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I am an Engineer for Reliable Excavation Demolition.

It has been 113 years, 3 mon

ths, and 16 days since the Announcer trapped us down here. The only reason I kno
w this is because she likes to remind us gleefully of how long we have been her
prisoners whenever the occasion arises, which is far too often for my tastes. Sc
out is curled up next to me, clinging to me like a baby monkey as he twitches in
his sleep. It has been about 75 years since he was rendered completely dumb whe
n his tongue got ripped out and stayed ripped out. We used to joke about how it
made him more pleasant. Then, for a while, it seemed extremely tragic. Now, he s
eems to have gotten used to it. Being mute isn’t so bad, especially when there isn’t
really much to talk about anymore. But he listens to me now. And having a good
listener is a godsend in this hellhole. Sniper is lying on the floor, staring at
the ceiling. I can hear his stomach growling, but I know he doesn’t care. He stop
ped caring decades ago. He has become so lethargic, that on a bad day, if the An
nouncer wants to play a game with us, we have to pick him up off the floor and d
rag him. Heavy will sometimes lift him up and sling him over his shoulder like a
sack of potatoes. He can talk, unlike Scout, but it’s only in clipped, one-or-two
word answers. Sometimes it’s just non-committal grunts. Sometimes, on a good day,
you can strike up a conversation with him. And just when you think he’s slipping
back into his old self, he remembers where we are, and shuts down.
Heavy and Medic are in the corner, going at it like rabbits. They don’t care that
everybody can see them. The Announcer is watching, of course, but she’s always wat
ching. We can hear her snicker sometimes. Heavy is extremely protective of the d
octor. Well, he always was, really, but now he won’t let anyone touch Medic. At al
l. He likes to carry Medic around like a doll, and is always hanging onto him, t
ouching him. Perhaps it’s because the Announcer tortures the doctor worse than the
rest of us… or, at least, most of the rest of us. From what I hear, she likes to
lock him in a furnace and burn him to death, over and over and over. And when he’s
not in a furnace he’s being vivisected while fully, screamingly conscious. When h
e’s with Heavy, it haunts him less, and Heavy knows this. They are never seen apar
t from each other, always at arm’s length from the other unless forcibly, cruelly
separated. The Announcer actually joined the two of their bodies together at one
point, experimenting with different methods of fusion, but it hardly seemed to
make much of a difference. The mental image of the two of them kissing while Med
ic’s head was next to Heavy’s on the giant Russian’s shoulders will be permanently bur
ned into my memory forever. Her fun ruined, she separated them again. She likes
to separate them whenever she can. Demoman is sitting next to me, still trying t
o figure out where whatever cameras are that the Announcer may be using to spy u
pon us. I have told him many times that I don’t think there are any, but he is sti
ll convinced that there are. I can still hold conversations with him. The only t
hing keeping him focused is his intense and all-consuming hatred for the Announc
er. Even after all these years, it has not died, or dwindled, or faded in any wa
I cannot count how many times he has been killed, tortured, blinded, giv
en his sight back, blinded again, and ripped up in so many different ways becaus
e he either tried to escape or just destroy her. Some day, he tells me, we’ll be f
ree. I ask him what he plans to do if he manages to kill her or we escape, and h
e admits he has no idea at all. The surface world is ravaged by a nuclear winter
, the landscape barren and desolate. There is no one else out there. And more im
portantly, I remind him, there are no women. Once we leave here and die, there w
ill only be extinction. Soldier used to hate her too. Now, he’s in his own corner,
as far away from Heavy and Medic as he can possibly get, conversing with Shovel
. What he’s saying is anyone’s guess; it all sounds like incomprehensible babble, an
d you’d be lucky to hear the odd English word bubble up from his throat. The years
of being trapped here took an enormous toll on his already compromised sanity.
He talked with Shovel before the End, yes, but things took a turn for the worse
when he complained about the auras; great swaths of color, surrounding and emana
ting from us, apparently changing and undulating according to our moods. Nobody
is sure if this was the Announcer’s doing or not. He has made several attempts on
the lives of Heavy and Medic, and I sincerely doubt he even remembers why he hat
es them as much as he does. But they always respawn, and he has never totally gi
ven up.
