. His skin was so strange to the touch, soft and smooth. It made jitters run across the Texan's nerves. He didn't even feel like his teammate anymore. Blue eyes stared into his goggles, tired but free of wrinkles. There was a strange palpitation in his chest, something joyful and painful.
The Pyro got down to business. "Vrr fud vr grr, dnn?"
Toaster cocked his head. "Wait, what?"
"Dr strrp Mrrerrerrn!" The Pyro pounded his fist into his palm.
"Ah. Pyro wants to stop Marian now. So, where do we go?" the Heavy translated.
Sensei agreed. "To the north, then. If we stop her helicopter from taking off, then I would guess that we can prevent her from causing a potential biological disaster."
"Did you guys say somethin' about a helicopter?" a voice boomed from the cockpit. Their long-haired pilot tilted his head to the side. "I ain't chasin' no goddamn aircraft in this kinda weather! We need ta conserve our fuel!"
"Come on! Did you not just hear about how your entire goddamn country is gonna be obliterated?" Toaster fumed.
The pilot yelled back, "Well, I didn't say we couldn't stop her over there! I just ain't wastin' the fuel! Come on! Let's beat her back!"
Democracy meant nothing to a group in a helicopter with only one pilot. The chopper swung to the west, then plowed forward. Rain pelted the front of the copter. Lightning threatened to strike it at any minute. Nobody wasted any time. Each man scooped reserves from the dispenser in the center of the chopper, quick to reload. Even if they didn't have an immediate battle, they still had to be prepared.
The Sniper kept himself tucked in with his teammates. The Medic was eyeing him with morbid curiosity, wondering about how his body had been restored. The Heavy was pleased to have him back, giving him a large squeeze around the shoulder before sitting down. The Pyro gave him two pats on the leg. He was quick to settle back into his normal thoughts of joy and mayhem. The Engineer threw an arm around his back, clinging to his teammate. His grasp said so much—elation, fear, affection. The Sniper sank into his hold, trying to ignore the burning pain in his tear ducts. He was back with them. He was safe as he could possibly be.
But he'd abandoned the Spy.
Contrary to popular belief, the Spy was still alive and well.
His pocket watch had bought him eight seconds of time. After Marian had shot him, she had immediately filed with her men and abandoned his supposed corpse. No matter to him. The Spy thought about rushing her men, slaughtering each one with the visage of his previous victim. It would not work. Even if he managed to kill seven or eight of them, one would catch wise to his tactics and shoot him again. He couldn't count on his luck to save him. He certainly couldn't hope that by killing the witch, her guards would surrender.
His best chance was to beat them to the helicopter and ground it. How he could do that? Well, he had several options. He could kill all of the guards waiting for Marian, then sap the helicopter and destroy it. He could just murder the pilot. If he just wanted to foil her, he could cut the sample containers open and let them leak into the sand. She certainly couldn't get another bunch of samples, not with the forest burning the only living tree known to produce this sap.
As the Spy bolted towards the helicopter, he pondered the fate of his teammate. Those damned fools of Marian's had managed to muck up yet another event. He did not worry so much over their lives, but he was concerned about the Sniper. Not to say that the man didn't have his strengths, nor that he wouldn't thrive in the wild. Even death would be merciful, all things considered. He didn't want his teammate languishing out in the forest, choking or bleeding to death. Perhaps he should have gone with him and killed the guards pursuing their tails. Then again, knowing the Sniper's prowess, he doubted they would be a threat for long.
The Sniper would understand. A man didn't leave the world in the snares of danger, even if that meant putting his teammates' lives at risk. Certainly not his lover, either.
He made it to Marian's helicopter minutes before she would arrive. The Spy's options were narrowed instantly. Several guards were hauling gallons of goop into the rear of the helicopter. Some were standing next to the pilot's door, guarding him as well. There were no stragglers, everyone keeping two by two. The Spy grumbled. So, this wouldn't be so easy. He could still cause some damage before they knew what had happened.
The Spy flipped his golden watch on. He stepped onto the sea's banks, his footsteps sinking into the sand. That wasn't good. Any man with half a brain could see where he was going. He kept towards the burning foliage, looking for rock to step across. There was nothing. He cursed silently once more. He was running out of time.
Going against every screaming neuron in his brain, the Spy leapt out of his cover. He dove beneath the helicopter, quick to squirm under its belly. He hissed, wondering what to do next. Wriggling towards the cockpit, he eyed the ankles of the men guarding the pilot. Perhaps he could stab them with his Arabian dagger and snatch their forms. If he knew a damn thing about the assembly of a helicopter, he could sap its electronics from here. He rubbed the stubble on his face, his cool demeanor cracking. There was nothing he could do without a distraction or a disguise. He was in over his head.
A woman's voice pierced through the storm. "Get ready! We're taking off!"
Marian had finally arrived. The Spy gritted his teeth, damning his luck and incompetence. Something feral and carnal gnawed at his brain, images of his paramour in danger flooding his better judgment. No. He couldn't let harm come to her. Not after all the indignities he'd suffered. Not after what he'd put the Sniper through just to save her.
He'd just have to take a drastic, dangerous option.
The Spy idled patiently beneath the chopper. He waited as the guards and Marian stepped into its guts. As soon as her boots hopped onto the helicopter's floor, he stepped up and casually strolled into the helicopter. The door flung shut, quick to seal its passengers and cargo inside the chopper. The blades above their heads roared to life, the copter shaking as it started its ascent.
He had not thought this plan through. It was quick to backfire on him.
Normally, his invisibility cloak would perfectly blend with his surroundings. Of course, the technology was not flawless. He could not hide his form in the rain as the droplets would bounce off his skin and the reflective cloak around him. Fire would waver through his body. Anything that could stick to him would show up. In this unfortunate circumstance, sand had clung to his back from when he'd hidden beneath the helicopter. Now, standing upright in the cabin, that sand appeared to be floating around invisible legs and a back.
Needless to say, he had several guns pulled on him immediately.
"You have got to be kidding me," Marian growled. "What are you, Casper the Goddamn Ghost?"
The Spy sighed. Well, there was no point in being subtle anymore. He grabbed his knife, then leapt upon the most vulnerable target. He stabbed into one of the plastic containers. Ooze gushed out of one, spilling over his body. He continued slashing away, knowing that extracting the stuff here was the best way to stop most of it from reaching Brisbane. His efforts were not permitted to go on for long. Two guards tackled him, two more quick to raise a pistol to his head.
"Monsieur, cut the crap," Marian hissed.
The Spy grumbled. The charge on his watch finally ran low, his form mostly solid. There was no point in being aggressive now. She had him. He lowered his cloak, surrendering for the moment. He was trying to calculate another plan as the guards flung him onto a nearby seat. They were quick to strip him of his weapons and tools, locking his arms behind his back with plastic cuffs. Damn. He'd forgotten about those.
Marian sighed, then crossed her legs. "I really should shoot you again."
"Go ahead. You'll get ze same results," the Spy spat.
"I have my doubts." Marian reclined, a dark smile creeping across her face. "My treacherous friend, I am impressed. I am certain you could have killed me, and yet, you came out here to stop this shipment of my samples instead. Why?"
The Spy lowered his voice. "You are asking foolish questions. You already know why."
Marian grinned. "Well, of course, Monsieur. We have a bit of a ride to get to Brisbane, though, don't we? We might as well make small talk." She tipped her head, then clicked her tongue. "I'll tell you what. Since you've been a good boy for most of the trip, I'll hold up my end of the bargain. You'll get to see your pretty little lady soon enough."
"And zhen?" the Spy asked, his eyes narrowing.
Marian sustained her malevolent grin. "Well, I'll offer her a free sample, of course. It's what all good salesmen do."
...What further designs does she have on the spy anyway? Why not just kill him?
Awesome. Love the action and the suspense, can't wait for more.
So the next chapter is when scoutma will do something useful and save the day or something?
Because so far she's been nothing but a confident problem.
This is an amazing fic.
Wait, what happened to Scout and the rock and baseball bat bit?
I have to admit that when I first read this comment, it angered me. It was a selfish reaction. Perhaps what was painful about it was how it was actually correct. I hadn't meant to use the Scout's mother as a damsel in distress. I meant to use her as a tool to keep the Spy under control. Still, this statement was true.
After some self-reflection and doubt, I came up with this chapter. It's not my greatest, but it should move the B plot along. Hopefully, you will find that the Scout's mother is being better utilized in the plot now. If not, hit me with the truth again. It was a tough pill for me to swallow, but I think it cured an ill.
I'm sorry. I feel like I've failed you as a storyteller.
While nature sought to conspire against everyone else, it provided the Scout with an early opportunity. The torrential downpour had the citizens of Brisbane tucked into their apartments and homes. Workers were quick to scurry from their offices to their cars after work. When they had cleared, the street was completely empty. It was perfect for him to work. The street lamps gave him enough light to find his targets and just enough shadow to hide. Normally, he didn't give two craps about the lighting, but it helped to have a little cover. After all, he didn't want to screw this up.
Not when his mother's life could be on the line.
The Scout had climbed his way onto the fire escape of a near-by complex. He rummaged through the sports bag slung across his back. A white ball with sharp stitching found its way into his bandaged hands. He narrowed his eyes, adjusting his cap to shield them from the rain. Skulking around Marian Grey's office, he found his first target. It was a rectangular camera. It had a little red light that glowed in the dark storm, cheerfully scanning the perimeter for intruders. The poor little thing never saw the baseball that smashed it off its mount. The Scout caught his ball as it bounced back, surprised with how hard it landed in his palm. His swing was getting stronger.
Sneaking around the complex, the Scout continued his mission. Three more cameras fell to the ground before he was through. He smirked, twirling his bat as he made his way around to the front of the office building. Now that his subtle work was over, he got to perform the part he enjoyed the most—that of the flashy distraction. He sauntered over to the elegant black vehicle parked just in front of the four glass doors that led inside. He whistled twice, then drew his bat.
He broke off the passenger-side mirror and most of the windshield before anyone came out to stop him.
Mister Shotgun was the first one out of the door. "Ya little bastard! What are ya—" was all he got out before the Scout whacked him in the solar plexus. He dropped to the ground almost instantly. As he struggled to get his breath again, the Scout leapt on his back. He pulled the guard backwards, hoping to squeeze just long enough on his throat to make the guy pass out. Just as Mister Shotgun's struggles were stilling, Flint rushed out the door and smashed the kid in the back of the head.
"Bloody punk!" The second guard picked him off the ground, thrashing him against the damaged car a few times. "Think it's funny ta wreck somethin' that isn't yers, huh?"
"Screw you and yer cheap-ass piece 'a crap!" the Scout spat.
Flint's eyes narrowed, his sharp jaw obscuring most of the Scout's vision. "Think I'll have ta teach ya a lesson in economics, ya greasy streak 'a nothin'!"
The guard slammed the Scout into the fancy vehicle, sending his head reeling in a burst of stars. He pulled the Scout back. Before he could smash the kid one more time, an American fist clobbered the guard in his face. The Soldier was quick to deck Flint, knocking him out with two more blows. The Demoman finished off Mister Shotgun with a sharp punch to the back of his head. He helped the Scout onto his feet, letting the boy wheeze on his shoulder for a few moments.
Miss Pauling clicked next to her men, her shoes resonant even in the storm. "So much for subtlety."
"Cameras are out, ain't dey?" the Scout coughed. He stood upright, giving the Demoman a few pats on the back. "Thanks, pally."
The Demoman grinned, then reached into the pocket of Mister Shotgun. "You're welcome, boyo. Lesse here. Ah! A bunch 'a keys. This ought ta do."
The Soldier wasn't nearly as precise with his theft. He stripped the suit jacket off Flint, then threw it around himself. "Nice. Perfect fit."
"You're kidding me," Miss Pauling muttered.
"Hey! It's not every day I find something this fancy!" The Soldier straightened his lapel, then scrounged for more useful items. He found an identification card and a key ring. "A ha! I think we've hit pay dirt. Nicely done, privates!"
