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Author Topic: [Writing] - [ZaSpai] - [Narrative/Fanfiction] - [The Garrison Runners]  (Read 1155 times)

ZaSpai

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  • "Eeh?! We're just allies!"

The tale of a loyal RED Runner, whose ideals are challenged and destroyed as his world begins to collapse around him...
What secrets lie in the background of the Bitland Wars? And how does a mysterious BLU shape our hero's future?




~~~



Part 1

"Submission approved. Congratulations Mercantile - you have cleared the objectives for the week. Please report at 0745 hours on Sund-"

The static was abruptly cut short as Runner dialed down his transceiver. Hearing the pre-recorded message for the fifth time in a month was beginning to drive him insane; much like having to put up with the broken record that one of the Riflemen seemed to enjoy leaving on of an otherwise quiet evening. With a half hearted toss, Runner flung the transceiver onto his bunker bed - top bunk, naturally - and began to flick through his personal objective checklist.
"16, 17, 18... I guess I am fully up to date in this, huh. Whatever. Sure didn't seem like it."
Satisfied that he wouldn't get cheated out of the full commission put of an error of his own, Runner tidied his belongings and vacated the room, heading downstairs to the longer where his teammates were busy celebrating another victory.

Runner was a mercenary for Respectable Elucidation Division, an organisation which he had considered his employer for some seven or so years. He was quite the battle hardened lad, and certainly on amiable terms with his comrades, whether they were new bloods or old dogs. Runner couldn't quite remember his exact motivations for enlisting in the beginning - money was certainly a major influencing factor, and there was something about helping his family be better off - but that had faded into the background, instead his drive for combat being secondary to maintaining the bonds he formed over the years. Including, interestingly, respect for some of the 'greasy scum' over at the BLU camp. Thanks to the miraculous technology of respawners - which Runner kept kicking himself for not asking Constructor as to how they worked - he often found himself crossing paths with familiar mercs from Bolstered Locks Unlimited in near-death and actual-death scenarios. For some deity-be-known reason, he had become particularly acquainted with an Infiltrator from the other side - and Runner didn't like Infiltrators in general, what with them favouring underhanded techniques to achieve their goals.

"Eyy, young'un! Got ov'r here and party! We bloody showed those BLU devils what for, and it was all you 'gain!" Detonator, as intoxicated as ever. How charming.
A somewhat stout, masked mercenary ran over and tossed Runner in the air before he had time to protest, and then proceeded to dump him straight into the crowd of teammates.
"Ugh! Firebug! Don't do that! You know how much I hate being knocked around!"
The Firebug just giggled, before taking its place besides the rest of the gang. They were a motley bunch all right - Rocketmen who were more interested in playing Rocket Roulette outdoors; Overweights and Runners, loud and at times vulgar, who kept challenging each other in arm wrestling with predictable results; the aforementioned Detonator, whose drunkenness was only ever quelled by his passion for cooking; the Tassie Trio of Riflemen who earned the nickname of the Wavers; and the Healer and Constructor, who in their aura of intellectual superiority chose to mutter between themselves. How any rational human being could envision this as a team was a miracle - but of course, they weren't rational men. And it worked - for some eight campaigns straight, they had exerted paramountcy over the pitiful BLU fools.

"Is great time to be fortunate soldier of RED, da?" An old Overweight comrade had brought over Runner's favourite drink - sarsaparilla, for he was a teetotaller - and sat by his younger teammate. "I hear RED bosses considering bonus incentives for exceptional war performance."
Runner took a swig - ah, that cold refreshment. "Oh? What would that include? Hoping it's monetary - must be like years since they last touched our salaries. I mean, it'd be nice, but I'm not demanding that we get regular pay rises or anything, don't get me wrong."