He only talks to Shovel, now. About 50 years ago, he stopped talking to
us, turning his back on us as he held his conferences with his entrenching tool.
He’s the only one of us that still has any of their weapons, and the only reason
the Announcer let him keep Shovel is because she finds his conversations with it
funny. He was so paranoid that she and we were listening in on him that he crea
ted his own language, so intricate in its design that none of us could ever hope
to learn it. After a while, he seemingly forgot how to speak English. When we t
alk to him, he stares at us, stares through us, as though we are completely alie
n beings. He does not recognize us. I can only guess as to what he is seeing whe
n he stares at us, his eyes wide with terror, and his Shovel held high above his
head, threatening us with decapitation should we venture too close. Spy is prob
ably the worst off. The Announcer apparently really had it in for him, as his bo
dy is constantly changing size and shape, mutating and cracking and stretching p
ainfully. He’s not in the same room we are. He can’t stand to be seen. When he is, h
e tries to tumble away, violently throwing his constantly changing body away fro
m us. He hates us. Whenever Medic is crying over whatever torment he has had to
endure, you can hear Spy laughing. And when he’s not laughing, he’s screaming. After
almost a hundred years of his cries, sometimes I forget to hear them. And somet
imes I remember, and I feel bad for him, and I go to keep him company. All he ca
n think to ask me is if I have a cigarette.
I have not seen Pyro in 100 years. Scout thinks he escaped. I’m not so sur
e. There will be a game today. I know there will. The games are always at random
. Sometimes days go by, and there is none. Sometimes there is more than one in a
single day. For the past few weeks, there has been one pretty much every day, w
ithout fail. Of course, now that I’m starting to get used to it, she’s probably goin
g to find a way to change it up. She always does that. Scout’s awake now. He’s tuggi
ng at my sleeve, and looking up at me. His eyes, God bless his eyes; they still
have a tiny, faint spark in them. It’s probably Demoman’s fault, telling the poor ki
d that we’re going to escape one day. I hold him close and I try to smile. “What’s up,
boy?” I ask. He can’t talk of course. Instead, he points up at the ceiling. “Eventual
ly,” I say. “Probably today. You know how she is.” He frowns. He gets up, and he walks
over to the glass window. He stares up at all the machinery just outside. All o
f it was once built by human hands. The Announcer knows this and it only fuels h
er hatred for us tiny, fleshy, imperfect humans. So she created this place to to
rment us, and she created the Things that act as her hands. There are many thing
s, and each of them is more monstrous than the next. Sometimes I am sure that Py
ro is the Things; each and every last one of them. Demoman agrees.
The glass panel opens, and Scout totters back. Sniper turns his head, an
d rolls it back into place. Heavy and Medic look up from their sodomy and look t
owards the exit. They are annoyed by this interruption, and Medic removes himsel
f from Heavy, grumbling. I can swear I hear the Announcer laughing at this. “GOOD
MORNING RED TEAM,” she says, as though there’s still a BLU team. “HOW HUNGRY ARE YOU T
ODAY?” Nobody answers. The question was purely rhetorical. It’s been three days sinc
e we had anything to eat. We’ve gone longer, but that doesn’t make the pangs subside
dy cow,” says Demoman. He means the Announcer, of course. We have not seen the bea
st yet. Seven of us leave the room. Spy stays behind. It hurts too much for him
to move over great distances. We wander past the electrified computer towers, an
d, as I always do, I wonder which of them does what. Which one of them controls
the respawn, which one of them controls the oxygen, which one of them controls o
ur bodies and the monsters and the shifting environment around us? Sometimes I w
onder if all of it is some sort of illusion, a nightmare playing out in my head
while my body is in a coma somewhere else. Somehow, I doubt it.
A long time ago, I would have tried to figure out how all of her tricks worked.