The four ascended a few stairs and stormed into the front lobby. They used the ID card and the keys to crack the door open. It was quiet, lightning splashing across the impeccably clean tile floors. Lights were coming from hallways and stairwells. The stairs descending into lower levels were more lit. The Soldier threw two fingers to his eyes, signaling for the group to go downstairs. The Demoman rolled his eyes, then bopped the Soldier in the helmet. The American could pretend he was a strategic mastermind all he wanted. Often times, common sense was more than enough, and he wasn't smart enough to figure out others had a comparable intelligence to his own.
Miss Pauling strolled behind the front desk. She shuffled through a few papers before finding an office floor plan. "Okay. Gentlemen, you go on ahead and secure the Scout's mother. In the meantime, I'll take care of any remaining security cameras."
The Scout cocked his head, a little irritated. "What? Ya sayin' I did a crappy job out dere?"
"We don't need anyone knowing what vehicles we are using. If I wipe out all recorded tapes and sabotage any security computers, we should be able to pull this off with no dangling threads," Miss Pauling explained.
The Demoman nodded. "Probably shoulda worn gloves then."
"None of us have fingerprints on file with any global authorities. Helen keeps it that way." Miss Pauling rearranged the papers on the front desk, then grabbed her revolver. "I'll meet you in the van."
The three men rushed down the descending stairwell. As they marched towards the basement floor, the trappings of the lobby gave way to blander, simpler decorations. Wallpapered and trim walls became painted plaster and brick. Floors went from immaculately polished stone to stained wood. It smelt heavily of cleaning supplies, chlorine and a sweet orange scent masking the smell of more insidious chemicals.
The basement was narrow, barely wide enough for two men to stroll alongside each other. Simple metal doors had glass peepholes and a sliver of a window. Each was decorated with black numbers, each number followed by the letter B. Most of the doors were closed and locked. The Demoman pressed his face to one, his one good eye wheeling about as he tried to glance inside a laboratory. It was all glass vials and black tables.
"I have ta wonder what she's all cookin' up here," the Demoman pondered.
"It's not her work. She's just dropping crap on eggheads," the Soldier grumbled. "That's an executive for you. Never does any of the actual work and thinks they need to be paid ten times more than anyone else."
The Scout shot both men a dirty look. "Would ya cram it? I think I hear somethin'."
Quietly, the young Bostonian peeked his head around a corner to his left. The Soldier and the Demoman were quick to join him. A bright light burned its way out of a door in a thin yellow streak. Acrid smoke curled above their heads in sinister curls. Tobacco, no doubt. Certainly not very ethical, if that was a group of scientists. Lighting up around a Bunsen burner was never a good idea. They crept forward, eyes darting into the space between the door frame and the ajar door. There were thick, meaty men cackling inside, hands thrown up in the air with their laughter, fingers full of cards. More were lying face-first on a rickety card table, drinks emptied, ice running beads down glass. Passed out, no doubt. Amongst them was a petite black-haired woman, her face flushed red.
"So, so den he comes home, and I ask him, 'How's Linda?' And he gives me dis death glare! Like I didn't tell him!" The lady examined her cards, smiling as the man around him roared. "A boy should listen to his mama, but does he? I know a bitch when I see one, and man, dat girl was an operator. Anyway, dat's why I don't wear my rocks 'round town no more."
A burly, large necked fellow snorted once, his Adam's apple bobbing with his speech. "Whatever happened to that girl, anyway?"
The little woman shrugged, sipping from her drink. "Ya know. Standard story. Went out drinking with a director, thinkin' she'd scored a little case, den came home da next time married ta a swindler and with a belly full 'a babies."
A greasy haired fellow elbowed her. "Sounds like somethin' ya'd know about."
"I would not!" She whacked the guard with her card hand. "I married for love every time. Just got bad luck."
The Scout's temples throbbed in anger. What was his mother doing? She seemed out of it, giggling and flirting with her captors. He reached for the door, pushing it open just a little more. He moved in silently, much to the Soldier and Demoman's dismay. The mother and son locked eyes, but no emotion passed between them. She looked like she was out of her wits and that he was merely a cheerful illusion. He was so mad that he could have steam-fried his own brain with his rage.
His mother drew her guards' attentions as her son and his company drew closer. "Well? What about yous guys? Got anythin' worth playin'?"
The first one pondered his hand. "Perhaps. That ain't your concern, is it?"
"Hell, you might as well toss your hand. I've got this," the cocky elbower bragged. A third fellow muttered something, but dropped his head on the table. He was too drunk to be of any use, much like the two other men already passed out. His collapse drew another proud boast from the bragging man. "Alright, suckers. Flip 'em and cry."
The Scout's mother smirked, making eye contact with her son once more. "Okay."
She grabbed onto the flimsy card cable and smashed it forward, sending men, chips, and cards flying. Drinks clattered to the ground, ice and glass shattering. One of the guards drew his gun, a sneer at his lips. "Ya cheatin' broad! I'd outta—" He coughed with surprise as a feral American man leapt onto his back. The Soldier smashed the revolver out of the guard's hands, then bashed him into the ground. The Demoman made similar work out of the greasy-haired guard, smashing a nearby beer bottle across his forehead. The Scout's mother watched with dull disinterest. She was used to seeing a little wet work. The men's violence did not faze her.
The Scout grabbed his mom by the arms and escorted her away from the table. "Ma! What da hell are ya doin' here?"
"Drinkin' 'em under da table," she replied. Despite her slurred accent, she was surprisingly sober. "Morons thought dat I was still heavily drugged. Woulda been outta here in an hour."
"Dat wasn't what I meant! I mean, why are ya here?" the Scout asked.
His mother growled. "Same reason yer here, I'd imagine. Came ta get mon caniche."
The Scout's face burst into a bright red color. "Ma! Don't call him dat in front 'a me! I gotta work with da guy!"
"Sorry, Scootie Pie," she shrugged.
"Don't call me dat, eidda!" the Scout yelped. He turned to his teammates, trying not to melt away in a puddle of embarrassment. "Ya assholes ready ta go?"
"Aye, aye!" the Demoman replied enthusiastically. He charged out of the door, his head darting wildly. He waved his teammates towards the door. "All clear! Let's go!"
"Is he really da best guy ta be tellin' us if da coast is clear?" the Scout's mother whispered.
The Scout shrugged. "Eh. He's at least half right, right?"
The Demoman rushed out of the room in a blaze. The Soldier was quick to follow him, his helmet almost bouncing off his head as he ran. The Scout gave his mother a glance, who in return remained calm and collected. She shooed her boy on ahead. He raced up the stairwell, beating his teammates into the lobby. She was not far behind them, careful to avoid stepping on glass with her bare feet as she carried her remaining shoe and travel bag out of her cell.
Miss Pauling was waiting for them in the lobby. She was cleaning a bloody paperweight on the hem of her shirt. "Ah. There you are. All went well, then?"
"Had ta knock a few coconuts, but nothin' too hard," the Demoman replied.
"Miss Paulin'? My boys got ya mixed up in this mess, too?" the Scout's mother asked.
Miss Pauling shrugged. "When our company's affairs are interrupted, my employers take any threat seriously."
"Makes sense to me." The Scout's mother dropped her shoe into bag, then began fussing with Miss Pauling's shirt. "Oh, geez. Yer gonna want ta wash this on cold. Ya don't want the blood ta set."
"T-thank you," Miss Pauling replied. She was a little flustered by the Scout's mother's doting.
"Ya know, purple's a good color on ya. Really is. Very flatterin' with the cat's eyes glasses," the Scout's mother continued. "Why da pants, though? Don't professionals yer age wear skirts anymore? Oh, and heels! Ya know how men are dese days. First dhey want short women, dhen dhey want tall ladies. Just can never make up dheir mind, ya know?"
The Soldier rubbed his face, his brain blanking with the Scout's mother's ramblings. "Ladies, let's move this to the car. We need to get to our secure location before we can engage in further planning of our next attack and Miss Pauling's wardrobe."
The Scout's mom bopped Miss Pauling in the shoulder. "Ain't dhey just sweethearts?"
"I don't mean to be rude, but are you drunk?" Miss Pauling asked.
The Scout's mother shrugged. "I'm workin' on flushing a tranquilizer and a few ounces a booze outta my system. It takes a little time. My liver's not quite what it used ta be."
The five people quickly abandoned the complex. The Demoman flung the door shut behind them, making sure it was locked before he left. If the assholes in the basement woke up, he wanted to put just a little more time and distance between them. They bolted into the van. The Soldier took the wheel, the Demoman in the shotgun position. Miss Pauling, the Scout's Mother, and the Scout crammed into the backseat. There was a heavy cough as the van rattled to life. It leapt out of its hiding spot, quick to barrel to the hotel room they had reserved.
Miss Pauling rubbed her nose, just below her glasses. "Perhaps I should have had you men kill the guards as well. I doubt they'll report us to the police, considering their kidnappings, but—"
"I think it's sweet you people didn't kill dhem," the Scout's mother replied. "Not like they'd be messin' with us, if it weren't fer dheir crazy boss. Not the best guys, but dhey were decent enough."
"Geez, Ma. Got a case 'a Stolkholm syndrome?" the Scout poked fun at his mom. She swatted him on the shoulder in response.
"Oy! Ya did spend quite a bit 'a time with those bastards, didn't ya?" The Demoman turned around to face the Scout's mother. "What in the hell are they doin', yankin' the Sniper and Spy around the globe? Political assassinations? Stealing treasures? International criminal activites? What?"
The Scout's mother sat upright. "Dat stuff would be logical in comparison ta what dis broad is doin'. She's lookin' fer da Fountain 'a Youth."
The other four occupants at the vehicle stared at her. Even the driving Soldier. He snapped back to his work quickly, but he was still incredulous at the revelation. Miss Pauling's face was set in a worried frown. The Scout was shaking his head. There was no way someone could be simultaneously stupid enough to believe in such a fictitious place and clever enough to catch both the Sniper and the Spy. The only rider that accepted the Scout's mother's testimony at face value was the Demoman, and that was only because he'd witnessed enough magical crap in his lifetime to believe anything.
"Okay. Okay. Let me get dis straight. A make-up lady wants ta find da Fountain 'a Youth, so she drags our two guys across the world and kidnaps you in an effort ta find dis." The Scout flailed his hands in the air. "What da hell? Wouldn't findin' it put her out of business?"
The Scout's mother shrugged. "Da guards said she'd either water da stuff down and hock it, or she'd find a way to weaponize it. Dat's all I've got. Well, dat, and dat da crazy gal thinks it's in Australia. Dis was only after vistin' a few abandoned places, mind ya."
"Musta been a hell of a search," the Demoman nodded. "I would have liked ta see old places like that. Instead, we got our asses stuck in every hotel and plane between here and the United States! The bastards have better found some right and proper treasure, after all we went through!"
The Soldier tried to reassure the group. "Truckie got their coordinates figured out. He and the others will have both men rescued in no time. After that? Miss Grey can do as she pleases."
"Aren't ya worried about what dat crazy gal will do if she does find it?" the Scout asked.
"Son, I am a war machine. I could figure out any missile launch code for any ICBM in the United States. I have an assortment of weapons, plans, and a ton of patience." The Soldier grinned darkly, his knuckles white on the steering wheel. "I doubt she'll ever been a threat to me or to my sweet Lady Liberty."
Miss Pauling broke up the argument. "We don't have time for speculations. We've got to—"
Her cool, calm interjection was interrupted by a horrid thump on top of the van. The Soldier slammed on the breaks. A transparent object about the size and shape of a water cooler tank rolled down the front of the van. Liquid heavier than rain gushed over the sides of the dented roof. The Scout's mother cursed a string of incomprehensible words that were muffled together by her accent. The blow had startled them all.
"Where in da hell did dat come from?" the Scout asked.
I get all excited about a new chapter and i finish it within minutes
I liked it regardless but auuhgh
Eh, we're all only human. It's normal to feel worked-up over criticism, hell, even actors feel anxious when they read reviews of their latest picture. The important thing is to take a deep breath and step back for a while, when you find something's bothering you. ...at least, that's what I try to do.
