It's been a while, but fear not; I haven't yet succumbed to the true death. I'm excited for the next chapters of DSoB; I'll be wrapping up the whole story within the next 10 or so chapters.
I have to say, writing this fanfiction has helped me become a better writer. This is the longest piece of anything that I've ever written, and I am filled with candy and sugar that you all enjoy to read it ;)
Some day, once DSoB is completed, I'm going to go over it and edit the earlier chapters. There are few events that I'd been dying to rewrite and others that need tweaking, but alas, this will not be for a few months at least. I'm going to have a lot of time on my hands soon, and I do hope that those who enjoy the world I've created will come back for the future of DSoB.
50 years into the future, where will BLU be?
Pyro tilted her head and strained to listen, but the distant yell she thought she might've imagined was drowned out by the hum of a machine in Engineer's warehouse. She returned her attention to digging out grime from below her fingernails with the two-inch screw she found on the armory floor.
For the past month Pyro felt like her life had been turned inside out. She missed her enigmatic alias as the muffled fire guy that was on everyone's good side. Her confidence and familiar identity had been relinquished with her unveiling, and she found herself in unrest trying to transform into the person she thought everyone was expecting her to be.
It was frustrating to pretend to be someone else, and while she knew that acting more feminine started with wearing a dress, her most recent dress-up experience left a lingering blood flavor. The screw slipped and cut into the soft flesh below Pyro's fingernail. She stuck her finger into her mouth and bit down, savoring the sobering pain and appreciating the irony of the moment.
The whole situation was causing her grief. More than anything she wanted to depart her distress through the mouth of her flamethrower onto the back of some unlucky RED. She felt sick with misery, like she hadn't been herself in ages.
Pyro slithered her hand into her pocket and extracted the bundle of fabric she found there. She shook the wrinkles out of her mask, checked it for holes and then slipped it over her head.
The effect was instant. She felt her shoulders shrug and a piece of her burden escaped in a sigh. All of the therapy and good words in the world couldn't have made her feel as secure as the black meshed cloth enshrouding her face.
All the while Pyro's harrow melted away, Engineer's brain was churning. Now that he knew Pyro felt for him, he had to make up for his reproach and begin turning her against Spy. Apologizing was never his forte but he did have some common sense; he figured that if he groveled she would find it pitiful. Instead, he would apologize straight faced and let a sliver of remorse shine through. He knew he had to appear contrite while keeping his pride, and in turn, Pyro's respect.
Engineer blinked his eyes open and breathed a bit faster to accredit the façade that he'd just woken up. It was strange to see the vibrant, colorful world usually muted by his goggles. He made sure to wince and groan quietly.
"Welcome back," he heard Pyro say. Engineer's head was propped up enough that he only had to strain slightly to get her in his view. He did a double-take when his eyes fell upon Pyro, now masked with a few short strands of hair distending from the nape of her black veneer. He was grateful she'd put it on, but was immediately ashamed that he felt that way.
"I never wanted to control you," he began, setting his head down flat and looking into the florescent lights in the rafters. "I'm not sure what came over me to make me say those things to someone I trust with my life. It might'a been stress n' my bein' just plain ol' thick-skulled, but that ain't no excuse." Engineer gingerly lifted himself into a sitting position and rubbed his fingers into his eyes. He blinked away the black spots and groped around for his eye protection. Pyro stuck out her foot and kicked the goggles across the floor to him.
"Much obliged." Engineer gave his gear a quick polish with his shirt, stretched them over his head and adjusted the straps so they fit snug. "I don't expect any sort of forgiveness—"
"Why would you give me something that you gave to your victims as some sort of calling card?" Pyro asked calmly, taking Engineer by surprise.
"Honestly, I hadn't thought a thing of it—"
"It's not like I don't understand killing for the sake of— well, necessity, but it hardly seems that what you did was something that innocent people deserved, irregardless of who they were married to," Pyro scowled behind her mask.
"I think you mean 'regardless.' 'Irregardless' isn't a—"
"Don't be a grammar Na—don't act like Medic. I just want to understand why you did what you did."
"Pyro, I swear on my mother's grave that I hadn't even begun to make the connection that the gift I was giving you might somehow resemble a part of my past that I think and grieve on every day of my waking life," Engineer stated with sincerity with his right hand over his heart. He hadn't planned for an excursion into the darkest days of his life leading up to his recruitment, but if it would satisfy Pyro, then avoiding the topic was not an option.
Engineer adjusted his goggles again and stretched out his knuckles. He removed the glove from his right hand and set it on his knee and, then massaged the back of his stiffened (but not broken) neck. "What do you wanna know?"