Haughty laughter. "Overweight forgets you are still young sometimes, even though you old teammate, Runner. Bosses cannot afford money for mercs - is managed solely by Sale. No, we likely receive rations and more supplies. Is all good."
"Ehh, but a man can dream. Still, at least it's something, right?"
"Very good! You not as infant as you look!"
Runner couldn't help but tug on his face. "Am I really that baby faced after all these years? That's... kinda embarrassing."
A raspy Austrian voice interrupted: "Vell if you vanted, I could alvays inject ze aging serum into your bloodstream for you, ahaha!"

Ignoring the Healer's eccentric reply, Runner pondered on this issue of mercenary payments. As much as he made it look like he was fine with everything, in truth he was incredibly disappointed, even slightly angry, at the current state of remuneration. It had been perfectly fine in the early days - mild salary increases with rather minor increases in work hours or demands. However, everything changed when Fredmann Co. came into business. Spearheaded by the Northamericum obsessed tycoon Haxton Sale, that company had muscled its way into being the predominant - actually, make that ONLY - financial planning, marketing and mercenary sponsor of the Wars (which Runner had interestingly found out from the aforementioned BLU Infiltrator). And instead of the small but certain pay rises, instead that money seemed to be redirected into the yearly carnival that was the Annual Haxxies. Promising 'wealth and famousity', 99% of unfortunate mercenaries received nada as a result, while the lucky few - or unlucky, as other mercenaries started to target them specifically owing to jealousy - paraded the battlefields with shimmering, golden Northamericum paraphernalia. Everyone knew how much Northamericum fetched in the free markets, and that the lucky few would even dare continue parading their accolades without so much as using the potential monetary value for more humanitarian means - even if it were simply for their families (very few mercenaries came from the upper class) appalled Runner's instincts. But aside from that, Runner had been allocating a sizeable fraction of his earnings to send to his family - and since the Sale era, he was struggling to make his contributions count for much in a climate of steep hikes in living expenses (which, rumours have it, were orchestrated by Fredmann Co. as well).

Last year, and the climate of the Wars was shaken, as Mr Raymond Bann - CEO of the Bann Mercantile Group - entered the market with his promises of fairness for all. Runner was all too eager to sign up, dreaming of a chance to finally be able to get his family out of the financial turmoil of the preceding three years. The contract and terms were certainly pleasant enough; and Mr Bann himself appeared to be a man of some integrity, and a sharp mind. Not that Runner wanted to cheat his way through the criteria. Having successfully completed Tier 0 (which was quite a feat in itself), he became the recipient of quite a collection of rewards, which naturally he wanted to sell for additional lump sum payments for his family. Disappointingly, the money gibs didn't seem to be collectible by him (and even though his teammates and enemies could, they couldn't use them in any way); the top hats and monocles were specifically packaged as "Not for Sale or private sale / Property of Bann Mercantile Group Pty. Ltd."; and most shockingly of all, the exclusive Canadium scattergun - with a distinct off copper silver lustre - was not at all considered high value despite being made from quite a rare metal. Although set back, Runner wanted to have faith for just another year, and reluctantly signed up again. Of course, the state of affairs with economic crises in the Eurozone, among other places, didn't make the goings back in his hometown any easier. Recent letters from his mom painted a bleak picture of a dysfunctional household, insufficient basic necessities and utilities, younger siblings fighting over the rationed food supplies, violence and bullying at the schools...

"Yo pardner, you lookin' a little down. There's no crime in lettin' your hair down - especially not after a big win, you follow?"
"Oh, hey Constructor! I.. totally didn't notice you there. Yeah, I probably should enjoy myself a bit. ...Thanks."
"Always makes me feel good to see you happy, Runner."
"Hey, nothing like looking out for each other, brother! Man, that was a HORRID rhyme. Constructor, that reminds me, I've been meaning to ask..."