Scout-mama hadn't done much aside from being used as leverage, but she didn't seem like a 'problem' to me. Hell, the other two people who were captured are experienced professional killers, and they failed in their efforts to escape- Sniper had to be rescued by his teammates, and Spy is still in enemy hands.
That isn't to say you should totally ignore posts you disagree with. Everyone's going to have their own opinions, and you can't please every person who comes by and reads your story, but you can still learn a little from what people say- unless it's something pointless and insulting, I guess (ie. "omg you suck I hate your story"). I can't anticipate what the poster was hoping for, but I liked this latest chapter. That's my two cents, for what it's worth.
Goofy and fun. Always loved your drama breaks.
May be wrong, but the previous chapter seemed to have a slight show vs tell problem.
Still wondering how she's gonna react to a de-aged spy.
Or how much of a fit the Administrator's gonna throw. <3
Well now I feel bad for saying it so rudely. I should have just said it like the normal mediocre crit like I did when I mentioned the sniper being neglected earlier on, so don't beat yourself over it.
I'm glad to be of help at least. I enjoy this story, a lot, And even if there /was/ at least one thing I didn't like, the greatness of the rest of the story would overpower it.
I can't really think of any other way I can tell you that you could never fail as a story teller, and to keep writing forever.
>>93 You know what? That's okay. Someone's gotta kick my butt every once in a while. Good critiques produce a better product. (Kinda wish you weren't anonymous, though. It'd be nice to know who my resident ass-kicker was.)
Speaking of crude products, have an unbeta'd chapter. I could have waited, I suppose, but I'm very impatient...
Brisbane was a torrential mess.
Thick rain pelted the rental van in which half of the people from Teufort sat. Wet, sloppy globs splashed and rolled every which way, catching in the second liquid that had coated the van. The strange fluid stuck to the van, only weakening and falling away in small flecks. Wind buffeted both liquids around. The storm rocked the van as it crept away from streets crammed full of businesses. Lightning bore its teeth, thunder gnashing in its wake. The building tempest rattled signs, sending scraps of paper and garbage scurrying in its wake. One newspaper splattered against the van's windshield, smearing black ink across its face as the wipers kicked into gear.
The Soldier scowled. "Why does everything in this goddamn country want to fight us?"
"I don't think—well, that's not important," Miss Pauling shook her head. "Hopefully, the rain will wash this strange gunk off, at any rate."
The Scout screwed up his face. "Looks like blue maple syrup ta me. Or molasses, maybe."
"Oh, sure. Leave it to the Bostonian to think it's molasses," the Soldier taunted. His words were rebuked by a sharp smack to the back of his head. Reverberations from his helmet rang in his ears like a large bell. He turned to find the Scout's mother scowling at him. "Sorry, m'am."
"I hate ta point this out, but we need ta start makin' our next plan. Won't be but two shakes of a lamb's tail before those fellas we knocked out will be wakin' up and callin' in reinforcements." The Demoman brought everyone back to order. He was not focused for long. "Anybody got a—what in the blazes?"
New roars echoed in the sky, but they did not come from the storm. The source of these sounds was obscured in gray, rolling clouds. One caught a flash of lightning off its side. Black, rotating wings carried a burdened helicopter out of danger, pressing onwards through sharp winds and cloud bursts. Across the sky, another vehicle shimmered in the night. Lightning did not illuminate it. A glowing ball was coming from its center, thin lines raking across the storm. The Soldier slammed the van into park, grabbed his binoculars from around his neck. His jaw dropped as the chopper came closer. There were men inside that luminescent bubble.
Miss Pauling raised a finger, pointing to the glowing aberration in the sky. "Are you all seeing that?"
"Ah ha!" The Soldier slammed a fist onto the van's steering wheel in joy. "I know that light from anywhere!"
"Christ, don't tell me ya've been abducted by aliens before," the Scout's mother grumbled.
The Scout patted his mother's hands, bobbing up and down rapidly. "No, Ma! He's totally bein' sane for once! Ah, man! We're in total luck!"
His mother raised an eyebrow. "What? Glinda the Good Witch gonna drop in on us?"
"No, Ma! It's our guys!" The Scout hopped out of his seat. He began pushing forward on the Soldier's shoulders, like his force was going to throw the car forward. "Come on! Mush! Go catch up widdem!"
The Soldier growled back, "I would, if I had an idea about where they were going!"
"D'ya think they were successful? I'd hate ta think that our missin' laddies are stuck out in this storm somewhere," the Demoman pondered.
The Scout screwed up his face, smirking. "Ah, I wouldn't worry about da Sniper. Dat guy finds sleepin' in roadkill comfortable. Da Spy, though? Oh, man!" He snorted with laughter twice. "He bitches when he gets blood on his suit! What makes ya think he could survive out in the—ow!"
The Scout's mother withdrew her hand from the back of her son's head. "Cripes! Gotta upside all yous guys's heads. And I thought dis job would make ya less mouthy!"
"Listen. Until we can confirm the status of our missing men, we need to get somewhere safe. I doubt this storm will get much better anytime soon." Miss Pauling flinched as a cacophonous bolt snapped through the air. She hunkered down. Even the storms in Australia were more boisterous. "At least, I'd feel better if we could get somewhere safe."
"To the hotel, then," the Demoman agreed. He nodded towards the Soldier. The American man twisted the van's clutch out of park, then threw it back into gear. The van coughed as it was kicked back into gear. It flew down eerily empty streets, throwing watery jets in its wake.
Another growl rushed over the van. Passing a towering hospital, the second vehicle in the sky dashed into view. Even without binoculars, the team could see a black dot leaning out one of the sides of the helicopter. The gales had no effect on its posture, but the helicopter bobbed up and down with the wind's currents. The Soldier tapped on the van's horn twice. There was no indication that anyone from the chopper had heard him over the rolling tempest.
The Bostonian woman sat upright. Her brain clicked, something in her gut stirring. That second helicopter was following the flight path of the first chopper. Granted, it wasn't right on its tail, but it was heading southwest. There were a limited number of reasons that both helicopters would be in the air in such terrible conditions. If the Scout's teammates were anything like her son, then they were stubborn as all get out. They were chasing. That had to mean that first helicopter had to have something important. Maybe some valuable artifact. Perhaps water from the Fountain of Life.
Maybe her man.
"Go southwest," the Scout's mother said.
The Scout turned his attention towards his mother. "What? Our hotel's ta th' north!"
"Look! I've been watchin' that damn shiny helicopter. You say it's your boys? Then follow your boys. Dey're goin' southwest, right after dat first chopper, and dey're not landin'! In a storm like dis? Dey've gotta be nuts. Somethin' important's keeping dem in da air!" his mother argued.
The Demoman perked up. "They're hunting."
The Scout's mother nodded. "Dat's right! If it's just material crap dey're after, den whateva. But if it's my man dey're tryin' ta save, den I ain't lettin' him get away!"
Miss Pauling shrugged. It wasn't a safe option, given the weather, but was worth pursuing. At any rate, the Bostonian woman made a strong case for their chase, even if it was merely pathos. If the only non-mercenary in the car was game for a fight, then disagreeing on behalf of their safety seemed less effective. She bobbed her head towards the Soldier. "Fair enough. Mister Doe, if you would."
He gave her a salute, then slammed on the accelerator.
Everything was gray.
The Spy closed his eyes, trying to blot the environment out around him. His arms were getting sore from being bound. They burned against his shoulders. Worse than that was the gleeful cheering and planning that Marian and her men were engaged in. If he was lucky, he could lean back and hear nothing but the storm howling around him. If he was extra fortunate, the wind would toss him out of the craft. It had already bucked a loose barrel out of the back. Perhaps it could take him, too.
It was going to be a disaster. It was only a matter of time. If he did not kill them all tonight, then they would murder him tomorrow. Perhaps his petite as well. The day after that, they'd get down to their nefarious work. Then they'd unsuspectingly unleash this monstrous liquid into the public for mass consumption. He did not know what would be the worst scenario. Global annihilation of first-world countries, international fixation on meaningless aesthetics and devolution into Eloi-like creatures—even mundane disaster scenarios like a city-wide poisoning were enough to raise his hackles. There were going to be scores of dead men, women, and children if he did not act. There was only one thing keeping him from acting—Marian's threat against his paramour.
It was time to call her bluff.
Ignoring the prattling going on around him, the Spy's voice cut through the crowd. "Miss Grey!"
Marian raised an eyebrow, pulling her pen away from a notepad. The men around her hushed up as she smirked. "Yes? I'm busy working, Monsieur, so make it quick."
"You still have your satellite phone, do you not?" the Spy asked.
Marian nodded. "Of course."
The Spy pulled himself upright, opening his eyes. "I wish to speak wiz her."
There was a pause as Marian interpreted the Spy's request. She sighed, smiling. "Oh, of course. Let me get a hold of her for you."
Marian rummaged through a small bag next to her ankles. She paused for a moment as winds rocked the chopper. After the whirlybird stabilized, she pulled out the phone. She drew out her dialing, taking as long as possible with each number. Leaning back, she smiled as the connecting tone chimed in her ear. After thirty seconds, she furrowed her eyebrows. At one minute, her face flushed a dark crimson.
"That can't be. Someone should be at the office," Marian muttered.
Slamming the phone down, she dialed again. Another minute passed with no response. She kept dialing and waiting, growing more impatient with every iteration. The Spy lowered his eyebrows, wondering what was going on. Was she dialing the right number? Was the storm interfering with the phone's signal? Or, if she was correct, then why was no one on the other line?
Marian and the Spy came to the same conclusion simultaneously. She snarled, "What have those bastard associates of yours done?"
From the broad side of the second helicopter, the Heavy hung out of the door frame. The fierce wind and pelting rain did nothing to move him. He was solid, unwavering, a captain at the helm with his thick jaw fixed shut. The little men in the helicopter may have scurried away from the storm's gales, but the Heavy did not flinch. He kept his gaze narrowed into the turbulent night. Their helicopter was closing onto their target's path. It would not be much longer until they would be right on the first chopper's tail.
A soft hand grabbed onto his bicep. The touch was unfamiliar. The Heavy raised an eyebrow as the Sniper braced himself against the massive Russian. Rain splattered across his face, his other hand clutching onto his hat, sunglasses protecting his bright eyes. For such a tall man, he'd always been somewhat ungainly, especially in comparison with the muscle-bound superman that the Heavy was. He hardly looked like a killer now. It was easier for the Heavy to overlook the Australian's transformation if he focused on his teammate's trappings. At least the hat and the glasses remained the same, even if the flesh beneath them had changed.
"We are getting closer, little man. Do you have plan?" the Heavy boomed over a nearby growling cloud.
The Sniper shook his head. "Not a bleedin' idea. Figured we'd improvise."
"Hmm. As always, then. Some things do not change," the Heavy mused. Plucking the Sniper up, he backed away from the door. He dropped his teammate next to the Medic. His German comrade did not appreciate the Sniper's damp clothing soaking into their shared seat, but he didn't complain. A brief, stern glance was exchanged between the Heavy and the Medic, the same worried often face shared between two parents. The Medic snorted, then gave a light nod. He was not to let the Sniper get by the open doors again. Not while he wasn't himself.
The Engineer pulled away from the opposing doorway. He'd been observing the other helicopter's trajectory, using his Wrangler's sight to trace laser paths in the sky. The little light hadn't gotten too far through the clouds. He sat down, putting the safety onto the sentry perched just outside of the door. It beeped three times, then went still.
"I don't think I'll be able to hit their vehicle from here," the Engineer said.
One of the men that had been rescued along with the Sniper piped up. As always, Toaster was running his mouth off. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Were you gonna shoot that chopper down?"
The Engineer shrugged. "Well, we can't ask them ta pull over."
"So, you were gonna crash a chopper full of toxic crap down in the middle of a populated city?" Toaster crossed his arms, then kicked a leg over his opposite knee. "And I thought you were the brains of this operation!"