Pyro took her time to elect a question. There were a lot of things she wanted to know about Engineer, but as she traced them in her mind she found that they all lead to the same beginning. She could wind her way through his life and discover his intentions by starting with one simple question; "Did you have a choice to join the field team? Did you sign up willingly?"
"No," said the Southerner, blindsided by her seemingly random inquisition. "I wasn't fortunate enough to have that luxury. And it's not as if this is the sorta job that gets posted in the wanted section," he risked a smile. "No one that was hired applied for this position."
Pyro chewed her lip. Was it merely a coincidence that Engineer too had been forced onto the BLU field team? Spy never explained how Engineer came to be employed, but it was possible that he didn't know. All of these things were supposed to be kept secret, but with cohorts like Spy treating secrecy like gossip it wouldn't be a surprise to Pyro that everyone knew where Engineer came from. "I may be way off here, but did your flowers have anything to do with why you had to join BLU?"
The silence that wrapped both Engineer and Pyro hung in the air like lusterless vapor. Disclosure of any personal information pertaining to BLU, its pseudonyms or anything that may potentially shed light on the inner workings of the company was strictly prohibited, and despite the base's insinuated isolation Engineer knew first hand that the eyes and ears of the Builder's League and their Administrator were almost inescapable.
That, and Spy had a portable receiver to the surveillance system. If they were to divulge their histories to each other they'd have to be somewhere the cameras were not.
Engineer pressed his index finger to his lips and nodded at the door to his office. Pyro grimaced, confused until she realized what he'd meant. She stood from her bucket seat and assisted Engineer upright then followed him through the only wooden door in the warehouse.
Pyro was overwhelmed the moment she stepped over the door jam. Escaping from the soulless walls of concrete that epitomized ninety percent of the base (including the common area), Engineer furnished his smallest room with warm wooden textures and artificial inset windows beset with illuminated backdrops of sunny pastures below spirited blue skies.
Beige and blue floral wallpaper plastered the walls, giving the scrubbed wooden floor a sandy glow. Stained shelves hung evenly on each wall with little trinkets set neatly on display. Engineer had covered the ceiling with white painted wood, and wired up a three-armed fan that whooshed as it spun, providing the room with a comfortable breeze.
Pyro felt like she'd teleported from the subterranean BLU base to a farmhouse in the American Midwest. Though the décor wasn't quite her taste, she found herself thinking that if Engineer took a hand to her quarters or even the entire base she wouldn't have a problem with it. Anything would be a refreshing change from the grey walls with their strict cobalt striping, and she wouldn't be perturbed if the mismatched dilapidated common room furniture spontaneously burst into flame.
Engineer gestured to a rickety looking chair on the guest's side of his desk, and sat down after Pyro took her seat. "So. What do you want to know?"
"You were forced to join BLU?" asked Pyro, picking up the conversation without delay. Engineer tucked his mouth into a thin line as he thought about how to answer. He couldn't think of a way this information could be used against him, so he dove in, and felt cleaner with every word of his confession.
"I started up with the Builder's League in the mid fifties as a well technician in the Eastern Texas oil fields. Didn' know all the different companies in the area were actually aliases of BLU, so I imagine no matter where I applied I would'a ended up in the same predicament."
"I was with Goldstream Fuel for about two years when I was promoted to Foreman and given my own well to look after. A year after that, I was the only man stationed at my well, and I hardly had to work. I built machines to monitor it for me so the only time I had to visit was when the mechanism notified me that something went wrong."
"As time went on my machines replaced more men as I was given additional wells. I had a team of ten workers at my disposal, a company car, a lady at my side and more money than she or I could spend," Engineer smiled sadly.
He focused on the ceiling fan while he collected his thoughts. When he started again his sentences were short, and it seemed to be painful for him to speak. "Life got stale. I had everythin' I needed. Had a little one on the way. I was wealthy with money and companionship, but I wasn't fulfilled. I was eager to do something worthwhile, but I didn't know what."
"One day my monitoring system denoted the complete destruction of an entire well. I had no idea that that morning would be the last time I walked into work without a shadow on my shoulder, guilt in my stomach and a crazy sort of satisfaction that I'd crave for the rest of my life."
"It was blown to pieces, the whole thing. I looked over the security recordings an' found a group a' uniformed individuals planting explosives around the site. Couldn't see any discerning characteristics, but I made sure that if n' when it happened again, my cameras would catch it. I put my sweat and blood into those machines an' they were tryin' to destroy 'em. I was determined to hunt 'em down personally."
"And you found out it was RED," Pyro interrupted. She took Spy's words for true and assumed the next part of his story. "How did you kill that first guy and find his family?"
Engineer's brow furrowed. "Killed? I hadn't harmed a soul at that point. I didn't even know who the responsible parties were until—"
"—You caught them in the act, killed one of them and he had a letter on him, I thought."