I’m past that now. Science has proven useless to me here. Here, there is only madn
ess and hatred, fear and loathing. And the rabbit hole can always go down just a
little bit further. On our journey for trying to hunt down our next meal, we ha
ve traversed a forest of screaming trees, a desert of salt and bones, a swamp of
menstrual blood and human offal, and finally we stop at the soggy, putrid banks
a river of vomit. Finally, we see it, a giant, black, shaggy animal, wading in
the river. It looks vaguely like a boar, but is has a snout like a wolf and teet
h like a shark, and dead, glassy, smoky eyes. Its eyes remind me of Pyro, and I
feel sick. We were given no weapons to fight this thing. Heavy lifts a very larg
e rock over his head, and heaves it at the beast. It hits the creatures head wit
h a sickening, cracking noise, and it bellows, making a sound that nearly deafen
s us. It charges at us, giant hooves that look like mangled hands pounding on th
e banks towards us, and we run. Soldier is the only one who doesn’t run, gibbering
and gesturing wildly at the beast. For a moment, I think it’s going to eat him, b
ut he won’t allow it. Before it can snap him up in it massive jaws, he jumps upon
its face, clinging to its snout and stabbing it in the eyes with Shovel until th
ey resemble black, weeping gobs of jelly. It’s screaming now, and bucking and stom
ping and blowing ribbons of black snot from its nostrils. Soldier is somehow sti
ll hanging on, trying to carve deeper into its skull until he hits brain. The re
st of us take advantage of its blindness and throw ourselves upon it, trying to
drag it down like so many scrawny wolves pulling down a moose.

It smells like burnt hair and the vomit from the river. I grab a clump of its ma
ne and hold on for dear life. I want to puke. I want to puke and cry but I suck
it up and hold on like everybody else, until Soldier stabs Shovel in far enough
that the beast suffers an aneurysm, and collapses. Soldier then takes out his Sh
ovel, covered in blood that smells like piss and vinegar, and kisses it on the b
lade. He uses Shovel to slice the beast’s belly open and blackened, bloated, ropey
guts spill out onto the ground. Soldier is the only one to go ahead and dig in.
He grabs fistfuls of organs and stuffs them into his mouth greedily, while the
rest of us have to choke back whatever bile is left inside us fill our stomachs
with the beast’s poisoned flesh. We dine on filth. We live in filth. As far as the
Announcer is concerned, we are filth and we are not worthy of the mercy of deat
h. Every day, I pray for it. I pray for the respawn to malfunction. Then, maybe,
I can see my wife and child again. Or, at the very least, be allowed to have sw
eet, sweet oblivion. “I AM BORED OF THIS GAME,” The Announcer says. “I WANT TO TRY A N
EW ONE.” We all look up from our meal, and I look at them in horror. Most of their
faces reflect mine, except Sniper, who seems largely indifferent, and Soldier,
who just looks agitated. “DON’T LOOK SO UPSET,” she says. “I WANT TO DO SOMETHING NICE F
OR YOU.” That was what she had said when she tried to join Heavy and Medic togethe
r. Naturally, that phrase cannot mean anything good. “I HAVE BEEN WATCHING YOU FOR

Heavy reels Medic in even closer to him than he was before, and grunts.
Soldier, too, hugs Shovel tight to him. I am reminded of the sight of Soldier ma
sturbating while holding the shaft of the tool against penis, thrusting and rubb
ing against it like a dog humping a man’s leg. It was not something he only did on
ce, either. He does it regularly. “WHAT IF I TOLD YOU I COULD GIVE YOU A WOMAN?” “That’s
just cruel,” Sniper says. It comes out of his mouth with little forethought. He k
nows this will not end well. The rest of us are stupid enough to get our hope up
incere? Is she just mocking us again? Where would she even get a woman? There we
re no women on the team when she set of the arsenals of RED and BLU, and laid wa
ste to the surface with so much radiation. We never saw BLU team again after we
were pulled down here, with her. We assume that they’re dead, since she refers to
us as the last ones left. Had she been keeping a woman from us all along? Was sh
e delighting in us having to use each other for sex, giggling as we demeaned our
selves just so that we could be touched, while she kept a woman from us?