"Would ya blokes just calm down back there? That helicopter can't go too much further." The pilot's voice rattled from the front of the chopper. "We just follow it ta the ground, 'n then ya blighters can snatch 'em up. Don't sweat it!"
The Sniper peered around the corner, glancing at the city between the gaps in the door and the Heavy's body. He pulled himself to his original position, feeling the Medic's eyes burning into his back. "Ah, sorry. Just wonderin' if I could make a shot from here." He gave a nervous chuckle, then settled into his seat. "Ya know, these legs are pretty strong. Maybe if we get close enough, I could try leapin' ta the other chopper."
The Pyro was oddly enthusiastic about this plan. "Frrk gyea! Errbrsd dr srrd!" He waved the nozzle of his flamethrower in the air, giving the nozzle a squeeze. A blast of oxygen caught both Sensei and Buckaroo off guard. There was a lot for them to be concerned about in regards to that masked man. His passion for erratic plans and peculiar weaponry were only scratching the surface of insanity that was built into the Pyro's very essence.
"Oh, sure, Herr Sniper! Perhaps I can uber you so you vill not die vhen you fall!" the Medic shook his head. He pressed his fingers beneath his glasses, rubbing where plastic knobs braced the lenses against his broad nose.
The Engineer sighed. He thought his troubles with the Sniper were resolved, as far as this mission went. What had been saved wasn't the patient, relaxed man the Engineer had come to know. There was this new drive to the Sniper. Perhaps his transformation had given it to him. Maybe he thought he had something to prove to make up for his absence. Whatever his motivation, the Engineer wished he wouldn't be so eager to put himself in the line of fire.
"Ya alright, Truckie?" the Sniper asked. "Ya look a little pale, mate."
The Engineer shook his head. His mouth went dry. "I'm okay. Don't need ta worry 'bout me none. Just—ah, just a little—cripes, Stretch."
The Sniper's head bounced upright. He knew what that face meant. Sliding away from the Medic's side, he plopped himself next to the Engineer. He grabbed for the Texan's hands. The Engineer raised his eyes to meet the Sniper's face. Holding his left hand—his natural hand—was a common way for the Sniper to reassure him. But his mechanical hand? Almost no one touched that. Sure, his teammates would poke and prod at it like a curious toy, but no one treated it like an actual extension of the Texan. To have the Sniper cradling it in his grasp was peculiar.
"Hey? We're gonna do this, mate," the Sniper said.
"Oh, heck. I ain't worried about that," the Engineer replied.
The Texan's concerns were left unsaid, but the Sniper caught onto them. "Truckie, I ain't gonna break. Look. We're all together, yeah? You, the Doc, the Big Guy, the Dragon, those three gits over there—"
"Hey! I can still hear you jerkwads over the storm!" Toaster interrupted. "Buncha fruits."
The Sniper sighed. "Like I was sayin'. Roight now, it doesn't matter what we've been through. We've gotta get our Spook back."
The rest of his words were shook away by a sudden gust of air. The chopper rocked in the blast. Flinching, the Heavy pulled himself into the helicopter. He slammed the door shut, then sat next to the Medic. The Sniper and the Engineer were startled by the surging current as well. Fingers clutched onto each other, instincts worried more about plummeting than their trivial issues at that exact second. When they were able to return to their original thoughts, they both felt foolish.
"I better get a goddamn medal for all the horse hockey ya put me through," the Engineer laughed.
The Sniper clapped the Texan on the back. "That's more loike it, mate. Tell me when ta shoot, 'n I'll shoot. I ain't some precious little posey that can't hold a gun!"
Another dark chuckle escaped the Engineer. He pushed his fleshy hand beneath the Sniper's hat and ruffled his hair. "Sorry, Mundy. It's hard ta take ya seriously when ya look like ya could be yer own son."
"Oy! Still got my dignity!" The Sniper tucked his hat over his face.
There was a short cough that came from the right side of the vehicle. Both men turned to find the Medic tapping his fingers against his thighs. "If ze frauleins are done wiz zheir little chat, perhaps we can get down to business?"
The Engineer cleared his throat. "Sorry, Doc. Now, what were ya—Oof!"
Any thoughts from the Texan were shook out of his brain. A tumultuous gust had struck the aircraft. The vehicle bucked to the right, slamming any unbuckled occupants into the left side. The aircraft swung for a few moments, rocking back and forth as the pilot fought through the force. Passengers grabbed for their seatbelts, taking the storm more seriously. A burst of thunder boomed as it coursed overhead. With one last nauseating heave, the helicopter leveled itself out.
"Sorry 'bout that, mates. Bit 'a turbulence," the pilot's voice buzzed through the chopper. "Lucky we didn't stall out there, eh? Just give me a moment, and we'll be roight back on—oh, shi—"
The rest of the pilot's expletive language was drowned out by an unearthly screeching. Rotors and gears screamed as the black blades above the chopper met with the side of a skyscraper. Every passenger threw their hands over their heads as glass shattered from windows, both from the helicopter and the building they had crashed into. The chopper thrashed against cement, snapping the vehicle around one-hundred and eighty degrees. Its tail slammed into the build, the back rotor snapping off instantly. Sparks and flame erupted from the torn parts as the chopper plummeted to the ground below, its rotating stumps dragging like claws through wet mud.
The doomed helicopter smashed into the street below with an awful crunch.
ouuuch that crash landing. Didn't break the medigun or anything right..?
WHAT!? IT CUTS OFF THERE?!
My God, right in the middle of the big chase scene and everybody's freaking out and shit has hit the fan so hard the fan ain't spinning and-
I am going to sit here consumed with anticipation until this updates.
Waugh, a cliffhanger... You know I'll be waiting to see what happens next!
Cliffhangers. Brilliant, evil cliffhangers.
Captcha, why u in Cyrillic??
Who's gonna be number 100? That's this chapter's cliffhanger!
Black smoke clouded the Sniper's eyes and lungs as he fought to get out of the crash. He fumbled for the catch on his seatbelt, struggling to free himself from the burning remains of the helicopter. He fell from his seat, landing with an awkward plop on top of the Heavy's torso. The Russian gave a loud growl from the impact. He pushed the Sniper off him, unbuckling himself and scrambling to help the rest of his companions escape the smoldering helicopter.
The Sniper was not so coherent. The wreckage jittered around him, moving in thick blocks of time. It was as if someone was burning a movie reel. He crawled from the spot where he had fallen, arms and legs unsteady as he fought to get himself upright. Rubber gloves and a cold blast of air pushed him out of the wreckage. Rain halted and sped around him, missing frames leaving nothing but dark gaps in his memory. He crawled towards the smooth face of the building that they had just crashed into. Leaning backwards, he forced himself onto his legs. He had to go back into the wreckage. His team needed his help.
He collapsed on his rear end, coughing in fits.
Hands were quick to guide the Sniper once more. They led him towards a whirring sound coming out of the ground. He opened his eyes as the Engineer dropped him next to an assembling dispenser. Pressing against the machine, the Sniper fought to stand upright again. The crash had thrown his back out. The base of his head was damp with thick, hot liquid. The Engineer pushed him down once more. The Sniper stopped fussing as a cool burst of medicine pulsed through the air. He settled down, knowing that he was not going to be of any use if he did not get patched up first.
"The others?" the Sniper coughed.
"Just hold yer horses. They're comin'." The Engineer stood up, wiping rainwater off his goggles. The Sniper raised his head, watching the Pyro push both Buckaroo and Sensei near the dispenser. The Heavy was behind him, a dazed and babbling Medic thrown over his shoulder. Toaster followed the massive Russian. The long-haired pilot was in his care. All of them were charred by the crash, gashes cut across their bodies in a myriad of ways. Being alive was lucky enough.
Toaster sat down next to the Sniper. "Ah, crap. I think I broke my ass."
"Nein. Most likely, you sustained injury to your coccyx," the Medic said. He laughed at how clear he sounded, then murmured, "I vould offer to check for you, but perhaps zhat would be inappropriate in public, hmm?"
Sensei agreed with the Medic's suggested diagnosis. "He has broken it many times before, I am afraid. I believe he is not so graceful." He leaned against the dispenser, then took a large sniff. His eyes widened. "Oh? What is this?"
The Medic beamed. "Zhat is my patented medicine! Zhis machine was designed by mein freund to dispel it in a gaseous form. Smells good, doesn't it?"
"Ah, yes. Perhaps a little too herbal, for my tastes," Sensei smiled.
Buckaroo squinted his eyes. "Wait a minute. This hogwash just magically fixes up the dents in yer body, no matter what the damage or ailment? Pardon me if I offend ya, Herr Doctor, but to me, that sounds like a whole lotta quackery. Like sna—aaah!"
Whatever thoughts Buckaroo was going to share were lost with a sudden squealing of tires. A dirty old van whipped around the corner, going much too fast in the rainstorm. A wave of water rolled in its wake. The survivors scattered from the dispenser as the van screeched to a halt. It fishtailed, slamming its back tires into the curb before stopping. Once both the passengers of the vehicle and the men outside had recovered from the skid, one of the van's windows rolled down.
A boisterous American voice yelled at the rain-soaked survivors. "Slackers! Commies! What the hell did you do?"
The Engineer was the first to recognize the voice. He sauntered over to the van, then leaned against the doorframe. "Hey, Mister. You try flyin' that in this storm."
"I was the bloke doin' the flyin'! If anyone should be bitchin' 'bout the weather, it's me!" the pilot protested. He then shrunk back sheepishly. "Suppose I shouldn't be proud 'a this wreck, though. Crickey. Goin' ta get my pay docked."
The Demoman leaned towards the Engineer. "Aren't those the bastards from the airport in Alexandria? What are they doin' with ya?"
"It's complicated." The Engineer scrunched up his nose. He pulled himself away from the van, its body sticking to his skin for a few moments. "Gaah. What the hell?"
"Hell if we know! Dis plastic thing just landed on us while we were gettin' my ma back! Just wham!" The Scout slapped his fist into his open palm. "Man, you don't think it's bottled airplane crap, do ya?"
The Engineer frowned. "Don't smell like sewage, anyway. Where are y'all headin'?"
"You tell me, Private. We were following you around," the Soldier grumbled.
The Scout's Mother leaned forward, peeking over the Demoman's shoulder. Her face fell. There were several men around the dispenser than the Engineer had erected, but none of them looked like her man. "Suppose ya didn't happen ta see my beau, did ya?"
"'Fraid not. We only found the Sniper, and he wasn't doin' too hot when we found him." The Engineer paused as he studied the group huddled around the dispenser. His eyes felt watery, heat fogging the lenses of his goggles. "Got a seat? I could use it."
The Scout hopped over the backseat. He threw the rear doors open. "Yeah, yeah. Yous guys, get your asses in here! We've gotta get goin'!"
As the Engineer moved towards the back of the van, he stumbled. His heart gave an awful shudder as his nose picked up on an unfamiliar scent. It was coming from the front of the van. There was a noticeable dent in the van's body from where an object had struck it. A sticky substance had clung to it even through the torrential rains. The fluid had an eerie blue quality. It stunk of something sharp and earthy, leaving a bitter aftertaste in his mouth.
The Engineer collapsed onto the street, his brain throbbing in cold waves. He was pulled into the van by a panicked Scout. Both the Pyro and the Sniper leapt to his aid, skidding on hands and knees as they landed next to his collapsed teammate. The Australian caught the same peculiar scent from the front of the van. His hackles raised instantly, his skin giving an involuntary shiver. As the Heavy came to the van and pulled his friend upright, the Sniper pushed him away from the van's splashed front. "Careful! Don't touch that stuff!"
"What in blazes is goin' on?" the Demoman asked.
The Medic hopped next to the Engineer, quick to take some rudimentary readings. He pulled back in surprise as gold liquid seeped out of the Engineer's left forearm. It was leaking from a good cut he'd received in the crash, mixing with his blood. The fluid was heavy, rolling with beads almost as thick as mercury. The Medic's jaw dropped, uncertain of what he was seeing. From over his shoulder, the five from the van were watching with awe and terror at the transformation overtaking the Engineer.
