To the team,
By the time you find this, you'll have figured out where I got off to, I'm sure. You're probably trying not to talk about it, trying to forget I was ever there if you can, and reading a letter from me isn't helping matters. I don't blame you for that; you've got no reason to think kindly of me. But regardless of how you feel about it, you need to know why I left. This letter isn't an excuse; it's a warning.
I don't know specifics about your situations, but when Miss Pauling came to me with that clipboard of hers I wasn't in a position to turn her down. I'd done something bad. Lost my temper, see. And without some kind of divine intervention I was looking at a long stay in the state penitentiary. The way I saw it, that purple truck was a godsend regardless of how shifty the whole business sounded.
Thing was, once I got here it didn't seem any less shifty. I understood about our employers wanting to keep an eye on the people they hired, but the Administrator always seemed to know where we were at any given moment on the battlefield. Except did you ever notice that half the areas we fight in don't have any visible cameras? Then there's the warning they gave us about possible 'psychological warfare' during orientation. Funny how they didn't tell us what that meant, how we had to wait until the first fight to know our enemies looked and acted exactly like us. And that first respawn… well you all went through it, you know what it was like. But none of us made a fuss about it. Most of you probably found the pay a fair compensation for any misgivings you had. For me it was mostly just a hell of a lot better than prison.
We went on like that for a while as you remember, and things got shadier. The stuff with Soldier and the other Demoman happened. Far-fetched rumors flew around about why we were being paid to blow each other up. I did my best to keep from looking into anything too much, though it was tough.
Then Blutarch Mann called me in for a face-to-face meeting, and it was all over.
He told me everything I'd wanted to know. I found out that he and his brother really were fighting over what amounted to hills of gravel; no hidden motives, nothing to be gained that was worth dying over, just a sibling feud 150 years in the making. He lived so long (and his brother too, it seems) because he commissioned my own grandfather to make a life-extending machine for him. I'd been called in because he needed someone to perform some repairs on it. He even went through the trouble of desecrating said grandfather's grave to retrieve the blueprints for it.
You all are bright enough. You know about how happy a situation like that would make any reasonable man.
So I went home that night with the dusty old blueprints, head buzzing with what I'd just learned. Now I don't like speaking ill of the dead no matter how inconsiderate they were in life, but old Blutarch didn't have enough brains to fill a shot glass. He'd handed me the folder with nothing more than a command to give him anything that didn't have to do with fixing his life-support. Now as he didn't seem to have any intention of making SURE I followed his orders, and as those blueprints weren't his to start out with, I didn't bother listening. The part of me that remembered Radigan Conagher best felt like just screwing over that machine of his and high-tailing it out of our base with the papers. I entertained the idea for a bit, except then I happened to glance at the front of the folder. Something had been written there, neat as you please, three names and three dates. Blutarch Mann was first. Redmond Mann was second. The last name was one I didn't recognize, Gray Mann.
Now naturally my curiosity was piqued. It seemed like there was a third brother running around out there with a life-extender, except for whatever reason Blutarch hadn't mentioned him. Maybe it was just because Gray didn't care about laying a claim to his father's land. Either way I knew that taking what I could and heading for the hills would end badly, so I consented to fix Blutarch's contraption like I'd said I would in the hopes of finding out more. It couldn't part company with the old man anyways, so the repair trips gave me ample opportunity to poke around his house for information.
By the time I'd finally worked the kinks out of the thing about a week later, I'd reached an unassailable conclusion: Blutarch Mann didn't know squat about Gray. My roundabout questions and the glimpses I got of old family albums turned up nothing but a scrap of a photograph with part of a man visible along the torn edge. Asking about it (carefully of course, so he didn't get suspicious) elicited an irritable but sincere response that he had no idea who else had been present on the occasion and that I wasn't getting paid to document his family history.
It was frustrating, having to give up with almost nothing to show for it, but I figured there'd be another opportunity to look for Gray. Except Gray found me first.
That same night after I paid my last visit to Mr. Mann, I got back to my workshop to see the light was already on. Thinking it was one of you just come in to mess with me, I pushed the door open and demanded to know what was going on.
And there was this old man leaning over my workbench to look at the mechanical hand I'd been working on. He didn't look surprised or scared or even embarrassed about being caught during a break-in either. He just kind of looked up at me with those dead-black eyes of his and smiled, like he was expecting me. Now it didn't make sense at all, there was no real reason for me to jump to this conclusion, but immediately I knew who it was.
