It was well after midnight when the RED Scout was finally able to retreat to the locker room inside the RED team's headquarters. It had been a long, dusty day of doing what he did best: running, shooting, maiming, killing, and having copious amounts of women throwing their panties at him. Ok, so that last bit was a lie but Scout smiled at the notion nonetheless. He managed to only have to respawn twice that day; a personal record, although he'd never admit to it happening at all. The one drawback of being fast enough to arrive to the capture point first was also the possibility of being blown up or shot first by the enemy. First to arrive, first to die. Still, despite making a full recovery from the day's mission, Scout found himself to be achier than usual. He twisted his head from one side to the other, relishing in the cracking noise his neck made, and sat on a row of benches with a giant sigh.
It was a chilly night in Teufort. The dry air rushing down into the valley brought with it the promise of a cold Christmas later that week. The headquarters showed little signs of holiday cheer, naturally, unless you counted Demoman slurring carols in the kitchen as he polished off another bottle of Scrumpy. It didn't bother Scout, though. He was never a "Christmas" person, anyway.
Scout chuckled. He was reminded of the front page of yesterday's Teufort Times. Oh man, did BLU team have it bad. A stint of community service at the mall? And was the BLU Scout wearing elf ears?
Man, how embarassin'. I'd rather die.
Scout shook his head, deciding his mind was too full to throw in the towel for the night. He decided a good run was in order. He only got in 10 miles that day; stuff of amateurs. Slapping his thighs, he stood up and headed out of the locker room. He passed idly through a labyrinth of concrete hallways when something caught the corner of his eye out a nearby window. He stopped and narrowed his eyes, staring outside for several seconds. He could have sworn he saw something fly by, but while he scanned the area, nothing appeared.
"I must need a jog more than I thought," he said to himself, shaking his head. It would do good to clear his mind. Scout left the room and jogged sloppily into the common area of the base; an open room with a few lumpy couches, galley, and television. Not really a living room, per say, but just enough to provide some basic comforts of home in between battles.
Heavy was sitting on one of the couches, polishing his massive minigun.
"Yo, what's up, Tiny?" Scout asked as he walked by.
"Sasha has smudge," Heavy answered, concentrating hard on his work.
Scout didn't bother asking for elaboration. He headed for the door and reached for the knob when he heard a noise. He paused and listened. It sounded distant yet right outside the door and faintly reminded him of...
Scout looked over his shoulder at the Heavy. "You hearin' this?"
Heavy didn't have time to grant an answer. The door flew open violently, smacking Scout right in the face. He cried out and fell back on his rear, clutching his bleeding nose.
"Ow! What the-?"
Intruder alert! Intruder alert! The voice of the Administrator was deafening.
The alarms blared throughout the headquarters. It wouldn't be long before the other mercenaries flooded into the foyer to see what the trouble was. In the meantime, Scout could only gape up from the floor as a looming shadow stepped forward. The first thing he saw was the skull of a massive reindeer perched atop the head of a tall, menacing figure, like a crown. It was an old man. His black boots became scuffed with dirt as he stepped over the dusty threshold. His red overcoat seemed almost comically oversized on him compared to his long, slender black pants, held up with suspenders. A koala carcass hung from his shoulders like armor. Beady, white eyes scanned the room; sunken cheeks etched with wrinkles, scars, and malice. Finally, he looked downward at the Scout and smiled.
"Ah, there you are," the man finally spoke. His voice was deep and graveled. "How convenient."
Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!
"Yes, yes, we know," came the annoyed voice of the Spy as he entered the foyer. The other mercenaries quickly followed, also apathetic to the idea of any real danger being presented to them. Heavy, who had been watching the scene unfold from the couch with a sort of wonder, finally took it upon himself to stand and hoist Sasha to his hip, ready to fire. They all expected to find a member of the BLU team causing trouble at their doorstep; it wouldn't be the first time. But when they found themselves staring at the 7 foot tall figure of a sneering old man in his reindeer skull hat, they could only stop and stare in amazement.