~~~



Part 2

"Okay, uh, what kind of madman would put us in back to back missions on Atalia and Sixties? Freaking SIXTIES? Seriously, it's completely f***ing stupid! No one likes DKOTH, and having two of them in a row...!" A younger Runner, his voice as ear-splitting as a parrot with a tantrum.
"Special orders, sonny. No deserting, or I'll personally blast you off with my rockets! Understood? Good! Now heaaaaaaad LEFT!"
"For real? Ugh, this totally sucks. But whatever, it's a job and we gotta do it. But mark my words: if whoever's sending us wherever decides to play funny tomorrow and send us to DKOTH again, I'm gonna freaking riot!"
"Do YOU not know the policy for complaints, sonny? THERE IS NONE!"
"Don't give me that Rocketman, like there's totally gotta be-"
"If there is, I no NOTHING of it! Now head left, stat!" The helmeted mercenary's intimidation finally appeared to pay off, as the parroting Runner departed without so much as a whimper.

In the corner, Healer was conversing with a close Overweight friend of his.
"Vell, I suppose this vill give me more time for ze superbursts..."
"Is crying mission time. Overweight not impressed in slightest."
Certainly not the happiest start to the day, Runner mused silently. Still preoccupied by the previous night's deliberations, he loosely put on his battlefield garb - a loose fitting branded cap, ragged blood red shirt, and cargo pants - thankfully, not those cheap Hellenic made parachute pants; RED were kind enough to provision top quality garments - and armed himself with his trusty scattergun. This was going to be a long haul.

Healer gestured over to Runner, who looked a little puzzled as he approached.
"What is it, doc?"
A rough clearing of the throat. "Vell, Runner, I'm avare zat zis is sudden, but I'd like you to have a go at leading ze gang today in our campaigns. I know it's usually up to myself, ze Constructor and ze head Overweight, but you're ze next most senior. It'd be a good opportunity."
"S-Seriously? That's a lot of responsibility you're placing on me, and uh..." Runner glanced meekly to the side, watching the others argue on, blissfully unaware of the executive decisions being made. "...I'm not sure if my role is really suited to that."
"Oh, don't vorry, we'll help you out..."

---

Alright, Runner thought. First time for me to lead. He was certainly very nervous - even with another can of sarsaparilla, he couldn't hold his nerves as he shook with increasing frequency, venturing towards the rest of the gang. Their lives were at the mercy of his tactics and command, and that scared Runner.

Despite his lack of confidence at present, he mustered up his determination, and commanded a stable voice.

"Alright crew, team huddle. For today, I'll be leading you guys. I know I'm new to this role, but I've got the support of Healer, Constructor and Overweight. You guys okay with that?"
The RED mercenaries turned out of interest, and surprisingly no-one made a remark or even a suppressed chuckle. Whew, at least they had his trust.
"Firebug, uh, not so close. Okay: so the BLU forces we're facing will be the same across both battlefields. Don't get too friendly with them - both companies know how important the Atalian Exchange Centre and Central Sixties District are to maintaining regional dominance. Constructor, do you think we should have an Overweight on defense duties with you? The core with two Rocketmen and a Runner with Healer? Hey, Wavers, stop waving outside at the civilians, and get over here! You guys need to space apart more today, or else you'll end up as multistab food. Got it?"
As he continued to direct and plan the team's strategy and positioning, Runner found that in actuality, he had quite a knack for this leading thing. While he appeared to handled the position of de facto leader in his stride, in truth he really feared the gang's survival and success, lest he made the wrong calls. Having seen the despair on the faces of leaders who lost the engagements in the past, he knew how important it was to ensure the teams he led would return victorious. He wouldn't let them down today.

"Alright gang, assemble in formation. We got this one in the bag. For RED!"
"For RED!"

The PSA boomed with a mature female voice:

=5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GET GOING!=

---

Among the cacophony of munitions and death screams, a silent whoosh, and a fizzled ping. Points level, 1:03 to 0:58, advantage BLU.

"Healer! Bad news! BLU babies are in final minute of their timer! Need to act NOW!"
"Can't you vait? I have to heal everyvone first before ve can push ze point!"
"Sir, yes Sir! Incoming Firebugs!"
"Mmph mm hudda mmmph!"
"Vhere are ze Runners? Mach schnell, kill ze BLUs und capture zhere point!"

As expected, the battle for Atalia had thus far been protracted and repetitive. However, BLU did have the upper hand. This worried Runner significantly; he didn't want to tarnish the RED streak of victories through carelessness. Hearing the Healer's indignation did little to comfort him, but it at least spurred him to press on. A few meatshots dispatched the advancing Firebugs, their feeble whimpers escaping their corpses as they flung through the air.

An all too familiar decloaking sound roused the Runner - could it be? But now wasn't the time to wonder - there was a point to cap, and distractions would lose the match! Ignoring whatever suspicions he had, Runner pressed on. Narrowly avoiding an autogun's line of sight, he chose to take the underpath to the BLU building, hoping for some backup soon - the Detonator was nearby, but he did seem rather preoccupied. It was usually unoccupied except for those rare instances where mercenaries would retreat for health - now, unfortunately, was one of those times.