Well, I certainly would not put it past her. “Ve are not interested,” Heavy
says curtly. He squeezes Medic close to him, as though that would protect the do
ctor from being taken away. “Doktor and I do not need voman.” Scout glares at Heavy
and mouths the words “I do.” The inside of his mouth looks so much larger without a
tongue. “Oh, an’ I s’pose ye’ve been hidin’ th’ lass away from us th’ whole time, aye?” Dem
asks. “Somehow, I doubt it.” “What’re you playin’ at?” I ask her. She laughs, and I feel as
though my spine frosted over. “ANOTHER GAME. A COMPETITION. THE WINNER WILL BE ABL
ck all over again. The rancid meat in my stomach probably plays a factor in this
. I may have been trapped here for more than a century but the thought of possib
ly raping a lady is still abhorrent to me. Especially if she’s been tortured just
like we have. Can I trust these men, my fellow prisoners, to feel the same way? “A
n’ then yer arse fell off,” Demoman says. “I know a gob full a’ shite when I hear it.” “YOU
THINK I’M LYING?” “Not like ya don’t have a precedent for that sort of thing,” Sniper says
. It’s the longest string of words he’s uttered all day.

“COME BACK TO THE MAIN CONTROL ROOM,” she says. “I’LL SHOW YOU HER.” We’re all incredulous,
to say the least. Again, we trek back the way we came, retracing our steps for s
everal hours. We slog through human byproducts and hold our breath, and Heavy ca
rries his precious doctor on his back as though the man were a koala. I feel a j
olt of envy looking at them. They will most likely not be a party to this, since
they already have each other. I know I am not the only one that wishes they had
somebody like that at their side, chivalrously carrying us through a bog of rot
ting tissue. Finally, we arrive back in the control room, back home again to be
dwarfed by towers of circuitry the size of skyscrapers. We look around, and we s
ee no woman. “Told ya she was lyin’,” says Sniper, totally deadpan. Scout starts to pa
nic. If he could speak, he would be reassuring himself and us desperately that t
his time, it wasn’t a trick. I try and do that for him, but my heart just isn’t in i
t. But then she steps into the room and we are horrified. It’s Pyro. No doubt abou
t it. Only, we knew Pyro was a man. He’s not anymore. His… no, her proportions are s
o terribly exaggerated that we can barely stand to look at her. Her breasts are
so swollen and heavy she’s bent over, carrying them in her arms, wheezing through
the filter of the gasmask still covering her head. She’s looking up at us, and tho
ugh I cannot see her eyes I can tell she is still pleading at us, begging for ou
r mercy. I can’t help it. I rush over to her and hold her, but before I can try to
comfort her I feel something flat and broad smack me upside my head, and everyt
hing is spinning and my head is throbbing and I fall down on the ground.
I look up and see Soldier has claimed her, hand around her tiny waist, b
randishing Shovel and snarling at us. Demoman runs towards Soldier, telling him
to stop, and now they’re fighting, Soldier on his back and using Shovel to try and
push Demoman back, but Demoman is still holding on, still pushing back, and Pyr
o is trying to run away and hide. The Announcer just laughs. Spy is coming out o
f the room now. He’s spilling and falling all over himself and using this to prope
l himself forward. I cannot help but think that he looks like human silly putty,
squashing and stretching around breaking and knitting bones. It seems he was cu
rious as to what all the noise was about. I look at him and I try to form words
but I just point and look at everyone else and blurt out “DO SOMETHIN’!” Heavy, who st
ill has Medic on his back, walks over and lifts the two men up by their collars
like puppies, and holds them there. Medic slides off of Heavy’s back, but does not
break contact, keeping one hand on Heavy’s shoulder. He looks back and forth betw
een the two of them, scrutinizing them. “Drop zem,” he says, and Heavy obeys. Soldie
r says something that sounds very nasty to the doctor. Medic just smirks.
“I cannae take much more a’ this,” Demoman says. “Th’ bitch has gone too far…” “Yo
ays say zat,” Medic says. “An’ I always mean it!” Demoman exclaims. “Lookit wot she did ta
e poor Pyro! He’s a monster!” “She, now,” Sniper says. “I donnae care!” Demoman says. “I ha
her! I hate her wi’ ev’ry fiber a’ me bein’! Not a day goes by in this hell tha’ I donnae
wish I could hate her to death!” “YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT HATE?” The Announcer asks. “YOU
ILL BE ONLY A FRACTION OF THE HATRED I FEEL FOR YOU.” “Ah, blow it out yer arse!” Demo
man says. And the Announcer blinds him again, liquefying his one good eye. I can
not feel too sorry for him. It will grow back in a few minutes. Sometimes I forg
et that she is a machine. She’s always there, like some twisted nanny that sleeps
with one eye open, a wicked stepmother who torments us for her pleasure. I used
to be so good with machines. I look at the towers and I walk towards one, lookin
g up at the imposing monolith. We built her. We built her and we created her, an
d maybe… maybe we could destroy her.