Before anyone could so much as take a breath, the man reached down with one arm and pulled the Scout up by the neck.
"Woah, woah, woah!" Scout protested, doing his best to pry the man's fingers apart. He began kicking out but it was like hitting his feet against a brick wall. The old man didn't budge. "Guys! Get 'im off!"
"Did you honestly think I'd meet my demise through a pathetic child?" the old man growled.
"Look, man! I have no freakin' clue what you're talkin' about!" Scout pleaded, finding the whole situation too bizarre for his own tastes. He attempted to twist the old man's wrist but it remained as steady as an iron bar.
"Who are you?" the Spy asked calmly, raising his revolver and taking aim at the intruder.
This seemed to smack the other mercs out of their stupor and a sudden resounding series of clicking hammers echoed through the room.
"Have you forgotten me already?" the intruder asked. "Well, that's not surprising. You did seem especially idiotic yesterday. Honestly, an icicle? I'm 240 years old. It will take a lot more than that."
"Yesterday?" the Scout repeated. "Wait. Are you that psycho that attacked BLU team at the mall? You got the wrong base! This is the RED team, man!"
"You're Nicolas Crowder," the Sniper suddenly said, feeling a twinge of uneasiness as he shouldered past the Spy. "But...you can't be. You're just a scary bedtime story for kids."
"Am I?" Crowder asked in amusement. "Well, you just keep telling yourself that. In the meantime, since this pathetic hellion took it upon himself to deprive me of my usual slaves for my workshop this year, he's going to have to compensate for them. I don't usually take them this old but I'll make an exception just this once."
"Are you freakin' deaf!?" Scout asked, still struggling. "You've got the wrong base! You betta put me down before I bash in your ugly face!"
"What, with more wrapping paper?" Crowder asked sarcastically.
Scout had had enough. He called out for his comrades. "Yo! Guys! Shoot this moron!"
Once again, the mercenaries raised their weapons and took aim.
"You've got three seconds, maggot," Soldier warned.
Scout coughed as the grip on this throat tightened. "Don't give him a frickin' deadline! Just shoot 'im!"
Crowder only grinned as he stared down the eyes of the mercenaries before him. "Fools."
The Soldier reached "three" and in a fury of explosive bangs and a cloud of smoke, the room erupted in gun fire. The battle ensued for what seemed like an eternity before the shots tapered off and, one by one, they realized that Nicolas Crowder was still standing in the same spot he had been, but he wasn't dead; he wasn't even injured. Around him and the Scout was a green and red glowing, swirling haze. And within that haze were the hundreds of bullets and grenades fired at him; crowded around him like an audience and suspended in the air. Crowder gave a devious, toothy grin.
"My very own aurora australis."
It was then that Scout, who had braced himself for his own death and imminent respawn, opened his eyes and watched in horror as Crowder gave a snap of his bony fingers and the aurora exploded outwards in a shower of electric light and bullets. The eight mercenaries flew back and were hit by their own ammo, dying instantly and disappearing to respawn.
Nicolas Crowder wasted no more time. He turned around with Scout still in his grasp and stepped out into the night.
Scout continued to shout obscenities and struggle, but try as he might, Crowder seemed impervious to his attacks. He walked calmly to a large sleigh being pulled by night scarred and mangy kangaroos. The reality of the situation was hitting Scout like a ton of bricks.
"I ain't gettin' in that!" His voice was laced with panic and he desperately called out for his teammates. "Guys! C'mon!"
Crowder threw the Scout haphazardly into the back of the sleigh and before the mercenary could jump out, the swirling lights of the aurora encompassed it and trapped him inside. He tried to barrel through it but was met with a high voltage jolt of electricity and fell back unconscious. Nicolas Crowder got into the front of the sleigh, grabbed the reigns, and gave a flick of his thin wrists. The loud "clink!" of a bullet neatly embedding itself in the shiny, red metal was ignored and the sleigh lifted into the air; pulled by the skeletal marsupials.