"Oh crap, rockets! I wasn't... augh...!"
Far too cramped for jumping to be of any use, an explosion, right by Runner's legs, propelled him backwards and out into autogun range. Those annoying contraptions rarely missed their mark from this angle - trying to exploit its blind spot wasn't possible without risking death. Gritting his teeth, Runner ran back inside, but stopped short of the stairs. A quick primary check - damn, that was a lot of bullet wounds. Clenching his bleeding cavities, Runner enabled his intercom.
"This is Flag-1. Um, I kinda need some assistance. Deto, I know you're around here somewhere; push forward if you can. Bring Healer over if possible too. Over."
The only safe direction was back into the BLU corridor. With it was a risk of death, and an eternity before respawning. But no other option was viable at present - the stairs were guarded by an Overweight, and running away meant the autogun would gun him down. Undeterred, Runner steeled himself, and ran forward again, holding a nervous gulp.

The enemy Rocketman seemed rather taken aback by this charge against him, and panicked, releasing his entire volley of rockets at the walls and ceiling. Here presented a perfect opportunity for Runner to charge in and perform his signature Danse Macabre - a rhythmic assault with jumps and meatshots. The poor conscript stood no chance.
"You know, you might wanna try aiming next time, brudda. Woah!"

Runner backpedalled to dodge an incoming mine - it was too small to tell which team's it was - and inspected this sudden development. Thankfully it was his old buddy, who had also done the favour of destroying that pesky autogun (and its wretched Constructor)."Gud ta see you in high spirits, mate! Oy, Healer, git uver 'ere!"
Beating his chest and signalling in the distance for the Austrian doctor (was he actually registered?), a cocky smirk and thumbs up was more than enough reassurance.

The push had finally arrived, complete with some Overweights, the core Rocketmen, and Healer. There wasn't much resistance - BLU's defences, or what was left of them, fell like dominoes as the bullets and explosives tore through them with lethal precision.
"Alright everyone, let's do this - point will be ours, just keep holding it. Don't let the BLUs dropstab us or do something funny, okay? Awesome. Uh, do you mind if I get some heals Healer...?"
"Vey ahead ov you, haha."
Runner was back to peak strength, and thanked the wily doctor before asserting his place on the metal disc that was the BLU control point. There was a delicate art in capturing in Atalia - too many people on the cap at once, and knife infiltrators would have a field day; too few, and any opposition would dislodge the capper and force an unwanted exchange of ammunition. Runner had decided to keep the cap a simple affair, asking a nearby Rocketman to help out.

It was to remain unchallenged, at least on this occasion.

=WE HAVE CAPTURED THE CONTROL POINT!=

---

In Runner's memory, there had, without any doubt, never been a conflict, DKOTH or not, as long as the one presently occurring. Points were level yet again - not a common occurrence on Atalia by any means - and in a cruel twist of fate, both teams had secured an Overtime. Neither team appeared to really try for a decisive cap, and the attempts at pushing were limited to effectively suicide missions against completely fortified positions. Runner had already found himself on the receiving end of some fatal encounters, but he had recuperated sufficiently, and was awaiting the scheduled roster before he was to attempt the one man siege again.

An enemy Firebug had wandered into the RED territory, and was promptly deflated as one of the Rifleman Wavers pulled the trigger. Nearby birds were jostled by the sudden sonar crack. A comical wave to the blue yonder.
"Heyyy, nice shooting over there!"
"Thanks mate!"
This particular Waver had come from a life of a park ranger, where illegal poachers were taught the meaning of DO NOT TRESPASS in the most terrifying way possible without being injured. Oceanians were scary, and Runner was glad not to be their enemy.
"Say, ain't it your turn to brave the BLU garrison? Good luck out there mate."
"Ehehe, thanks for the support I guess. I'm kinda expecting to respawn a bit though, so..."
"Don't worry mate, you'll be fine. You're doing a good job leading us today - pity you got shafted with DKOTH campaigns. You know what, you want some music to soothe you while you press forward?"
Not that country music, Runner thought. He much preferred the beats of hip hop - they were a far more appropriate complement to his dancing.
"I'm fine. Thanks Waver!"
As Runner dropped down and onto the battlefield proper, he just managed to catch a glimpse of the Waver doing exactly what his namesake was. Time wasn't critical, but it just didn't feel that right for Runner to take it at a slow pace. Urgency drove him forward.
"Okay, so the other guys told me that I should stay high this time. I can probably get over there in 10 seconds. Be damned if I mess up a jump. Alright, here goes."