Even in the thick of his fever, the Engineer was lucid enough to mutter, "Why's my hand meltin'?"
The Spy's stomach sank as the helicopter began its descent. He sat upright, bracing for impact. It was lucky enough that they hadn't been struck by lightning or swatted out of the sky by the violent winds. He was fortunate to not have a slug in his brain. Despite the lack of communication from her office, Marian was in a pleasant mood. Perhaps it didn't matter what had happened to the rest of her men. The storm had blown her enemies away. Only the Spy was here to directly challenge her, and with his hands tied, there was little he could do.
Machinery growled as a retracting door beneath the helicopter opened. The chopper descended into what appeared to be a cluttered hanger. Other black and grey helicopters sat tucked away, bodies parked precariously close to wooden crates and barrels. The hanger reeked of gasoline and ill-stored chemicals. Their helicopter landed towards the south, rain flicking from its propellers as they slowed and stopped. There was a raucous cheer from Marian's men upon their safe landing. The Spy grimaced, keeping his temper in check. It did him no good to be angry. Frustration never aided him.
Marian was quick to get everyone to work. "Gentlemen, you will find some trucks to the front of the hanger. Fill them up, and head back to my office." She smirked, giving the Spy a quick glance. "Do be careful when you return. We may have some rats to exterminate."
Her men began hauling the tanks out to covered trucks. They were rather unimpressive pieces of machinery, painted a drab olive green and bulky. Some of the vehicles even had rust forming just below their carriage. The Spy scoffed. He was staring at an impending biohazard. This stuff would be splattered all over Brisbane before Marian even got a chance to examine it.
"If you are done rubbing my nose in your victory, could you spare me a few minutes for a cigarette?" the Spy asked Marian.
Marian shrugged. "I don't see why not. I'm thinking of having one myself."
The Spy snorted. "I suppose it would be too much for me to ask you to undo my restraints."
"You're just adorable. Has anyone ever told you that?" Marian patted his face, then whistled for two of her guards. The scrawniest men of the pack broke away. She gave them a terse order as she tapped a cigarette into the Spy's mouth. "Keep an eye on him, would you? I have business to do."
Marian placed a cigarette on her lips, then smirked. There was a sharp click from her lighter. Her cigarette glowed a bright orange in the dark warehouse. She leaned over, then pressed the butt of her cigarette against the Spy's. He held his position, if only to get a decent light. She smiled once more, the sashayed away from him. He grinned as well. She could humiliate him all she wanted. It would make his revenge all the sweeter.
The Spy rocked on his heels as he smoked, letting nicotine fuel his brain. Escaping wouldn't be so difficult. Any of the vehicles in the near vicinity would do. There were two immediate obstacles keeping him from escaping. The first of his problems was his missing gear. All he had was the golden watch on his arm. It had been spared only because no one knew of its purpose. The second issue to resolve was what to do about his cuffs. If he could just get one of these blockheads to cut them loose—
As he thought, the Spy's cigarette dropped out of his mouth.
He was mocked by his guards as the cigarette rolled away. It followed the contour of the cement floor. The butt landed next to a sticky puddle of glop that had leaked out of a nearby metallic barrel. The Spy sighed, knowing that his cigarette was dead to him. He then yelped as the puddle caught fire. Both of his guards ducked as an orange flash engulfed the leaking gasoline barrel. It exploded, quickly catching fire to the rubbish strewn about the hanger.
The blast threw the Spy and his guards to their feet. It tossed unsteady helicopters onto their sides. One crashed down next to the Spy's head, shrapnel from its propeller striking one of his guards in the face. The other one screamed in terror, bolting away from the wreckage as fast as he could. The Spy hissed as doors slammed from behind his head. Damn! They were escaping!
The Spy squirmed over to the fallen helicopter blade. He sawed the plastic cuffs against its sharp edge. With a pop, he snapped his wrists free. He scrambled to his feet, slamming on his golden watch moments before an enemy mook drew a bead on his head. He ducked just as a bullet whistled past his ear. Multitudes more fired wildly in the dark. Others panicked and left, more committed to their lives and transporting their goods than murdering a rogue agent. Marian was amongst the fleers, her vehicle the first to escape the burning hanger.
Not bothering to fight the horde of guards, the Spy sprinted past Marian's men. His target was the last remaining truck in the lot. It hadn't been filled with any containers, but it was still hotly prized. Two men were fighting over ownership of the wheel. One kicked his coworker aside, keys flying in the air in the chaos. They scrambled on the ground to get them back. A ghostly hand picked them up. Both men stopped in their panic, horrified at the specter now leaping into their truck.
"Allons-y!" the Spy taunted the men as he decloaked, then slammed out of the hanger's driveway.
The Sniper was not the most knowledgeable or intelligent of men. Not to say that he was a complete dunce, but he relied on his reflexes and his past experiences to overcome his situations. Base levels of competence were all he needed to survive. Nobody relied on him to fix a complicated piece of machinery or care for the well-being of his teammates. That was what the Medic and the Engineer were supposed to do. Neither of them could fulfill that role at this moment. The best the Medic could hope to do was keep his medigun aimed at the Engineer and hope he would overcome his blistering fever. Knowing how much Australium the Texan had handled in his life, the Sniper knew that he was going to lose his teammate to a horrible death.
It was then that the Sniper knew what he had to do. "Truckie, I'm so sorry."
The Sniper jammed his left pointer and middle fingers into the Engineer's throat. He struck the soft palate, then retracted his hand. The Engineer gave a startled cough, then leaned forward. The Sniper pushed his head out of the van as the Texan vomited up the contents of his stomach. It appeared to be normal bile. His stomach contents hadn't turned to solid Australium yet. He gave another coughed sound, then threw up again. Gold ooze seeped out of his mouth. It was a thick film with greater consistency than molasses. He kept regurgitating, the last of his stomach's contents rock-solid from being coated and solidified by hardening Australium. He was in luck—he'd passed his stomach contents before they could solidify in his throat.
The Texan spat, then sank onto the floor. He squawked with the awkwardness of a teenage boy. "What…in…Sam Hill?"
"That stuff on the front 'a the van? It causes a reaction with Australium." The Sniper patted his friend's back as he explained. "In some of us, it caused nausea and vomitin'. A few men died from that Australium gettin' stuck in their throats. 'Specially if they had too much in their body. That's how Toaster lost a man."
The Medic's eyes widened. "I see! Zhat is quite ze toxin!"
"God, that looked like it hurt." Miss Pauling fished a tissue from her blouse. She leaned over the back seat, then patted at the Engineer's face. Her cheeks went bright pink. "Wow. That…that really…wow."
The Scout's mother was less subtle with her amazement. "Whoa, honey! What, did dat take ten years off ya? Lookin' pretty foxy!"
"Let's…let's just get goin', huh? Sooner we stop this stuff from hittin' the streets, the better," the Engineer's face flushed red, though it was hard to tell if it was a lingering side effect or embarrassment.
That was all the direction the Heavy needed. He did not need to see any other person undergo that terrible transformation. He stormed out of the van, turning to face the pilot. "Where do we go to stop bossy woman?"
The pilot's eyes widened. He nodded once, then began fishing around in his pockets. He produced a battered paper card. The Heavy took it from him. It was a business card, complete with company logo, name, telephone number, and address.
The pilot explained his hunch. "Look. There's only a certain kind 'a bloke that heads out on a chopper ta weird-ass places. 'Specially for shady folks like you all. The other pilot was one of my mates." He scrunched up his face, forcing some pained emotion down his throat. "Be good ta him, yeah? Just doin' his job is all."
"You are not coming with us?" the Heavy asked.
"I think somebody should be 'round ta report this mess ta the jacks," the pilot replied.
His face set with a stern expression, the Heavy nodded. He reached down to shake the pilot's hand. His massive palm was larger than the entirety of the pilot's hand. The pilot clapped him on the back of his hand, then shooed him away. The Heavy stepped into the van, its suspension rocking from his bulk. The Sniper popped his head out, about to shut the van's door, but he paused as he realized that no one else was following the Heavy. Not the pilot, and not Toaster's crew. That wouldn't do. Even in a deadly situation, he had to be polite. Jumping out of the van, he returned to Toaster and his remaining men, then removed his hat.
"Oh, no no no. That's it, buddy," Toaster tried to get the Sniper to go away.
"Come on, mates. You blokes got ta want revenge as bad as I do," the Sniper grumbled.
Buckaroo screwed up his face. "Ya know, Toaster's right. There's not all that much room for the four of ya in the back. What makes ya think we can fit in?"
The Sniper laughed. "Suppose I could ride on top 'a the van.
"Ah, Sniper-san. Your offer is good." Sensei tipped his head out of embarrassment and frustration. "You must understand. Our path did not start with you in our company, and it will not end that way."
Toaster clapped a hand against his forehead. "Look. We'll get this report out as soon as possible, okay? Then we'll steal a cop car and join you guys. Hell, long as we've got the pilot, we can get to that address." Toaster stood up, his bones aching even with support from the dispenser. He burned his stern glance into the Australian's gaze. "Just promise me one thing. If you find her, let her live."
The Sniper drew his head back. "Why?"
Toaster growled. "Some bastards don't deserve the peace that death brings."
His thoughts were crystal clear to the Sniper. The Australian bowed his head, then nodded. Nothing more needed to be said. He raised his clean hand to Toaster. The American took it gruffly, giving him a sharp shake. He released his tight grip on the Sniper's hand, then smacked him once on the shoulder. That was as close to an encouraging speech as he was going to get. Toaster pushed the Sniper towards his teammates, his friends waving him off.
The Sniper clambered into the back of the van, then threw the door shut and sank down. Leaving them was harder than he'd imagined it would be. It wasn't as if they were always the most likeable or ethical of people. They just shared a similar experience. Specters clawed at his stomach as he thought of the miseries they had caused and observed. He couldn't think about the past just yet. He was back with his team. He had to focus on them.
That was easy to do with an exhausted Engineer lying on his side. The Sniper stretched an arm around the short Texan, then sighed. "Rough, ain't it?"
"Feel like death warmed over," the Engineer huffed.
The Sniper nodded. He didn't say anything in response. The knot in his gut twisted again. A dead man's gorged throat haunted his memories. It was horrible enough knowing that he had seen one man die. To not know of the Spy's fate was worse. He squeezed the Texan, glad to have at least one man saved.
Brisbane flew past the team as they hurtled towards the address in the Heavy's hand. Each person was prepping for combat. The Heavy gave his mingun one loving pat, feeding a healthy strand of ammunition into her. The Demoman was shoving bombs and rockets into both his weapons and the maniacal driver's launchers. Miss Pauling passed a hand cannon to the Scout's mother. The Scout's eyes boggled, jealous of the toy his mother got to play with. The Medic took a hit off his medigun, whooping excitedly. The Sniper gave the Engineer's leg a pat, then got to cleaning the rifle on his back. It wouldn't be long before his Texan companion would have his arsenal of machines up and going.
Little did they know that the battlefront was rising up to meet them.
Oh, yes. The boys get to do what they do best.
Man, I got so worried when Engie got the stuff on him since he deals with Australium so much. I wonder if it's going to affect his right hand at all, Spy's teeth grew back and all so I wonder what's going to happen with Engie?
I also like Medic topping himself off with his own Medigun. Not that he enjoys the high, oh no. Strictly medical. Yep.
Aaaah, I was worried for Engineer there. Hopefully they'll all get a little of their own back, now that shit's about to get really really serious.
Fuck. C'mon. Really? Not only did you not sage, your post was completely redundant to the story. And you aren't even post 100, you're late by at least six days.
Then let's make a legitimate post.
Have a climax! And by a climax, I mean...err...the highest action point where everything comes together and...well, not that other thing that puts you on the other board.
If it's not strong enough, let me know. I think it works for what it is, but if it's not enough, let me know how you think I should spice it up.