Crowder grinned as the newly-respawned mercenaries ran behind him, discharging their weapons at will. They cursed and spat but their voices died out with the distance and soon, the only noise that Crowder could hear was the roar of the wind as he soared through the night sky. Within seconds, Teufort was nothing more than a dot of light in the middle of a distant black, desolate landscape.
"So let me get this straight. You woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that an old man has broken into your base, bested nine heavily-armed mercenaries, and kidnapped the fastest member of your team?"
The eight remaining RED team members exchanged nervous glances. They stood before a small monitor and microphone located inside their communications room, wondering just how they were going to explain to the Administrator that a geriatric psychopath kicked down the door to their headquarters, grabbed Scout, and then flew off into the night in a glowing sleigh pulled by kangaroos.
Sniper stepped forward. "Lemme," he whispered to the others and cleared his throat, addressing the Administrator on the screen in front of him. "This wasn't no ordinary bloke. He was Nicolas Crowder."
The Administrator glared at him. "Who?"
"The Spirit of Australian Christmas. It's said that a week before Christmas, he finds all the naughty-"
"I don't care who it was!" the Administrator interrupted. "Why didn't you deal with him?"
"We fired upon him," the Spy explained, calmly. "The bullets had no effect."
"He had force field," the Heavy added.
"Stop right there," the Administrator said, holding up her hand dismissively. "There isn't enough aspirin in the world to fend off the headache I'm getting from listening to your senseless, incoherent babbling. I don't want to hear your excuses as to why you're too incompetent and weak to fight off elderly Australians. You have 24 hours to get your Scout back. If your team isn't fully assembled by tomorrow night and ready for the next mission, you can consider all of your contracts expired!"
The feed on the monitor abruptly cut off and the eight mercenaries found themselves staring at the fizzled black and white static on the screen. Several moments of silence passed before Demoman finally spoke.
"Well, tha' went nicely. So...wha' now, then?"
The Spy sighed, his cigarette dangling from his lips as he spoke. "Now...we find a way to get to Antarctica."
Scout had hoped, when he wearily woke up, that he had merely been dreaming and that he was warm and sprawled out in his bed. Unfortunately, he found himself laying on a cold, concrete floor instead. He attempted to squint through the blinding light that surrounded him and the brutal headache that crept all the way down his neck but his eyes refused to adjust. It took several seconds before a towering figure came into focus. An automatic panic gripped him and immediately attempted to stand but he stumbled and fell back down. Last night's events were not a dream, as Scout found out with great dread. He really had been taken from the RED headquarters and his kidnapper now stood in front of him.
Scout clenched his teeth and looked up to find Nicolas Crowder towering above him, his hands calmly wrapped behind his back.
"You betta let me go!" Scout warned, breathing heavily and doing his best to sound brave.
Crowder grinned. "Or what?"
Steam was practically pouring out of Scout's ears. He managed to gather his strength and stand on wobbly legs, bracing himself against a nearby wall. A wave of nausea washed over him and he wrapped an arm around his stomach, glaring daggers at Crowder. If only he didn't feel like he had been run over by a bus, he'd charge forward and knock the geezer's crooked teeth out of that putrid maw right then and there.
Nicolas smiled condescendingly. He knew what the young man in front of him was thinking and he knew he was in no position to follow through. "Oh, save your energy," he said, dismissively. "You're going to need it for the next 365 days."
The color drained from the Scout's face. "What the hell'r you talkin' about?"
Crowder smiled slowly, relishing in the fear in Scout's voice. "You really don't get it, do you?"
Scout clenched his jaw and refused to show any visible signs of fear despite his heart pounding in his chest. What he wouldn't give to have his trusty baseball bat...
"And to think you have an Australian on your team," Crowder continued, tutting his tongue in shame. "I am the Spirit of Australian Christmas. And you are my servant. For the next year, you will do everything I tell you and build me weapons made to my exact specifications. If you fail to meet these requirements, your punishment will be swift and severe..."