Runner had an unusual ritual whenever he started a solo mission. Starting with a jog on the spot, he briefly palpated his carotid pulse - which seemed a rather fruitless endeavour as heads weren't tangible - and scanned the surrounds for any suspicious activity. Constructor was having a nap by the autogun, Firebug babysitting the turret and also keeping watch; some Overweights were tossing manviches between each other. Nothing obvious in front. No enemy Riflemen ahead. All good.
Assuming a sprinter's ready position, Runner readied his scattergun. This was his insurance against surprises - of which hopefully there were none.
A few volatile exhalations. As frequently as he'd done these, Runner never felt super confident on these runs. You couldn't blame him for his palpitations and jitters, and they seemed so much louder at the present.
But as much as he wanted his heart to race less, the impetus to get this run over with could not be quelled. With an explosive burst of force, Runner took off from the base of the RED building, leaving a dust cloud in his wake.
"Look at 'im go, that's gotta be a new record for takeoff, whaddya say mates?"
The other Wavers just shrugged, and waved the air again in tandem.

The jumps through the Mid Building, although so familiar, did sometimes play tricks with the mercenaries. Scars of explosions, bullets, and other collateral damage had left the irregular and treacherous contours of the platforms an easy place to trip when approaching them at speed. Thankfully, Runner was an observant fellow, and adapted his approach to ensure a safe transition through the Mid and out to the BLU front yard. Now was where things got dangerous. Riflemen tended to camp high up in the inaccessible perches, shielded from retaliation except from rocketmen or detonators. The bridge and window entrance was the most direct, but usually the most well defended with autoguns or power classes. There was always the option of the corridor and stairs as well, but as per the recent reconnaissance report, attempting to break through a narrow room full of enemies was asking to get killed. Runner settled for a careful but speedy approach via the bridge.

However, he wasn't able to get too far before a gloved hand caught hi shoulder, making him lose balance.
"Peekaboo. I do believe its been a while, Runner."

Tumbling straight into the grassy front - which after recent fighting had become rather muddy - Runner was a little dazed to reply to this wily assailant just at that moment. But no one else would seek him out personally but THAT Infiltrator. He picked himself up and dusted himself as best as he could. It was gonna take a while to get rid of the mud though.
"Oh, hell. I knew it! I had a suspicion that you were here today, Infiltrator. What do you want?"

A smartly dressed European - probably Belgian, but one could never to all without a clear view of the visage - stood before Runner. This Infiltrator cleared his throat as he exchanged his cigarette. Classy or not, Runner never saw the appeal of smoking - the odour, the health risks, the whole act was just off.
"Ahem. Normally I would offer a challenge, but there's something I wanted to tell you in particular. Far too dangerous earlier with the main forces rolling back and forth like clockwork gears. Come with me."
"Uh, you sure this isn't a trick? You're unusually sneaky for what I know of you. Which is like, nothing. Apart from you being quite the master of the revolver."
A puff of smoke.
"Runner, please. When have I ever said something to you that I didn't actually mean?"
Infiltrator did have a point there.
"Alright. But can we do this while we're shooting at each other? I don't want the other BLUs to become suspicious of anything."
"That, I can certainly oblige. Just try not to kill me - not easy to carry a dialogue when half the time we're speaking with cadavers."