"You Gray?" I asked.
His smile widened and he motioned to a chair, like I was his guest or something. "Please take a seat, Mr. Conagher. I have a proposition for you."
"Mind if I grab a beer first?" I asked, and he shook his head no. He watched me walk over to the cooler though, like he thought I was going to get a wrench and club him with it or something.
Once I was back and settled, he started. "I am, as you have so astutely observed, Gray Mann, brother of your employer Blutarch Mann. But before I address the real reason why I have come, Mr. Conagher, I would like to ascertain exactly why you have been researching me."
I took a drink, kind of slow, so I could think about how best to answer. It was a shock that Gray knew I'd been looking for him, though that might have been just because I guessed who he was so fast. "Got kinda curious, I guess. I didn't know there were three of you 'til recently."
"Ah. And what do you think of my brothers?"
That was a pointed question if I'd ever heard one, so I shrugged. "Blutarch pays me well enough. Don't know much about Redmond though."
He nodded but kept watching me real close-like, with this hands folded behind his back. It made me a little uncomfortable. "Mind if I ask you a question now?" I put in.
"By all means, ask away."
"Where's your machine, if you're their brother? As far as I know Blutarch can't even get up to take a leak without his."
"I'm glad you asked." And without really explaining or anything he turned around.
Now I know you guys won't appreciate this, so I won't go into too much detail. But he had this device on his back, real simple and sleek, like nothing I'd ever seen before. It seemed to connect directly to his spine from the bit I could see poking up his neck from under his suit, though there was a separate part that went over it too. There was very little resemblance between it and the clunky apparatus I'd spent the better part of a week bringing up to scratch.
I'd gotten up from my chair without really thinking about what it was I was doing. I'm telling you, it was just that beautiful.
Then Gray started talking in earnest. He explained how he'd been separated from his family at the time of his birth, how his father didn't accept him anyways for being weak. How he'd made his own way while keeping a close eye on his brothers. And finally how, when he'd found out what they'd gotten made to keep the feud going for even longer, he'd approached my grandfather with a request of his own. Except the last one had been a collaborative project.
I interrupted at this point. "Hold on a second, YOU helped make that?" I must have sounded kind of impressed, which I was, because he looked pleased.
"With Radigan Conagher's assistance, yes. Together we were able to construct something more efficient, more elegant than what either would have been able to make on our own. Your grandfather was a great man." He paused and gave me that weird look again. "My sources tell me that you are cut from the same mold."
I put down my beer, looking him real hard in the face. "Mr. Mann, what exactly are you proposing?"
He told me. And I just couldn't help myself, I started laughing. "You're pulling my leg. That's crazy."
"Just think on it," he said, completely unperturbed by my response. "I can pay you quite as well as your current employers. What's more, I can provide you with a much better opportunity to exercise your considerable talents." He tossed a card with a number on it onto my workbench, then turned toward the door. I couldn't help but watch the machine on his back as he said his last bit over his shoulder.
"Haven't you ever wondered, just for a moment, what you might be able to achieve if you applied yourself? A mind like yours is wasted on this pointless tug-of-war between my brothers. I recognize your potential, even if you do not. Well, good night Mr. Conagher." And he was gone.
I finished my beer and went to bed. It took me a long time to get to sleep.
Now I didn't accept or anything right then. Gray's ideas were kind of crazy, and I wasn't too keen on giving up on my job just yet. Still, crazy hadn't ever put off my curiosity in the past. Not a fortnight had passed before I found myself calling the old man up for more information. I made it clear that I wasn't joining up or anything; I just wanted to know more about what he had in mind.
We met up in a restaurant, something Gray picked out. He elaborated on resources, strategies, targets, scheduling, and salaries while I ate a steak. And the more he talked about it the less nuts the whole thing seemed. I was kind of impressed; Gray had done his homework. One thing still nagged at me though.
"How am I supposed to know that you can pull through on your end?" I asked quietly. We'd been talking quietly like that the whole time, even though the place was completely empty except for us and the staff. "I mean it sounds just fine in theory, but how do I know y'all can actually put this into practice?"
"An excellent question." Gray watched me for a second, like he was sizing me up, then waved over our waiter without taking his eyes off me. "I'm going to show Mr. Conagher the cellar. Make sure we aren't interrupted."