The streets of Brisbane were drowning in cascades of water. Rain flowed to clogged gutters, packing rubbish tighter into the strained drains. Swift winds splattered rainwater down glassy skyscrapers. The skies flashed blue and white as lightning raced in sinewy bands across burdened clouds. Thunder and growling gales drowned out the sounds of emergency vehicles flying around in the storm in distant corners of the city. Waves spun and crashed around the tires of another vehicle that rushed across the city. This lone rusting van moved with determination and urgency, racing to stop a toxic flood that threatened to poison the metropolis.
The man in the shotgun seat of the van focused his one good eye on a street sign that disappeared in a deluge of water like a wavering mirage. "Okay. Ten streets more, 'n we take a left."
"For God's sake, Tavish! There has to be a faster route!" the driver spat. The bridge of his nose crashed into his wrongly-sized helmet as he threw his head back in disgust.
"I was the one smart enough ta buy a damn map, Jane!" the Demoman rumbled. "And ya thought that I was bein' a peckerhead in the gift shop! Least I got somethin' useful!"
The Soldier was quick to shout back. "Hey! That boomerang will be extremely useful in our operations!"
The Demoman shook his head. "Maybe if ya jam it up someone's arse!"
"Oh, for cryin' out loud!" The Scout's head hit the back of his seat as he groaned. "Could ya mooks cram it? Focus on the drivin'! Then we can worry about the ass beatin'!"
Snapping his head around, the Soldier barked at the Scout. "Son, if anyone needs to be focusing on anything—"
The rest of his sentence was cut off by loud honking. The Soldier jolted back into position just as a series of white circular lights flashed in his eyes. Everyone in the van shrieked in fright as the Soldier whipped the van out of oncoming traffic. Tarp-covered trucks rushed past them. Each vehicle followed its predecessor in a straight, evenly spaced line. The trucks towards the back were covered in ash and char, their tarps blackened and burned. The van idled quietly as the caravan passed, its occupants still startled by their near miss. It could have been as bad as being hit by a freight car.
It must have been a minute before anyone could recover from the near miss. The Scout was the first one to break the quiet. "Told ya."
"Stuff it, hippie," the Soldier replied. He scowled as the Scout's mother struck him in the back of his helmet with an open palm. "Sorry, Ma'am."
"Let's get back to the mission. We don't have much time," Miss Pauling urged.
"Hold on." The Demoman nodded his head towards an oncoming vehicle. "There's another one."
It was another truck of the same build as the caravan's components. This last truck was black as pitch, paneling too dull to reflect from the traffic lights and claps of lightning. The fabric covering the back of the truck was completely burned away. It was hesitant as it approached the stopped van, water cresting at lower heights as it slowed down. The driver's side window descended. The truck's sole occupant leaned out, rain washing soot out of his dark hair. "Excusez-moi. Did you happen to see a large—Mon dieu!"
The occupants of the van erupted with cheerful whooping. The truck's driver pulled himself upright in shock. Crawling over Miss Pauling and her son, the Scout's mother leaned her head over the front seat. She flew back to her position, flinging the side door open. She leapt onto the road, bare feet and legs splashing in the streets. Rushing to the nearest door of the truck, she pulled herself inside the second vehicle and threw her arms around the neck of the driver. He leaned into her grasp, placing his right hand on her face.
They both blurted, "What are you doing here?"
"Came here ta save yer ass. Got kidnapped. Lost my shoes. Met up with yer coworkers. You?" The Scout's mother asked.
The Spy smirked. "Mostly ze same. However, I still have my shoes."
"Oh, sure! Rub it in!" the Scout's mother teased. She pointed towards the direction that the caravan had headed. "Dat Marian 'n her group?"
The Spy nodded. "I was going to ask for police assistance in tracking zhem down."
The Scout's mother screwed up her face. "Forget about dat! We were already plannin' on kickin' her ass! Let's roll!"
"Just one moment." The Spy leaned out of the truck, peering into the van across the way. "Do any of you know of ze where-abouts of ze Sniper?"
There was a scramble from the back of the van. Miss Pauling scooted out of the way as the Sniper climbed over the back seat. Glancing out, he watched the Spy's eyes widen ever so slightly. There was a sudden hard beat in the Sniper's chest. Neither man anticipated seeing the other alive. At least, not so soon. There could have been hundreds of words shared between the two, vocalizations of the fears that each one had for the other's fate. At that moment, it would have just stalled them more. They smiled, knowing what had to be done.
The Sniper clambered into the back seat, then grabbed his supplies. "Soldier, lead the Spy back ta Marian's office. If her group opens fire on us, return it. I'm gonna have ta gun for him."
The Scout's mother had her own set of orders. She yelled into the other van. "Scooter Pie! You get over here, too!"
"Ma! I don't wanna—ugh, fine." Even the Scout knew that there was a limitation to how much whining he could do.
The Scout beat the Sniper out of the side door. The Australian hustled behind him. He paused once, stopping briefly as he caught sight of the Engineer. Another thud rocked in his chest, dread catching him in the throat. The other vehicle was lacking in medical support. He couldn't ask the Medic to leave the Engineer's side, especially not after how badly the exposure to that strange sap had drained him. He certainly couldn't ask the Engineer to step up to the plate so swiftly, either. The Sniper had barely been able to sit up after drinking the substance. He wouldn't have been able to function. It wouldn't be fair to ask more out of the Engineer than what he could have done himself.
"Doc. Take care of Truckie, yeah?" the Sniper murmured.
The Medic shooed the Sniper out of the vehicle. "Get going, Dummkopf! You are vasting time!"
The Engineer waved the Sniper out. "I'll be okay, Mundy. Just get—"
He grunted, leaving his sentence unfinished. Pain in his right arm pinched on nerves that had long been severed and dead. The Engineer tried wriggling the fingers in his Gunslinger. They were moving with strange starts and stops. Something was wrong with the contraption. He pulled the prosthesis off its base, then growled as he ripped the lower half free from where it had been fastened to his arm. The forearm beneath it was longer, growing out into a wrist. The Texan studied his stump, watching in surprise as new muscles moved under his control.
"Think my hand's growin' back," the Engineer mumbled.
The Sniper beamed. "Keep workin' on that!" He threw the door shut behind him, quick to leap into the open bed of the Spy's truck. He gave two pats on the top of the truck, then hunkered down. The rental van charged forward first, cutting an open path through the flooding streets. That didn't spare the Sniper from becoming drenched within seconds. Both vehicles sped to make up for lost time. At least they didn't have to guess which way to head.
Car lights flared in the raging storm. Citizens who had not made it to their shelters were quick to flee from the speeding truck and van. Traffic bulbs burned bright and green, swaying in the strong winds. They ushered the rushing duo of vehicles onward. Within a few minutes, rectangular, heavy trucks came back into view. They were plowing through flooded streets, drenching unfortunate citizens as they continued on. Every armed teammate loaded their weapons, preparing for a nasty battle. They weren't going to open fire until given a reason. Still, it didn't hurt to be ready.
The Soldier threw a turning signal on. As soon as oncoming traffic broke, he diverged into the opposing lane. The street opened up as he accelerated, two lanes splitting into four. The few people who were foolish enough to keep driving in such dangerous conditions were quick to swerve out of the way. They slammed on their horns, cursing in dialects too thick for the Soldier to properly understand. He pushed the van next to the tail-end member of Marian's caravan. With a quick spin of the wheel, he slammed into the truck, forcing it across another lane and into a street light pole.
"Careful, you imbecile!" the Spy shouted.
"Aw, am I being too violent? Are the cops gonna arrest me?" The Soldier was quick to yell back. "Get behind me, Frenchie! We're going to cut this caravan in half!"
Rolling his eyes, the Spy swerved his truck behind the Soldier's van. The Sniper clung onto the tarp support beams over his head, waiting for a perfect opportunity to counterattack. Marian's men were quick to pick up on the aggressors at their heels. Several of them opened fire. White hot bullets lit up the dark rainwater, burning past the vehicles with searing hisses. They trailed bright light across the churning streets.
More ammunition sailed across the dreary night sky. It did not come from any standard gun. The objects were round, covered with sticky barbs. They cascaded onto a stop light. A wild laugh escaped the Soldier's vehicle as the Demoman detonated his trap. The light crashed into the middle of the trucks. It took down the first vehicle in its path. Another slammed into the rear of the stopped truck. Most of the following vehicles were able to swerve out of the path. The Demoman drew a few more bombs, blasting the light out of the way for his team. The duo of vehicles raced on, quick to catch the caravan's tail once more.
A goon cried out in the night as his hand exploded with pain. The weapon he had been wielding went sailing harmlessly down the street. The Sniper moved from his standing position, leaning forward on the truck's roof as he picked another target. A shotgun disintegrated into pieces. A tire blew, air hissing as rubber slapped into water. Another truck stalled, unable to keep after the enthusiastic gunmen and the escaping caravan.
Olive green mist billowed into the streets. A putrid stench washed over the two vehicles. Both the truck and the van rolled up their windows. The Sniper hunkered down, grabbing a hunk of tarp to throw over his mouth. The rain did its best to dispel the stinking cloud of poison, but it hit him hard. He abandoned his position, throwing himself over the side of the truck. The Scout's mother forced open the door nearest to him and pulled the Australian inside. He wretched twice, his eyes burning in irritation.
"Gonna be a few minutes before I can fire again," the Sniper gasped.
"We will just have to keep on zhem, in ze meantime," the Spy muttered.
The Scout cupped his hands around his eyes. "Man, I think we lost da odders."
"Patience, Scooter. We're right behind dem. Dey won't leave us." His mother gave him a bright smile, then turned her attention to the Sniper. She pushed his head down towards his knees. "Here. Sit like dis until yer better. Atta boy."
Both the Soldier's van and the Spy's truck broke free from the gas attack. The Pyro popped his head out to attack first. He snaked the head of his flamethrower out of the vehicle. He pressed on the gas feed twice, then squeezed a heavy burst of air out of its tanks. The gust of wind was enough to rock an opposing truck's occupants backwards. The vehicle tipped just a touch, baring its underside for one moment. The Pyro ignited the gas feed, bathing the truck's belly in a plume of fire. In panic, the opposing truck fell backwards. It slammed rear-end first into an oncoming truck, taking out two vehicles at once.
As the Pyro fell back to reload, the Heavy threw open the sliding door to the back of the van. His minigun growled as it chewed through metal and rubber. Water splattered and hissed under impact from a few strange rounds. Some of Marian's men turned their attention to opening fire on him. Their bullets were no greater deterrents to the Heavy than mosquito bites. He was bathed in a heavenly glow as the Medic kept his medigun aimed at him. As the last round left his gun, another truck peeled away in disgraceful defeat. He leaned back, reaching for a fresh belt of ammunition from the Engineer's dispenser. He gave the tired little man a grin, then fell back to his position.
"Ah, man! How many more 'a dese vehicles does dat bitch have?" the Scout whined.
The Spy tipped his head. "Not too many more. She should be in ze first vehicle."
The Sniper lifted his eyes. Marian's truck was not too far out of his sight. It was skittering across two lanes of traffic, weaving back and forth indecisively. With a large wake of water, it thrashed to the left. Its following vehicles shook back and forth, splitting randomly in different directions. The van in front of them scrambled around, not sure which way to follow. It continued straight past the intersection, following after most of the remaining trucks.
"Left! She's left!" the Sniper shouted.
A man with less faith in his teammate would have disregarded the Sniper's command. It made sense to keep with the majority of their companions. The Spy made no such hesitation. He turned to the left, narrowly avoiding an oncoming car. He slammed on the accelerator, catching up to the rear end of Marian's last following vehicle. Water churned beneath his tires, splattering against his windshield in a thick veil.
The Scout's mother readied the gun that Miss Pauling had given her. "Let's get dis guy outta da way. With me, kiddo?"
The Scout gave his mother a nod. "Hell yeah! I've got my side!"
Mother and son rolled down the window, leaning out in unison. They lowered the barrel of both their pistols towards the truck's tires. Two cracks fired in quick succession. The right tire popped, then the left. The truck bounced as its tires deflated, rims sparking beneath the flood waters. Swinging around the vehicle, the Spy pressed onto his last target.