A split second had passed and Crowder was standing before the Scout, his spidery fingers wrapping around the mercenary's neck and pinning him against the wall. Automatically, the Scout opened his mouth to spit obscenities and made to break Crowder's fingers but a sudden jolt of red, hot pain assaulted his every nerve. He cried out, feeling wave after wave of electricity course through his body. The same red and green wisps of light that had surrounded Crowder during his assault on the RED team once again returned and encompassed the Scout's upper body. His sweaty fingers clawed at Crowder's hand but his strength was fleeting with every passing second. Before Scout could pass out, Crowder released his grip and the attack ended as quickly as it had begun.
Scout collapsed to the ground, sliding down the wall and falling to his knees. He was gasping for air and clutching his chest; his heart pounding painfully. His lungs felt dry as he wheezed. A few droplets of blood escaped his nose and plopped on the concrete floor.
"As I was saying," Crowder continued, clearing his throat, "swift and severe. Do you understand?"
Scout couldn't answer. His chest was still heaving from Crowder's brutal attack. His mind was reeling and refused to wrap around the concept that he was truly screwed, that Crowder just brought a trained killer to his knees by simply touching him, and that maybe he was exactly who he said he was.
"Don't make me repeat the question, boy," Crowder warned.
Not wanting to risk another assault, the Scout grit his teeth through his exhaustion and complied. "...Yeah."
"Good. Now get to work."
Nicolas Crowder did not acknowledge the Scout any further and turning his back on the young man, he exited through a large metal door. It closed behind him with a low, ominous groan.
Scout spent the next several minutes trying to regain his strength and wrap his mind around the situation. His muscles recovered quickly, but his thoughts refused to unscramble. Feeling frustrated and defiant, he wiped the blood from his nose with the back of his hand, staining his athletic bandages red, and looked around the floor for his brown cap. He found it several feet away and dusted off the top before squaring it away on his head. Scout then looked up to gauge his surroundings. He was in a large cement room housing four long wooden tables strewn with various tools, blue prints, bullets, and metal parts. Supporting himself on the tables' edge as he walked amongst them, he saw that the workshop was small, and not just in square footage. The tables, benches, and even the light switches were all lower than normal as if they were created specifically with children in mind.
The air was musty and smelled of iron, gunpowder, and burnt plastic. Various brown splotches stained the wooden tabletops and Scout hoped that it was anything but dried blood. He found a rolled-up blueprint and idly unfurled it. It was like Russian to him. He couldn't even put a bike together in the fifth grade; how was he expected to put together a double-barreled CZ 550 .585 caliber rifle?
Soldier and Engineer'd know what to do. They'd love this crap.
Deciding he'd seen enough and still nursing the wounds from his previous humiliating defeat at the hands of a crazed geriatric wearing a reindeer skull for a hat, Scout shoved the blueprint away and put his game face on. He'd find a way out of this hell hole if it was the last thing he did. He wasn't going to give Crowder the satisfaction of knowing he was scared enough to follow any of his rules.
"You're gonna wish ya never stepped foot in Teufort, pal."
"What is it, Miss Pauling?" the Administrator asked, her voice taking on an air of annoyance. Her patience really had been tried and she was in no mood for her assistant's constant hovering.
Miss Pauling was caught slightly off guard. She stood behind the Administrator's chair, hugging her clipboard to her chest like a security blanket as she stared worriedly at the wall of monitors before her. The Administrator sat in her swivel chair, her back to Miss Pauling; the only indication that she was even there was the smoke rising from her burning cigarette.
"Um," Miss Pauling said meekly, "it's just...Scout, ma'am. Do you think he's alright?"
The Administrator gave a long sigh and flicked her cigarette ash into a nearby tray. "Miss Pauling, these imbeciles spend day after day trying to blow each other up..."
"I know. It's just that...well, they are assassins so I just think it's troubling to know that someone out there got the best of one of them. Especially the Scout."
"You act as if we know him."
The Administrator swiveled around in her chair to face her assistant. She crossed her long legs and leaned her elbow on the armrest, waving her cigarette around as she spoke. "Miss Pauling, the only thing I care to know about these men is if they are doing their jobs. If that idiot Scout has run off, I consider it a breach of his contract and his job here will be finished."