She nodded and strode off to do whatever that entailed, real quick-like. I just kind of blinked at Gray because I didn't know what the hell was going on.
He led the way out of the room, through the kitchen, and down a set of stairs into the cellar he'd mentioned, except it was a lot bigger than a cellar ought to be. There wasn't any food in it either, just stacks of crates, sheet metal, mechanical parts of all kinds on shelves, and great stretches of concrete floor with nothing on it. Place looked more like a cross between a warehouse and an empty airplane hangar than anything else.
He kept walking straight past it all to the very back of the room until finally we got to something really big covered with a tarp. It must have been twice as tall as me— I know that's not saying much, but still. Gray stood next to it and faced me like he was making some sort of formal presentation.
"In this room resides a mere fraction of the resources at my disposal," he said, motioning around at the aisles of supplies. "It is still enough to run campaigns against every Mann Co. facility in North America, provided we are met with minimal resistance. This, my good man, is how we will put these materials to use." He whipped the tarp off.
I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it wasn't the monstrosity standing next to Gray. It looked kind of like one of those big sea mines, except it was mounted on a pair of disturbingly human-shaped metal legs.
"…the hell is that?"
Gray chuckled. "This is a prototype of my own design. It's imperfect, yes, I am the first to admit it; its main method of attack is to run at an enemy and self-destruct. Useful in some circumstances, but it is highly impractical to make an entire army of them. I didn't wish to try anything more ambitious until I knew for sure…" He trailed off and his eyes narrowed just a little bit, though he kept smiling. I think it was then that it struck me how having Gray for an enemy might be less than fun. I turned my gaze back to the bomb-on-legs, unsure of what to think.
"Well… I might need a little more time to think about it. Just 'cause it's a big decision and all." And then, mainly to change the subject, "This thing sure is impressive. How does it navigate itself 'round obstacles? I don't see any of the standard external sensors on it."
That launched a long conversation you all won't find particularly interesting, though it let me know that Gray knew his stuff. We talked about the machine on our way up from the 'cellar' and all the way to the front door of the restaurant. When we were finished he ushered me out with an "I hope to hear from you soon, Mr. Conagher." I smiled and nodded without saying anything in return, because I just really didn't know what I wanted to do.
On the one hand I didn't give a hill of beans about the Administrator or Blutarch or any of those people, aside from as a source of income. And after Blutarch's unauthorized exhumation of Radigan's grave, well, that counted as a pretty serious strike against him in my book. On the other hand, I did care a lot about you guys, if you'll believe it. Going to work for someone who wanted to attack the company that supplied us with weapons wasn't something I was entirely comfortable with. I might have dropped the whole thing if I hadn't gotten pushed just a little too far.
I don't know how long it took; it might have been just the day after my talk with Gray. What I do remember is that it was just getting on toward evening. The Gunslinger was almost done. It might have got finished that night, but my work was interrupted by a knock at the door.
I checked the door and saw it was some guy I'd never seen before wearing a trench coat. Now you know how there are always people like him getting sent in to our base to talk with people on the Administrator's orders, so I opened the door right quick and let him in.
Sure enough, before I could offer him a drink or anything he whipped open that trench coat to reveal a little television screen strapped to his chest. And there was a black and white image of the Administrator, smoking a cigarette and looking about fit to kill.
I took off my helmet and smiled at the screen, though my stomach was kind of clenching at the thought of why she wanted to talk with me. "What can I do you for, ma'am?"
She tapped her ash kind of slow-like before meeting my eyes. "Mr. Conagher, you struck me as an intelligent man when we first hired you."
"Why, then, have I received information that you have been looking for employment elsewhere?"
My mouth opened like it wanted to lie and say I didn't know what she was talking about, but I knew better than that.
She went on. "You do realize that such a breach of contract can be grounds for termination. And as per your terms of employment, the term tends to be taken quite literally."
That kicked my brain back into gear. "Beggin' your pardon, but I was NOT lookin' for a new job. Someone approached me about one, more as a side-source of income than anything from what I understood, and I thought I'd look into it to satisfy my personal curiosity. That's all."
She arced a brow at me without saying anything. I leaned forward a little, because as precarious as my position was I was a little ticked. "I'm sorry that it looked like I wasn't following company protocol, and I really don't mean to be disrespectful, ma'am. But as I'm not violating any terms of contract I'd like it if you'd please keep out of my personal business."