A toxic plume rolled over the vehicle as the Scout and his mother fired two more shots. Their rounds had burst the final truck's tires just as before. Both family members reeled back from the gas. The Sniper was quick to roll up the Scout's mother's window, pressing his soaking shirt over her mouth to prevent any further inhalation. The Scout took care of his window, but threw up on his shoes shortly afterwards.
"Cheatin' bitch," the Scout huffed.
The Spy smirked. "Zat is my opinion."
Shots broke through the windshield of their truck. Everyone ducked down as bullets rained overhead. Even if Marian's vehicle had been stopped, its occupants had not. The Spy threw a hand over his mouth. He spared a glance over the dashboard. Three unique bursts of gunfire were coming from Marian's men.
He scowled. "Sniper. Scout. Wizh me!"
All three men loaded their weapons. The Scout's mother kept low, preparing to fire if she had to. The Spy commanded them swiftly, giving each man a direction to fire with a flick of his right index finger. He took a deep breath, then counted to them. "Un…deux…trois!"
The Scout was the fastest to fire, as always. He buried three rounds into the arms of his target. The Spy was next, blowing a revolver out of his target's hands. Not to say there was much of the guard's hands left after his round embedded into them. The Sniper took his shot last. It was well aimed, honed in on his target's neck. His shot went off course as an unaccounted fourth gun fired. The last guard was struck in his lower abdomen, collapsing in a heap in the back of the last truck. The Sniper fell backwards, grabbing at his left cheek in shock. A trail of blood gushed from his face.
For a man that had nearly been shot in the head, the Sniper was not grateful for having survived. "Sonnova bitch! Just got rid 'a this bloody scar!"
Hearing the Sniper's voice was enough to snap the Spy back on track. He raised his gun once more, threatening the last firer. He roared into the storm, "Mademoiselle Grey! Surrender now!"
Marian responded with another shot. The Spy winced as it bounced off the dashboard. He opened one irritated eye. The toxic smoke had saved them from her fire. She mustn't have had as clear of a shot. The Spy smirked. He knew when to take a good opportunity. Slamming on his wristwatch, he pushed out of the truck and waded through the stormy waters. He sloshed to the passenger's side door, finding Marian trembling, an arm thrown over her face and another unsteady hand shaking. Thunder clapped overhead, and she shivered once more.
The Spy might have had pity on her, had she not so grievously wronged him.
He grabbed her armed hand. She shrieked in terror as his invisible hand came into view around her wrist. She fired once, striking a street light. Glass and electrical sparks rained down. The Spy wrenched her arm back, smashing her hand against the door's window frame. Marian responded with a punch to his solar plexus. Wincing, the Spy fought to hold onto her. She wasn't all that strong, but she fought dirty. She hit him once more, striking a sensitive cluster of nerves. He fell backwards, landing next to a surging water main.
Marian threw herself out of the car. She glanced down the street, loading her gun once more. She did not get far before an ominous click stopped her. Three dark figures rushed to the Spy's aid. Glancing up, the Spy saw his petite standing at his side, the Scout next to her. Both of them had guns drawn towards Marian's forehead. As the Sniper lifted the Spy out of the gutter, the Frenchman could not take his eyes off the Scout's mother. Never before had she looked so powerful, her shoulders held high and proud. His heart palpitated.
"'Kay, Ma'am? Gonna ask ya ta cut the crap," the Scout's mother demanded. "Unless ya want me ta make dat beauty mark 'a yers a little bigger."
Vehicle lights flooded the street behind Marian's head. She turned her neck, watching as a thick, dark automobile pulled in. Giving the Scout's mother her attention again, she smirked. "Cute. Really, darling. I admire your style. Still, my ride is here. I've got to be going."
The Scout's mother tipped her head towards the parking vehicle. "Yeah. Yer goin' somewhere, alright."
Marian turned around once more to find herself staring into the eyes of six angry men and one perturbed assistant. Each one of them had their own unique and intimidating weapon pointed squarely at her. Her eyelids lowered as she smiled. Of course. She'd forgotten about the rest of the Spy's little friends. She looked once more at the two men she had held captive, then sighed. It was easy to tame them when they couldn't resist. Now, they had the upper hand. Even she had to know when to let a business partnership end.
Marian dropped her gun. "Fine. You win."
I'm surprised at the lack of ANY reaction Scout's mom had to Spy's appearance.
...Goddammit. I knew I forgot something. I'm such a damn failure sometimes.
Screw it. I'll have them discuss it more in the next chapter. I was initially planning to not have her react that much at all, considering that she and the Spy have been having an affair for decades. Between all the things that had happened to her that day, seeing a younger Spy probably wouldn't have flipped her out too much.
I would delete the chapter and repost it, but frankly, not much changed over all. In other publications, I changed the dialogue where they meet to this:
They both blurted, "What are you doing here?"
"Came here ta save yer ass. Got kidnapped. Lost my shoes. Met up with yer coworkers. You?" The Scout's mother asked.
The Spy smirked. "Mostly ze same. However, I still have my shoes. New face, too."
"Eh, I've seen it before. Been twenty-five years, though," the Scout's mother teased. She pointed towards the direction that the caravan had headed. "Dat Marian 'n her group?"
>>107 Eh, don't sweat it. Happens all the time to me.
Well, I guess it's time to do a curtain call.
At the end of the day, I could have done more for it. Particularly, I could have made the Spy more aggressive. It was something different to write, so that was worthwhile. I learned quite a bit by researching for it as well.
I hope you've enjoyed the story, warts and all.
Morning broke through thick clouds like a golden miracle. The city below the sun's glittering rays was coming alive. Rain water rushed down paved streets, gurgling as the last of it slipped away. Fire and ash were smothered. Burned buildings were black, but stable. Chunks of vehicles and stop light debris littered highways, but it was manageable to get around. The warzone and toxic hazard that had plagued it last night was swept under the city, like so much dirt and debris beneath a rug.
Now, Inspector Anderson had to deal with the remaining scum.
Women and men alike were arrested during the night, left in his department's care. Most of them were middle aged bald thugs. Some were young men, probably not much older than twenty five. A few women were among them. Too many of them were mouthy Americans demanding for their lawyers or phone calls. One particularly disturbed individual had been unresponsive during his interrogation, claiming that any information he divulged about what happened last night would label him a Tory. It was with great frustration that he finally found one of the arrested who was calm enough to talk with him.
The inspector offered the cooperative prisoner a seat. "If ya would please."
"Thank you," the short woman replied. She was dark haired, outfitted with cat's eye glasses. It was hard to believe she was American, considering her passive and cool response to her incarceration. Taking a seat in a blue plastic chair, she adjusted her glasses, then her shirt's collar.
"Now, if ya would be so kind, I would loike ta ask ya a favor," Inspector Anderson stated. He sat down, his blue uniform sharp against his sagging features. He reviewed his chart, his long face screwed up in a frown. "Miss Pauling, I ain't goin' ta lie to ya. You and yer blokes are in a mess 'a trouble. If you can get any of them ta plead, it would speed up our processin' by quoite a bit."
Miss Pauling raised her gaze. "What are we being charged with?"
The inspector gave a low whistle. "Destruction 'a public 'n private property. Aggravated assault. Reckless drivin'. We've got ta go through some bodies from a warehouse down town, as well. I'm guessin' it won't take my men long ta pin the fire there on yer men."
"I can guarantee that any injuries my men inflicted were solely in self-defense," Miss Pauling responded tersely.
Inspector Anderson raised an eyebrow. "That includin' the invasion of public property at Miss Grey's office? Some 'a her employees are claimin' yer boys were involved with their injuries as well."
"I'm sure you've spoken to those involved with that situation," Miss Pauling sighed. She leaned forward, crossing her arms at the wrist. "We could be filing a kidnapping report against them. I think you'd know that, if you talked to the other woman from our party."
"Quoite roight. We plan on chargin' them, too. Gonna make a bloody mess of our court system for a bit," Inspector Anderson nodded.
Miss Pauling smirked. "Of course, you know what would simplify your work load."
Inspector Anderson tensed up. "Now, see here, Miss. The law's the law. I can't let any 'a ya off for any offense. It's up ta the courts ta decide what's what. That's not my job, after—"
Two rings hissed through the interrogation room. They repeated again, buzzing from an old telephone. Inspector Anderson frowned, then reached a mighty paw towards the phone. He picked it off its cradle, mumbling a brief acknowledgement. Miss Pauling sat back. Her composure relaxed, a slow smile spreading across her face as Inspector Anderson's skin blanched. His jaw dropped as a horrible voice slithered into his ear. Nightmares worse than any terrors dredged up from the sea wrapped around his brain. A chain-smoking, steely whisper in his ear broke the rigid spine of the lawman.
He gently placed the phone down after the snake untangled itself from his brain. "Y-you and yer mates are free ta go, Miss Pauling."
The short woman smiled. "Thank you, Inspector Anderson."
"Puh-please just go. Don't come back," the inspector stammered. "Don't send her after me."
Miss Pauling kept her small grin. For such a selfish, vain woman, the Administrator always seemed to come through for her.
It did not take long for Miss Pauling and her companions to get back to the airport. Most of them hadn't even had time to unpack. They would be landing in Dallas in a little over half a day. That gave the company some time to rest. The men needed it. Most of them were lacking sleep. After coming down from their adrenaline high from the chase, they were sleeping upright even in their ride to the airport. The police had escorted them out the entire way, of course. They were going to make sure that none of them were going to go off to some other part of the city and destroy that.
They were seen off by one last group in the airport. Three men were sitting around a television set, playing a sort of game with a news cast. The loudest of the three kept loudly proclaiming when a fact was wrong. He was waving half a chewed banana at the screen, highlighting every wrong ticker tape factoid with a loud exclamation. The roundest member would merely nod in agreement. The quietest would give a look over his shoulder, embarrassed with the ruckus his friends were making. That was how he caught the attention of the crew from New Mexico.
Sensei gave a tap on his boss's shoulder. "We have company, I think."
Toaster glanced over the couch. He gave a loud whoop, then vaulted over its back. He hopped next to the Spy and Sniper, giving both men broad hugs. The Soldier retaliated with a grunt and a shove, not happy that strangers were touching his men. His teammates had to quiet him down. His attitude changed as soon as he had an explanation for why strangers were touching his teammates.
"So, where are ya blokes goin'?" the Sniper asked.
"Kyoto," Buckaroo stated. "Ol' Sensei's got a rich family back home. They donated a heck of a lot 'a dough to this temple there. Ya ought ta see it. Orange gates! Thousands of orange gates! Foxes 'n frogs, too. I don't quite get it. Somethin' 'bout grain gods. Not exactly the kinds 'a animals I'd pick fer that kinda thing."
The Spy nodded. "Paying your respects?"
Sensei bobbed his head as well. "I know of no better place to pray."
There was an awkward silence between the former rivals. There was no accusation or crying from any of Toaster's men. Boomer's death had been accepted. They had come to terms with it through the night. His missing presence was still like a gaping hole in their formation, however. The Sniper fumbled for his hat, then lowered it across his chest. Toaster sniffled, but didn't say anything. He merely gave a soft nod. His friends followed likewise.
"He doesn't have any family lookin' for him?" the Sniper asked.
Toaster gave a pathetic chuckle. "Well, he left his dad in the Himalayas. His mom never made it out of Tasmania. Hell, last I heard from his brother, he was going to go diving in the Seine. His family's everywhere, I guess. So is he."
The Scout's mother piped into the conversation. "Some families run like dat. Can't change 'em. Lord knows I've tried."
"Hey!" the Scout interjected. "Whaddya mean by dat?"
The Spy chuckled, a small snort slipping between his laughs. He collected himself, then apologized. "Je suis désolé. I forgot myself for a moment."
"Ah, well. Can't be sad forever, right? Just for a little bit," Toaster sighed. "At least, I don't think he'd want me moping around."
"Perhaps it's a good time ta think about yer future. What'll ya be doin' after Kyoto?" the Sniper pondered.
Toaster lifted his head. "You know what? I hadn't thought about that. Guess we're out of a job, huh?"