The Southerner held his face in a knot. "That wasn't how it happened at all."
"That's what Spy told me," Pyro spat factually with more spite in her voice than she'd meant. She was mad that Engineer was telling her conflicting information to what Spy told her, and resentful that Spy had probably lied to her again. She'd have to pick apart the two stories to figure out what actually happened. As Engineer went on, Pyro learned that what really happened was much more intriguing and mysterious than the vague outline she'd established with Spy's half-truths.
"The whole situation was sticky from the start and I was as frustrated as Scout during a spelling bee." Engineer's attempt at comic relief went overlooked by Pyro, who kept silent and waited for him to continue.
"I thought I'd caught a lucky break when I was contacted by a man who claimed to be an informant for an organization that was trying to apprehend the same mercenaries that had attacked my wells. He said the men we were both looking for were responsible for acts of terrorism that made Al Capone look like Mother Theresa," Engineer grinned skeptically.
"I asked him what it'd cost me, and he said it wouldn't cost a dime. I didn't pay him one penny for all of what he gave me. I got names, addresses, spouses' names, every bit of information he could find," Engineer counted on his fingers. "No monetary exchanges. I thought it strange at first, but I was too eager to find out the who and why about the men in red that I soon forgot about the informant who dropped into my life and disappeared just as quickly."
"He never told you who he worked for?" asked Pyro.
"Nope. Not a-once."
"What did he look like?"
Engineer kept his poker face. He knew exactly what his informant looked like, how tall he was and his favorite brand of cigarette, but for the sake of Pyro's safety and sanity, he knew she couldn't know. "Couldn't tell ya. Only ever heard his voice. He hid the intelligence at a place of his choosing n' told me where'da find it."
"So what then? What did you do with the stuff he gave you?"
It took twenty minutes for Engineer to tell Pyro about the part of his life that he'd only ever shared with BLU and the bottom of a bottle of grain alcohol. Pyro came to realize that the majority of Spy's brief and unspecific story was filled with holes. She had no proof whether or not Spy had skewed the facts on purpose, but decided she couldn't trust him either way.
Spy had omitted the fact that Engineer had the help of an informant to track down the RED's family members (she recalled thinking it was farfetched for Engineer to have found them on his own). He'd also fabricated the part where Engineer found a letter on one of the REDs that lead him to find his identity, and about his use of a sentry gun to take care of his victims.
The most attention-grabbing event that Spy failed to mention was one that made Pyro realize the folly of her rash decision to abandon faith in Engineer. She presumed Engineer had been killing for pleasure and punishment, and not because he'd been motivated by revenge and a savage interpretation of due process.
"They found my family before I found theirs," said the Southerner, looking through his team mate like she were glass. Pyro recalled when Demoman told her she had the 'Thousand-Mile stare,' and wondered if Engineer's current expression was what he was talking about.
Pyro could see the gears in his head churn and felt the air in the room go cold. She saw Engineer like she never had before, like a primeval monster in a human guise. His mind had been rubbed raw by reliving the death of his family and the disintegration of the life he'd built for himself.
When Engineer spoke again his voice sounded cruel and powerful, a low rumble that struck a chord in Pyro's chest and made her bite her lip and grin. Retribution, even when it was someone else's, was sweet.
"It was easy to convince their wives to court me, and even easier to dispose of them. I made each of them hairclips with little red flowers made of thin metal. At the center of each flower I concealed small explosives which I configured to detonate when the pin was removed from the clip."
"I was long gone by the time they got home and let their hair down. But I couldn't let it end there, not when those RED cowards took from me what was about to be my family. I emptied their civilian bank accounts and their children's college funds. The informant helped me launder the money and transfer it to an account under an alias of mine, which as far as I know, hasn't been found by BLU."
So Engineer had money. Pyro stored this piece of potentially useful information in the back of her mind. There was still one very important event that Engineer hadn't yet gone over, and as if he read her mind he made known to her what she had been most curious to learn.
"I got pulled over about a week later on interstate thirty-five for speeding. When the officer got a good look at me, he read me my Miranda rights and I was arrested on the spot. Apparently there was a warrant out for my arrest for voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, burglary, extortion, tax evasion, harassment, racketeering—"
Pyro's head tilted to one side and she frowned. "How did the civi's figure out it was you?"
"The civilian police had no idea what I'd done! It was BLU behind it all, directing the civilian and government taskforces to find me. I know because when they brought me to the station I was only in jail for a little more than an hour before an unmarked armored van picked me up, and that's when I first met Ms. Blu."
"She gave me an ultimatum, and it was this: "Work for me for the rest of your life, or I'll give you to the men whose wives you blew up.""