Miss Pauling's concerns were even more intensified. "But what if he hasn't run off? What if he really is in trouble?"
The Administrator took a long drag of her cigarette, her eyes narrowing and boring into her assistant. "You're beginning to make me think you actually care about him."
Miss Pauling's cheeks instantly flushed and her eyes widened. "No! I mean...I care...but not like...that's not what I meant."
Seeing her become so flustered, the Administrator almost laughed; but instead she only turned her chair back around towards the monitors and watched as the BLU team continued on with planning their supposed "rescue" mission. There were several tense moments of silence as Miss Pauling remained stationary and stared at the floor; her cheeks and ears still red and burning. The Administrator's voice broke her from her spell.
"Is there something else, Miss Pauling?"
"...No, ma'am. Have a nice night."
And with that, Miss Pauling quickly made her exit; unable to ignore the gnawing worry that flooded her mind.
The RED team sat situated around a round dining room table in the commons of their headquarters. It was well into the early morning hours and the supply of coffee in the kitchen was running thin. They had been gathered for hours, deciding how to rescue their Scout and keep their jobs. Their first course of action was figuring out just where the Scout was. It took Sniper several tries before he finally convinced everyone that he was, indeed, at the South Pole.
The abduction was almost like a figment of their imaginations. No one wanted to admit that despite a base full of trained mercenaries armed to the teeth, an old man claiming to be the Spirit of Australian Christmas broke in and stole a member of their team. The fastest member of their team. But none of them could deny what they saw; how Crowder seemed to have unimaginable strength and powers. They didn't want to believe they were dealing with something supernatural but they had no choice but to relent.
So if Nicolas Crowder really did live in the South Pole like Sniper said, the next task was figuring out just exactly how they'd get there and get the Scout back. It was after several suggestions flew about that Demoman recommended that the Engineer simply build a teleporter.
"It don't work like that," Engineer replied. "I'd have to be at the South Pole just to build the exit."
"Why can't we fly airplane?" the Heavy asked.
"Oh, aye," Demoman responded sarcastically, his Scottish brogue slurring from his constant state of inebriation. "Allow me ta jus' pull an airplane ou' of me back pocket!"
The Spy glared at the Demoman, silently scolding him, and flicked ash from his cigarette. He turned back to Heavy. "Acquiring an airplane and a pilot insane enough to shuttle us to the end of the world will be more than a bit difficult."
"You left wing sissies!" the Soldier shouted gruffly. "Why, back in World War II, we soldiers had to swim across the Atlantic just for a chance to kill some nazi scum! Did we have airplanes? NO!"
"Yes, you did, actually," the Spy said flatly. "And we are not swimming to Antarctica. An airplane and Engineer's teleporter are the only way, unfortunately."
The Pyro muffled something.
"That is a very good question," sighed the Spy. "Suggestions?"
The Medic was mentally kicking himself for already encouraging this reckless and impossible idea. "Zhere is a military base not too far from here."
Everyone looked at Soldier. If it were possible, his chest boasted out even further as he beamed and gave a salute. "Say no more, men! I accept your mission with great honor!"
"So, are we actually goin' to do this?" the Engineer asked everyone at the table. "Commandeer a plane and fly to the South Pole as if we're simply hoppin' on a bus? And then what? I build a teleporter back to Teufort?" It was a rhetorical question yet the others stared at him as if he hit the nail right on the head. Engineer sighed and shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Fellas, the teleporters ain't designed to cover that big'a distance. This is really stupid. And you're talkin' about a 9,000 mile trip. There ain't a plane on earth that can cover that. Look...I say we just let things run its course. If we're lucky, Crowder'll kill Scout before our 24 hours are up and he'll respawn back here in headquarters."
"No, he wont," said a small, female voice from the doorway.
The Spy was the only one to notice Miss Pauling enter the room. The other mercenaries stumbled from their hunched positions in a mild state of alarm and stood as the Administrator's assistant walked in; the sound of their wooden seats scraping against the floor as they moved. She stopped just shy of the table and bit her lip.