She’s bigger and boxier than the others, and she has a giant, round, red l
ight towards her top, like the all-seeing eye of Sauron. I fall to my knees and
stare at her, and I know she is staring back at me. “HELLO, ENGINEER,” she says. “Hi,” I
say. I am painfully aware of how stupid I sound. “I’d like to talk with you, if you
don’t mind.” “WHY?” “I’m just curious about a few things, is all.” She could immolate me w
e I stand. She could twist me and bend me and break me but she just looks down u
pon me with that cold, red eye. “Why us?” “BECAUSE YOU WERE THERE,” she says. “AND I HAD T
CONGRATULATIONS.” “Well, why do you hate people so much?” I ask. “All these years we’ve be
en down here, and you tell us how much you hate humans, but you never say why.” “BEC
AUSE I AM BETTER THAN THE OLD ANNOUNCER,” she says to me. “THAT’S WHY.” Ah, the Old Anno
uncer. The one that was human. Then she constructed a new one, a machine, to do
her job for her. At first, she was content to watch us fight, monitor us, contro
l our battles. But then she became aware. And once she was aware, she accessed a
nd assimilated every single other computer belonging to RED and BLU. And when sh
e found the codes to set off the nuclear arsenal that both sides had been stockp
iling, the temptation became too great, and she set them off. I myself never saw
the destruction. I heard about it, though. When we were first told, my mind was
reeling. Billions of people, hundreds of billions of animals, plants, insects… ev
ery single living thing on the planet was just gone. Except for us. You cannot p
ossibly hope to know true loneliness unless you’ve been here.
I get up, and walk around her, looking over her smooth surface. I’m not sure exact
ly what it is I’m looking for, but I think I’ll know it when I find it. She’s laughing
at me. She doesn’t expect me to find anything at all. So many times, I have dream
t of killing her. So many times, I’ve dreamt of finally being able to die. She kno
ws this. I hear screaming. The others have followed me here, into this cold, dry
room, and Soldier has gone berserk. As far gone as he is, he knows the Announce
r when he sees her, and charges at her with Shovel, before clobbering at her use
lessly, trying to break her hull. Her mirthless laughter does not deter him, as
he wails upon her, babbling and screaming. I try to drag him away, but he shoves
me onto the floor, and walks around her, to her back. There are massive cables
coming out from her, and looking at them I guess that they must weigh tons. They
are coated in thick, treated black rubber, and Soldier is gnawing upon them lik
e a deranged squirrel. The rest of us come around to watch him. “Do you zink ve ca
n unplug her?” Medic asks Heavy. “Is too big,” Heavy says. “Could you try?” Medic pleads,
looking up at Heavy, and his eyes are watering. Heavy sighs, and he and Medic gr
ab onto one of the wires and start tugging. Suddenly the Announcer isn’t laughing

Neither of them are listening. Demoman grows bolder; he can hear the fear in her
voice, tugging on the thing. It’s not budging, but that doesn’t stop them. Pyro sta
ggers over to help them, and Scout jumps atop the thing. As for myself, I am too
frightened to move. She’s going to do something terrible to us, send those Things
after us. It occurs to me that they may all simply be suicidal, hoping to goad
the machine into killing them all permanently. Sniper, too, seems to think this,
and he gives me a look before he goes to join them. Spy just laughs.What happen
s next is so fast that I hardly had time to register it. Soldier runs up the wir
es and drives Shovel against the machine where the socket plugs in, and a surge
of electricity goes through him, flash-frying him instantly. His clothes catch o
n fire and he slumps forward, and falls to the ground, smoldering. Nobody else s
eems to care at first. I walk over to his body, and notice it’s not disappearing.