It was approaching early afternoon - lunch time, perhaps - but the two lone figures engaging in a shootout at the BLU end of the Mid had far more important things on their mind than food. Whatever Infiltrator had wanted to disclose, Runner was intrigued.
Bang. Not a bad shot, but the young mercenary was too agile to simply get hit by any old bullet.
"Runner. This might come as a bit of a surprise to you, but I actually looked up your background and circumstances. Appreciating a rival's motivations helps one understand how they behave, you know."
"You did WHAT? How could you?" A wave of confusion and anger, as a scattergun round partially hit its mark. "What gives you the right to look up my personal details? That's really low, Infiltrator, LOW!"
Infiltrator glanced at his wounds and shrugged. "I suppose I deserved more than just a few pellets. But I didn't do this for any malicious intent; far from it. I can infer that you're in this mercenary business to keep your family afloat. Certainly an honourable venture, and even more so given these financial crises and economic collapses."
"O-Okay? And? Your point?"
This conversation was making Runner quite uneasy.
"I know you've switched to Bann. I can understand why you chose his ideals. But I've heard unsavoury things about him this year. Desires for shaking the foundations of the financial landscape. Risky ventures for -groan- parachute pants. Wanting to reduce Sale to nothingness. And at whose expense? The mercenaries. No, Bann isn't the emissary of Mercantiles, far from it."
A beat, just enough for Runner to receive a slug in the thigh. Clutching his wound, Runner deliberated on this information.
"So... you mean to say... whatever intentions Bann proclaimed last year have become a lot more corporate driven now? That the dream of financial equality was... ephemeral? A false hope? He's... e-e-?"
"Exploiting? All but in name. The rewards this year are even less than what they were last year, and I understand that you had no way to capitalize on your earnings for meaningful support for your family. But further to that, do you not wonder that Bann's objectives cleverly invite his enlisted mercenaries to act as effectively free labour, to be minimally paid at campaign's end? Is that not equally financially unfair as the Sale initiatives, if not more deceitful? So terribly sorry about the bullet wound, that was careless of me."

Runner wasn't even paying attention to the bleeding in his leg. Was everything he heard actually the state of affairs at Bann Mercantile Group? Had Runner chosen to fight for a cause so contrary to his understanding and belief? Was he really putting in all that effort for nothing...?

"Oh, and one other thing: this is only secondary information, but I have connections with a mole in the top Bann ranks who has top secret access. In order to sustain the Greek parachute pants campaign, Bann has been digging his hands into the funds of his enlisted's family estates. Your family wasn't unscathed by the sound of things."

Runner froze. His grip on the scattergun could not sustain itself in the crushing revelation that had befallen his poor, young mind. If what he heard was true, then... he had, unknowingly, jeopardized his family's wellbeing... ...enlisting in a false cause that claimed to offer equality and better mercenary outcomes, but in fact was the Sale empire with a different coat of paint...?! His efforts had changed nothing for the better. And now, here he had learned that he was harming his family with his actions.

"I-I uh..."
A lengthy pause. There was no reason to continue this. Fighting was pointless if the consequences would only worsen everything. Runner collapsed on to his knees, unarmed.
"Infiltrator. Just kill me. I can't... I can't... anything right now. It's... so much to take in. I can explain it to my teammates as an ambush. Just, please."
"I am sorry Runner. But I felt it necessary to tell you this, lest you continue to walk the poisonous path until it is too late."
"Just... kill me. I don't know what to think. But I guess... I guess I can trust you. You haven't lied to me or anything. Have you?"
Runner's hand was trembling, gesturing towards the sleek gunmetal chambered revolver. Quite a clean and polished firearm, despite its obvious battle wear.
Infiltrator sighed. He was obliged to comply.
"I would never lie to a rival as great as you, Runner. I swear it on this bullet."
Dialling the chamber through his fingers, the balaclava-donning BLU operative raised his weapon, and pointed it squarely at the young RED mercenary's thorax.
"We'll meet again, Runner."