Her expression didn't change, but she bridged her fingers in front of her. "Mr. Conagher, have you ever once stopped to think about what options lie at your disposal outside of our employ? Perhaps it has been long enough since you joined us that you would benefit from a reminder."
I went real quiet.
"When you were first approached at the Travis County Jail, you were being held for multiple charges including second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and willful destruction of public property. Even taking the special circumstances of the case into account, do you think that the authorities will suffer you to walk free if you find yourself alive and no longer working for TF Industries?"
My jaw kind of clenched, and I didn't say anything.
A bare little trace of a satisfied smile crossed her face. "You are here, in short, because you have no other options, Mr. Conagher. We are the only reason you are not in prison, and as such any liberties you now enjoy are yours only because we allow you to have them. Now imagine, if you will, that we had reason to doubt your trustworthiness in this or any other matter. Imagine that, as much as we would hate to cause discomfort to a valued employee, we were forced to take measures to ensure that you were not compromised by some outside source."
I jerked my head in a stiff nod, a vague ringing in my ears. "Understood, ma'am."
"Smart man. Pauling, kill the feed." The screen cut to static.
I don't really remember the man in the coat leaving. I don't remember a lot about what else happened that night. What I do remember is that, around twelve, the room was trashed and the phone was in my shaking hand while I growled out terms to Gray.
One of these days I'm going to learn to control my temper, but it's a little late now.
I knew my phone wasn't tapped, at the very least. I checked regularly anyways just to make sure, as the set-up on the battlefield had me a little paranoid at that point. And Gray and I were real careful to discuss everything. We couldn't let her know we were conversing, or that I was working on projects that were anything other than new weapons for the battlefield. It was plain to see she wasn't real sure about what kind of job it was anyways, as she wouldn't have let me off with just a warning if she knew about the whole robot-army thing. So as long as I was real careful not to put myself in situations that looked compromising and we got supplies back and forth surreptitiously, we were golden.
Now the best thing to do was for me to make blueprints instead of actively working on the machinery, as slips of paper are a lot easier to get back and forth than giant chunks of metal. Besides I'd already had a few concept drawings made for robotic counterparts of, well, you all. Sorry if that's creepy, but I get bored sometimes and duplicating human bodies is something of a challenge. But it looked like they could be put to good use now, and it was a lot easier than starting from scratch. I polished them up and, once I'd got Gray's input, made them into something more practical. He started sending photos of his progress in building them, and I burned them afterward. We were making progress.
The plan was that I'd keep this up for as long as I could or until the army was finished, then Gray would help me get out of there. It may seem kind of dumb, trusting Gray, but he needed someone used to performing mechanical repairs and who was familiar with the designs of the robots for upkeep and general maintenance. And it really was my only shot to get out of that mess without taking my chances going on the run. Still, I made sure to get the Gunslinger installed in a right hurry, in case someone from either side decided to pay me a surprise visit and finish me off. It was a good way to back up the shotgun beside my bed anyways, as I could have it ready at a moment's notice, even if it was a pain and a half to get installed.
And... well that brings us to this morning, doesn't it? The most I can say for myself at this juncture is that I had no idea, when Gray said he had 'one last thing to take care of' yesterday, he meant murdering Blutarch and Redmond. He's mean as a snake with twice their brains put together, and maybe I should have seen it coming, but when they told us the fight had been cancelled and why this morning, I was just as shocked if not more so than any of you. I don't have much of a choice but to run for it though. There's no way the Administrator doesn't suspect me being involved; she'll probably have people coming down here right now. It's probably stupid for me to have spelled everything out for you all in a letter like this anyways; I don't have long before I need to leave. But I thought all of you, especially you Pyro, deserved a thorough explanation.
I told you at the beginning of the letter that this was a warning and not an excuse, so here's the warning: if the Administrator sends you off to do something else, whether it's fighting each other for who knows what stupid reason or, hell, fighting these robots Gray's sending out all over the place, watch your back. You all remember how that director who didn't do anything but interview RED Team went missing a while back, right? And the whole 'Poopy Joe' fiasco? Well it seems pretty likely to me that, given that she doesn't have to deal with keeping BLU and RED at a stalemate anymore, she and anyone else she could possibly be working with might think you've outlived your usefulness. Just something to think about.
I've risked enough writing this much to you all. I'm not proud of what I've done, but it can't be undone now. Hopefully I'll see you again under better circumstances sometime. And Pyro, I really am sorry.