Buckaroo grumbled. "I suppose we rode that train as far as it could go. Still, there's always another treasure to be found."
"You know, some say that the Yasakani-no-Magatama is a forgery," Sensei offered. "Perhaps we can verify its authenticity?"
Toaster screwed up his face. "Oh, hell no! If we're going to steal any gemstone, we're going after that rock that Rachel stole from us!"
The Spy shrugged his shoulders. "At ze very least, you could sell off your story."
Toaster threw an arm around the Spy's shoulders. "You see this guy? I like the way he thinks."
The group's banter was interrupted by soft beeping from above their heads. A pleasant voice kindly reminded the people from Teufort about their gate and departing time. They weren't running late, but they were cutting it a little too close for comfort. Miss Pauling waved most of her group along, quick to get them scurried towards their destination. The Spy and the Sniper lingered for a moment, each man giving a quick handshake and a pat to Toaster's crew.
The Sniper lifted a pen from his vest pocket. Taking the lid off with his teeth, he wrote a phone number and a zip code on a nearby scrap of newspaper. He tore it off, giving the sheet to Toaster. "If yer in the United States, give us a ring. That's our main line and our town. Tons 'a explosions 'round it. Can't miss it."
"I don't know. I try to stay away from explosions when I can," Toaster grumbled.
"It is not quite as terrifying as you may imagine it to be." The Spy gave Toaster one last pat on his shoulder. "Take care of yourselves, mes amis."
Toaster and his men nodded. "You too."
The trip home went fast. Everyone slept through the flight. The road trip back to Teufort didn't take long, either. Events moved in a flash. The team was just happy to be back together again. The only concept of time they had was Miss Pauling's gentle guidance pushing them from one rest stop to the next. If they weren't driving or eating, then they were resting. The Scout's mother had taken residence on the Spy's chest for most of the tour, which irritated the young Bostonian to no end. The Spy did not tease him, however. He was content to be heading back to the closest thing he had to a stable home.
Of course, it didn't hurt that he'd smuggled out some of the mysterious substance from the strange tree on Fraser Island. The Medic had been all over that in no time. Within a few hours, he'd replicated the substance's contents enough to let everyone on their team have a shot. Of course, the Administrator and Miss Pauling had both been offered some of the stuff. They had both declined. Miss Pauling didn't think it would work on her, and the Administrator kept mumbling some concern about contamination.
They wouldn't be able to keep their forms. Just until their next battle. Then, they'd disappear with their first revival. The Engineer had made a copy of their changes in the respawn machine, but he was ordered by the Administrator not to use them unless she said so. That was the way it always went. She owned every piece of data and research, even the very content of their genetic code. Disturbing, perhaps, but that was part of their contract.
That left two items available to the Spy—the night, and one of the last remaining specimens from the so-called Fountain of Youth.
He sat in his car for a long time, contemplating about what he would do with both. He knew who deserved the last of the stuff. Perhaps it wasn't right to offer it to her, considering its risks, but she had to be given a choice. Either way, the world would continue to change, and so would they. What he had been for twenty-five years was what he would continue to be.
The Spy jolted as a lanky Australian leaned against his car. "Gonna sit in here all night?"
"No. Why? Did you have any plans, Bushman?" the Spy asked.
The Sniper shook his head, grinning. "Nah, mate. Just gonna spend some toime goin' through my van. Surprised the Administrator had 'em towed here for us. Gotta pay her out of our ears, I suppose. Still, glad ta have my home back."
"I could not agree more," the Spy nodded.
Both paused, letting the cool night seep into the garage. The Sniper gave a glance over his shoulder, looking at an empty workbench. The Engineer was still asleep in his loft upstairs. The two of them had quite a few rounds together since their return. Even now, the Sniper was drifting in and out of his thoughts with a pleased, drifting hum. The Spy could smell cheap alcohol on his breath. Apparently, he'd had a good night.
"I did have a place to go," the Spy finally spoke.
The Sniper bobbed his head. "The little lady's, roight?"
The Spy smiled. "Mais oui."
Giving the Spy's car a soft pat, the Sniper rose. "Roight, then. Better get to her. Never keep a lady waitin'."
Before he could turn, the Spy caught the Sniper's right wrist. He stood up, patting his teammate on his back as he gave him a strong squeeze. The Sniper responded in kind, albeit slowly. He was a little drunk and confused. Both men held each other for a moment, releasing only after it had gotten painful for both their backs. A flush of color was quick to flood the Sniper's face, alcohol kicking his bloodstream along quickly. The Spy kept cooler, a smirk at his lips.
"Zhank you," the Spy said.
The Sniper grinned. "Yer welcome. I think. Don't know what for."
The Spy rolled his eyes. He didn't know if modesty or intoxication had made the Sniper stupid. "I would have been lost without you, you dimwitted Bushman."
"Ah, please. Ya would have been just—wait. What did you call me?" The Sniper slurred his thoughts together. The Spy understood what he was saying all the same. Gratitude seeped through his smile. The Sniper returned a goofy smirk.
A soft cough came from the Spy's vehicle as he turned it on. The Sniper backed away, his expression sobering up. There was a bit of fear in him yet. The Spy could see it around his eyes. He could map where tired wrinkles used to be on his teammate's face. He could see them yet, knowing that deep down, the old men they left on Fraser Island were still clinging to each other in fright. It would be a while before each one could feel completely safe off the base again. Fear would not stop him from his midnight drive, however.
"Your countrymen have strong laws, correct? Zhen we will not worry about Miss Grey. Zhey will keep her under lock and key," the Spy spoke over his motor.
The Sniper gave a tired nod. "Roight. And if she shows up here, then she'll be on our turf. We've got help here. If there's anythin' we're good at, it's holdin' a line."
The Spy grinned. "Zhat's right, Bushman. Have a good night."
"You too, mate." The Sniper gave the Spy a quick wave.
His teammate turned to head inside his van. A devilish smirk creeped across the Spy's face. There was color on the back of the Sniper's neck. That couldn't have been from the alcohol. He leaned out of his car, calling towards the Australian. "Might I make a suggestion? Go get a handkerchief."
The Sniper's back went rigid. He clapped a hand over the bruise on his neck. Snapping on his heel, he yelled back to his teammate. "Go get yerself a reason for a handkerchief, ya bloody Spook!"
He arrived at her home like he always did. He came quietly in the middle of the night, balaclava on, form hidden by the dark cast of her roof's shadow. Tonight, he was perplexed by the mess at her back door. She had been, too. All of her items were in order, but her door was still broken. Apparently, George hadn't gotten around to fixing it. Then again, his house was dark and empty. The rat had run out of town. She could have been mad, but at that moment, she was more pleased by her guest than angered by her neighbor.
"I did not bring any roses wizh me. I hope you will forgive me," her gentleman spoke softly.
She smiled. "Didn't need any. Table's messed up, anyway. Think I have a chip in my good vase, too."
As he stepped into her home, the Spy shed his jacket. He gave a brief glance to the collapsed door. "I could call ze Engineer, if you would like it fixed tonight."
The Scout's mother grabbed the Spy's tie. She swung its tip in his nose. "It can wait. Ain't nobody gonna interrupt us tonight." Slinking closer, she wrapped her arms around his hips. He folded his around hers in turn. Both held their embrace, each savoring the scent of the other. Nothing perfumed, nothing fancy. Just clean. He rested his sharp nose in her well groomed hair. She could feel him smile through her scalp.
"Don't want ta ask a clichéd question, but I've gotta know," the Scout's mother murmured into his chest. "Is somethin' in your pocket, or—"
The Spy's eyebrows raised. "Oh. About zhat." He unhooked his arms from her side. He fished through his suit's vest, producing a small glass vial. It was a minty blue-green color in the moonlight. Something earthy percolated from its contents, sinking into her sinuses with a pleasing scent. "Before we left Brisbane, we made sure zhat ze police were to destroy zhat substance Marian found. Well, I should say, most of it. Zhis is all zhat is left."
The Scout's mother tipped her head. "Ya mean, da stuff dat turned back da clock on you?"
The Spy smirked. "Don't get attached to it. I'll be back to normal in ze morning."
"Good. Frankly, I was startin' ta look a little odd around you." She played with the knot on his tie, loosening it just a little. "So, I've gotta ask why you brought me dis. I've seen what it can do. Frankly, not too hot on it. I mean, da effect's nice, but I ain't a fan of what happens. You should have da way dat Dell was pukin' his guts out."
"I've seen it. Trust me. I would not give you zhis wizzout having taken precautions in case of zhose symptoms. But, as far as why I want you to have it…" The Spy's answer was slow to develop. He kept his mouth closed, trying to find the right way to say his thoughts. There was not an easy way for him to speak his thoughts. "Consider it compensation."
He was rewarded with a flick in his nose. "Ya dummy! Why'd ya think ya'd ever need ta repay me?"
"You do not need to risk your life on my behalf," the Spy replied.
She smirked again. "Ya really are a mental moron, ya know dat? Look, mon caniche. I came after you because I love you. I know ya get yer guts spilled every damn day, but dat doesn't mean I have ta like it! I'll only tolerate it 'cause ya get out in one piece at da end of a day. But, dis extra crap, with random bitches thinkin' dey can put deir mitts on you? I ain't havin' it! Yer mine, dammit! If any broad lays a hand on you, den I've gotta smack it back off!"
The Spy caught a gasp before it escaped his throat. "So. I am yours."
"Hell yeah, goddammit," the Scout's mother swore back. "We ain't always been a faithful pair, but…Shoot. You've always had an eye on me. You've watched over my boys. 'Specially my little Scout. Hell, da stuff you've smuggled to us just ta keep us afloat. Ain't never had any husband fight for my boys like you did."
"You can't mean zhat. Your second one tried," the Spy interjected.
"Yeah, well, you've been in my life longer dan he was. God rest his soul." She settled her arms around his neck. "Yer my guy. Ain't no magic potion nor ring nor nothin' dat needs ta say dat. I love you, and you love me, so yer gonna have ta suck it up."
The Spy whispered into her forehead. "Je t'aime, mon petit chou-fleur."
The duo stood in the kitchen, arms wrapped around each other. Moonlight flooded in through open windows and the broken door. Black and white tiles on the ground danced their way into wood-paneled and thick-carpeted rooms. Beyond them, a restroom. Past that, three bedrooms. A quaint little ranch house. There, in all the places in the world, the Spy and the Scout's mother finally found themselves at home. Nothing had to change. No masks were needed, nor perfume, flowers, nor any other trapping. In ruins, tragedy, and joy, it was perfect.
"'Course, ya know what I don't have?" the Scout's mother laughed.
The Spy lifted his head. "Oui?"
She gave him a coy grin, playing with the bottle in his hands. "I got a lot 'a things, but I don't have a daughter."
I'm so sad this is over.
Wonderful ending as well. I hope you are working toward another story somewhat soon? I'll miss constantly checking back for updates.
this is one of my favorite fics that i've ever read. i'm so sad to see it end, but i loved it every step of the way. the writing was great, the action was driving, the characterization was fantastic, and i really can't think of anything negative to say about it. i even loved the characters you made specifically for the story. they fit in spot-on with the tf2 universe and style and didn't detract from the focus of the story or the other characters at all.
i do hope you plan on writing more stories in the future! consider me a fan. i look forward to whatever projects you might come up with in the future!
Aww... I always feel kind of sad when a good story comes to an end. There's not nearly enough adventure or firefights in much of the TF2 fanfic out there, and this was a nice change from the usual.
I wonder if those new Respawn templates will ever see use in the future.
Anyways, good story, and good conclusion, too. I'm a little sad Engie didn't get more face time in the final chapter, but, eh. The story itself was Spy- and Sniper-centric, so not a big surprise.
I really enjoyed every last bit of this because it was different from the usual fic in this fandom, original characters and all, and I shall miss expecting updates. I do hope you continue to write, because I know I'll be reading.
I felt that the chase scene was a little hard to follow, but eh. Action is a pain in the ass to write, and I think you did a good job. I also really enjoyed all of the bromance in this story, especially between Spy and Sniper.