Runner's last thoughts before he was freed by the shot to his heart were of ideals. Ideals of the mercenary life as honourable and pious. Ideals that one day he could bring his family out of darkness. Ideals that shattered like his existence was at that very moment.



~~~



« Last Edit: September 06, 2015, 08:45:51 am by ZaSpai »
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ZaSpai

  • Ray Bann's Minion
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  • "Eeh?! We're just allies!"
Re: [Writing] - [ZaSpai] - [Narrative/Fanfiction] - [The Garrison Runners]
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2015, 07:55:28 am »

Part 3

The RED mercenaries circled their de facto leader like vultures at a carcass. Runners eyeballing their fellow classman like he were a complete foreigner. Overweights trying to offer manviches. Rocketmen poking and prodding in vain to elicit a response.

It wasn't that Runner had done anything wrong - far from it, as RED had managed to secure the win with a gutsy all or nothing push as instructed by Constructor - but simply that Runner wasn't responding or anything at the moment. Pale as a sheet, blank as an empty canvas, he sat deathly quiet, offering no gaze to his teammates. Why was he so emotionless when the team had won?

An eerie silence. Firebug turned its head and began to approach, but was swiftly rebuked by Constructor, who whispered to his comrade with some force. Firebug took note and reluctantly sat down, cradling its head in what could only be described as an attempt at the lotus position.

"I don't suppose zat zhere's something zat happened when you vent out for your recon run?" The mercenaries began to disperse as the team doctor made his way to Runner, Healer's authoritative baritone arresting control of the situation. "It cannot be an affliction of ze physical variety, ya?"

Runner nodded silently. As insane as he was sometimes, Healer still had the physician's touch when it mattered most - far more than would could be said back home in the Mideast.

"Zen ve vill discuss these matters in private. Mercenaries, stop idling about! Ze consultations are confidential matters!" The others took the warning, and retreated to their own rooms. A gesture to Healer's office was accepted, and the two remaining figures in turn vacated the lounge for a more appropriate venue.

Now free of unwanted, prying eyes, Runner raised his head, letting loose a deep sigh. "I don't know, doc. I feel like a piece of me has just been ripped out."
Healer remained silent.
"I don't know how much you know about my past and all, but I'd might as well talk about it. I'm the eldest in a siblingship of five; my ma's a single parent; and we live in pretty damn awful conditions. I'm out here, all this distance away from my family, so I can make their lives better. That's what's been driving me all these years."
At this time Runner shook his head, which to an observer might have seemed like an innocent tic or a subconscious action. But Healer saw something else in it. A gentle enquiry: "You mean to say, zat..."
A raised hand. "If you assumed that I would've said that I've lost my drive, kinda. But it's more than that." Pause. "Today, I became aware of information that suggested that I was actually... hurting my family."

Healer made a confused expression, but did not raise his voice. Nevertheless, Runner took his comrade's facial display as a question in its own right.
"You're gonna berate me for this, I know. But there was an Infiltrator on BLU, who I know from previous battles and have developed a mutual rivalry and respect for, who I ran into. He told me a lot about the lies of the Bann Mercantile Group, who I'm currently sub-contracted to. Something about... what was it... oh right, siphoning the estates of mercenaries and their families to propagate the Bann campaign. ...I-I had so much hope that I could make things right by signing up with them!... But now I'm just worse off - my family, I mean - than if I had just stayed with the Haxxies and all that jazz."
Runner paused, almost expecting a harsh rebuke. But none did he receive.
"...I mean, it must sound SO silly! But yeah, that's what's been dragging me down. I feel horrible about all this."

Exhalation. Ever the art of allowing natural toxins to dissipate from the human frame, this exhalation served another purpose - the release of Runner's inner tempest.
"I'm sorry I had to make you endure this, Healer... I just felt that I had to tell someone."

The doctor stood up and placed a gloved hand on his younger comrade's shoulder. With the power of touch, words could be spared. Healer didn't vocalize his empathy, but the unwavering gaze, the windows of his soul, betrayed his absolute trust in Runner. After all, they had been in it together for a long time now; a hiccup like this wouldn't change the strength of comradeship.
In a spark of activity, Healer rustled inside his lab coat, fumbling for a few seconds before producing a stack of emerald-hued notes. Runner was taken aback, and shook his hands and head frantically.
"Doc, please! You don't need to!"
"I can't just sit back and vatch vithout doing SOMETHING to help, Runner! Go on, take it for your family."

If the emotional tempest had been unleashed for Runner, now was the time for the maelstrom of tears. With a reluctant, trembling hand, he accepted the far too generous gift, swearing to ensure it would arrive safely to its destination.

"Healer. ...t-thank you..."

---

"Alrighty everyone, roll call! Backstreet Runners 1, 2, 3? Waver Riflemen? Overweights? Firebug?..."