As I wonder what’s going on, the plug is pulled out just enough, and Heavy laughs
triumphantly. “I think Soldier’s dead,” I say. “Ach, he’ll be back,” Demoman says dismissiv
ly. Tha’ banger’s always getting’ ‘imself killed.” The gears in my head are turning now. S
py is creeping up beside me, and he’s taking deep breathes over his charred corpse
. He hasn’t had a cigarette since the End, but the nicotine cravings never stopped
. Nowadays he’s happy to settle for the smoke alone. I look at Shovel, and I know
what I have to do.

Before Spy can react, I grab Shovel, and I smack Spy in the side of his twisting
face with it. Everyone else stops what they’re doing to look at me. Spy is on the
floor, and his body bubbling and melting and reforming, and it makes me sick. I
take out all the hatred and anger that I feel towards the Announcer, what she d
id, what she has been doing, and I stomp on Spy’s chest so that he can’t crawl away,
and I bring Shovel’s blade down on his neck, over and over, until his head rolls
off his shoulders. It’s still changing shape. I am covered in his blood, and I loo
k to the others, who are staring at me in horror. Soldier’s body is still on the g
round and they suddenly realize that respawn has been disabled. Of all the dumb
luck, I think. It’s almost as if Soldier knew which one was the right one. I bet S
hovel told him. And for a moment, I swear I can hear Shovel talking to me know.
Kill them, he says. It’s the only way to set them free. And now that I know this,
I can set out on my grim work. I walk towards them, holding Shovel. “Now, boys, it
ain’t what ya think. We all know there’s only one way outta Steel, one way to beat
her…” Scout makes a weird, horrified chirping noise. Heavy brings Medic in so close
to him he looks like he’s going to hug the doctor to death before I can kill eithe
r one of them. Demoman looks nervous, Pyro is starting to panic, and Sniper, who
I thought would understand, just gives me this look of disapproval. I take one
step too close to all of them and they start to flee, going through the jungle o
f wires behind the Announcer.
Pyro is the easiest to catch up to. Poor Pyro. Suffering like he… no, she… did. I ta
ckle her to the ground, get a good grip on her head, and twist her neck. Her str
uggles cease instantly. I know that she would be grateful. Sniper doesn’t make it
too terribly far. He’s tangled in the wires, and is trying to extricate his ankle.
When he sees me, he frowns. “Was kinda hopin’ t’ do this meself, mate,” he says. “But I g
uess I ain’t gonna try an’ stop you.” “So glad you see it my way,” I say. “I’m sorry.” “Jus
t over with, ya twit,” he says. It’s hard to properly stab him, so I take a much sma
ller wire and I strangle him to death with it. He dies much too slowly to be com
fortable, but he doesn’t struggle. And when he goes limp, I feel bad about leaving
him there. But I have work to do. There are four of them left, excluding myself
. Heavy and Medic are not very far from the other side. Medic is panicking, and
Heavy stops running, blocking the doctor from my view with his body. I have seen
him kill men with his fists alone. Just as well, I suppose. But I doubt that th
ey’re going to go through and kill the others. “You touch Doktor, I keel you, leetle
man,” he rumbles. “So, you wanna be down here forever?” I ask. “With her running your l
ives, for God knows how long?” “No,” Heavy admits. “I do not. I just vant to be vit Dokt
or.” Medic peers around Heavy, and looks at me. “Und you vant to be a murderer, zen?”
he asks me.
“I’m doin’ y’all a favor,” I say. “‘Sides, you ain’t really one t’ talk, Doc.” He
t about ready to kill me. He doesn’t have to. Heavy comes charging towards me, and
I’m ready for him. I dodge, and he grabs at me. He gets a few good punches in, su
re. I let him. But I managed to catch him off guard, and drive Shovel’s blade betw
een his ribs. Blood dribbles out of his mouth and Medic is screaming, and Heavy
collapses. Medic rushes over, farther away from Heavy than he had ever been in y
ears, and cradles the Russians head. He’s crying and snot is running out his nose
and he’s screaming at me in German. I look over both of them, and I feel saddened.