"He won't respawn," she repeated. "The respawn chips aren't designed to function outside of Teufort. They're for missions only unless the Administrator calibrates them for longer distances. I overheard you guys talking. So...this is your plan? Stealing an airplane and flying to the bottom of the world?"
"Genius, non?" Spy deadpanned.
"You...you might be able to do it."
Eyes widened and backs straightened across the room. No one needed to ask Miss Pauling to continue; the anxiousness in their eyes spoke volumes. Miss Pauling sighed and mumbled something under her breath about 'losing her job' and let her shoulder slump.
"Australium," she said. "It's the element used in the innovation of almost every advanced technological machine by Mann Co. Teleporters, cloaking devices, things you've heard of. And some things you haven't."
If the eight men in the room weren't interested before, they certainly had their ears perked now. Especially Engineer.
"I know of an aircraft that might work. And a pilot to get you there. But it's going to cost a lot of Australium. More than the Administrator is willing to spend. Especially on you guys...no offense."
Miss Pauling cast her eyes to the floor. However, the mercenaries seemed unfazed by their apparent worthless status.
"I can get some," Engineer said suddenly, a tremble of excitement in his voice.
It was Miss Pauling's turn to be surprised. Her eyes widened behind her cat eyeglasses. "What? How?"
Memories flooded the Engineer's brain of his meeting with Blutarch Mann several months ago. His grandfather had built both Blutarch and Redmond Mann life-extender machines as the brothers waged war on each other for decades over a swatch of land. As the two siblings tried to outdo each other in all aspects of life, the only thing they could do now with their decrepit and rotting, ancient bodies was just keep their shriveled hearts beating longer than the other. It was the Engineer's grandfather who had discovered the scattered deposits of Australium throughout Australia and brought some of them to America, storing them in strategic caches across the desert. The Engineer had fixed Blutarch's wretched life-extender machine, but not before tucking his grandfather's map of Australium caches under his belt, so to speak. They were rightfully his, anyhow. He hadn't spoken a word of it, though. Not until now. A motherload of such expensive and rare metals could start a war if discovered by the wrong people; a war that would make RED and BLU's battles seem like a school yard rivalry.
"Give me an hour," Engineer said with a newfound determination. "I'll get you the Australium. You just get me that plane and pilot."
"Now hold on a wee minute!" Demoman butt in. "We're nae actually thinkin' of doin' this...are we? Are yeh all insane?"
Is that a rhetorical question? Miss Pauling thought as she looked around the table at the eight crazed assassins standing around her. "You're a team," she said calmly.
Soldier puffed his chest out. "She's right, maggots! Leave no man behind!"
Well, that settled it...sort of. The men exchanged a few more glances at one another, their expressions asking one another if they were truly up for such an impossible task. No amount of reassuring would help them focus on anything more than the highly probable scenario of dying horribly.
"We may be a team, Miss Pauling, but what about you?" Spy asked smugly, dropping his cigarette on the floor and snuffing it out with his heel. "Why are you showing such an interest in a very foolish rescue mission?"
There was something new Miss Pauling suddenly felt pouring into her. It wasn't embarrassment or even fear. It wasn't even a hint of angst. Yet, the color of her cheeks continued to change into various shades of pink. She cleared her throat and held her head up high. No sense in lying.
"Because. He'd do the same for me. He'd do the same for any of you. Scout is an arrogant asshole..." The team nodded. "...but he's loyal. He's probably the most dedicated member of your team...even though it's in a reckless, annoying sort of way. And because it's my job to make sure you all are accounted for."
"I see." Spy lit up another cigarette, squinting as he took an extra long drag and exhaled through his teeth. "Well, then. That settles it. Gentlemen? I suggest we leave Miss Pauling and Engineer to their duties. We all have our own preparations to make as well."
The Spy spun on his heels and made for the door. The others watched his back.
"Where are you goin, then'?" the Sniper asked.
Spy looked over his shoulder; cigarette bouncing on his lips. "To speak to the BLU team."