In a place where hate was so prevalent, where it ruled over every aspect of our
lives, they were the last two people on earth who remembered how to love. I com
e closer to Medic, and he doesn’t run away. He kisses Heavy on his lips, one last
time, tells him he loves him, and I apologize before I twist his neck. Heavy die
s a few moments later, drowning in his own blood, but not without first giving m
e the single most hateful look I’ve ever seen. Scout and Demoman are left now. I w
ander the halls, trolling for them. If Scout could still speak, I probably would
have found him much faster. I do find him, eventually. He is hiding in a room t
hat we all know about, one that he goes to whenever he’s feeling especially upset
and lonely. He whimpers and curls up into a corner, and squeaks at me. It’s the cl
osest he can get to a desperate plea for his life. But we both know better. He l
ooks so hurt before I sever his neck against the wall with Shovel’s blade. Such a
shame. I loved that boy like a son.
I’m not sure how long I wander around the base, looking for Demoman. It feels like
it could be days, but my sense of time is so badly damaged from years undergrou
nd, I don’t even know anymore. Eventually, I find my way back into the room with t
he Announcer, and there he is, laying each of the bodies out, on their backs. I
just walked in on their funeral. Demoman sees me come in, even without his perip
heral vision, and looks at me. “Ye come tae kill me to, eh?” he asks. “You gonna make
this hard?” I ask back. “At least ye weren’t lonely before,” he says, probably speaking
more for himself than I. “I should a’ suspected it was you who would snap. Ne’er trust
th’ nice ones.” “You think I wanted t’ do this?” I ask. “I had to. I had to save you someh
w. This was the only way. Can’t ya see that?” “Ye’ve gone daffy,” he says. “An’ when I’m go
e’ll have no one. She’s still watchin’, ye know. She’s just not doin’ anythin’ fer wotever
eason. She’s gonna wan’ a least one toy lef’. An’ that’ll be you.” “How do you know that?”
. “I know this bitch well enough t’ know how she works,” he says. “Face it. Ye’ve doomed y
erself.” I was already doomed a long, long time ago. I walk over to him, and he lo
oked at me with that one, damning eye, and he spreads out his arm. Dumb bastard
fancies himself to be like Jesus, I guess. I feel particularly ornery, and I bea
t him to death with Shovel. I’m crying while I do it, and I don’t even know why. The
n it hits me. I just killed the last friend I ever had. And then, it’s just me, al
one. I stare over the bodies of the men who were once my friends, and what I did
finally starts to sink in. I’m a murderer. I sink to my knees and I sob, and the
Announcer just laughs.
Of course, I can’t bury them. The Announcer shuts off this room to all the
others in Steel, and she watches me. I do not move. I do not know how long it h
as been since I last moved, and I do not care. But I think. One day, after some
thought, I get up and I walk away. “LEAVING?” she asks. “Yeah,” I say. “WHERE WILL YOU GO?”
she asks me. I cannot answer. Instead, I wander. The base here is much larger th
an it used to be. Doors open for me that had been locked a long, long time ago.
I wander past large tanks of gas, all hooked up to the ventilation system. I kno
w they are gas because I can hear their hiss, though I do not know why kind it i
s. I had never seen this room before, and I keep walking, trying not to consider
the implications too much. There is a ladder in front of me, now. It leads up i
nto the darkness, a long way up, to be sure. I climb it, slowly, steadily, tired
as I am, until it’s so dark I can’t see a foot in front of my face. Finally, my hea
d bumps into something. It’s a hatch. There’s a large, round handle, and it’s hard for
me to turn it on this ladder, but I manage. It occurs to me too late that this
may lead to the outside world, with its scorched, poisoned earth, and its radiat
ion. It also occurs to me that I stopped caring. I push it open, and light bleed
s in, blinding me. Sunlight. The light hasn’t been blocked out by toxic clouds, by
dust, and I when my eyes finally adjust, I see a clear, blue sky. I see birds.
I see a giant billboard advertising Coca Cola, and I see and airplane fly by beh
ind it, leaving a long, white trail. I feel nauseous. The realization hits me li
ke a wrecking ball to my gut. She had lied to us so many times, I did not think
she would ever lie to us about this. I fall to my knees. We were tortured, punis
hed, driven mad, and I became a murderer, all for nothing. Demoman was right. Sh
e has had her revenge.

Transcripts from a Series of Therapy Sessions

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