The orders had been issued to prepare to advance to Sixties, this time under Constructor's steely command. No-one objected to the change in leader, given the circumstances. That was the great thing about the gang's closeness - everyone looked out for each other - definitely something that couldn't be said about the Sale or Bann companies at this stage.
With the advantage of securing Atalia, RED were in high spirits - even Runner had picked up a little after his tete-a-tete with Healer. The mercenaries were all ready to move out when the internal speaker system blurted out.
"Attention RED Division L-Zero-L: would mercenary codename Flag-1 please report to the control room? I repeat, would mercenary codename Flag-1 please report to the control room?"
Requests from headquarters were usually serious matters, and often took extensive time. Looks like Runner wouldn't be able to join the battle this time round.
"Alright guys, I've gotta head up and chat with the bosses. Healer, Constructor, good luck out there, and make sure we win, alright?"
"Alvays ready! Evryvone, mach schnell! Ze time for ze capturing is now!"
"Thanks for the encouragement, pardner. We'll put in the hard yards in your absence. Take care with the exec board."
"No problem! See you later on!"
Seeing off the others as they fell into ranks and departed, Runner began to hake his way to the control room - in a brisk run, of course. He honestly had no idea what to expect in the meeting, but assumed that it would have simply been discussion about new recruits, team restructuring, or some sort of reallocation for other battlefields.

What he didn't anticipate was that his life would be changed forever.

A crackly screen greeted the young mercenary as he seated himself in the chair of the control room - a rickety, haphazardly patched up chair that in better days was used in stately homes. A blurry visual of a shady panel of official-looking people, awaiting by a poorly lit red table.
Runner dialed his headphones to the room's direct feed, and cleared his throat. "RED Control. This is L-0-L Flag-1, over."
A monotonous, almost robotic female voice - though younger than the one played overhead during a battle - returned the message. "Flag-1, copy. We've called you in because we've noticed some recent... irregular activity by yourself on the battlefield."
Well, this was unexpected. Hopefully they'll explain all this, Runner thought.
"Specifically from this morning." The screen changed to footage of himself and another figure - wait a moment, that was the BLU Infiltrator! - conversing during their mock shootout. A hot flush began to erupt from within Runner. A silent gulp.
"Audio retrieval at the site appeared to demonstrate an inappropriate level of fraternizing with an operative of our sworn enemy, Bolstered Locks Unlimited. I'm sure you are aware of our policy for such transgressions, Flag-1."
No reply, apart from quiet trembling - threatening to possess Runner's entire frame.
"The content of the unsolicited conversation was also analyzed, and the Council believes that you have also broken the Conduct with respect to discussion of Company Secrets. I realize you are wondering why we are raising this when it refers to a contract separate to your current employment contract. The relevant body has been notified and will require no further action from us."
"...RED Control Council. Will that mean...?"
The voice cut in. "As per RED policy, sanctions will be placed as your case continues to be reviewed. Effective immediately, your contract with RED will be temporarily suspended for the duration of 3 months. You will receive a penalty rate payout today to cover 4 weeks, with a payment freeze until your employment resumes. You will not be permitted to engage in RED-affiliated work or utilize any RED-supplied facilities, clothing or weaponry during this time period. You may utilise any personal possessions you have upon vacating your position in this complex, and you may take some provisions to sustain yourself as you relocate in the interim. That is all. ...any other questions, ex-mercenary?"
Runner was too stunned to reply, and failed to take note of the executive's closing greeting before the screen returned to its state of limbo. Nor did he take any notice of the printout just coming through facsimile, with a green and mink header...

-NOTICE OF TERMINATION OF CONTRACT - BANN MERCANTILE GROUP PTY. LTD.-



~~~



Part 4


The setting sun stained the skies a blood red in the barren bowl of dirt plains. Devoid of natural life across the horizon, the skeletal remains of uninhabited buildings - strangely, that of former battlegrounds - was all that remained as a landmark. And it was here that the now vocation-less, casually garbed Runner had intended to stay for at least the beginning of his twelve weeks' forced leave. He had packed rather heavily for such a brief trek - although denied a firearm, he still has his personal bat for self-defense; he had accumulated - well, forcibly taken from the RED garrison's pantry - enough food supplies to last himself a week; his notepad and pen, now stripped of any contract tracking; the unsent stack of money, which might have to be repurposed; and of course, clothes.

Before departing the RED garrison, he had written a note for the others informing them of his plight, and his planned destination. He was sure he would not get a response, but Runner felt better making sure that everyone knew where he intended to be. He had affirmed to himself that he would try and contact them if possible - as risky as that was, Runner knew he wouldn't survive alone for long, and he did need some help if he were going to make it through his suspension.

The celestial dome was beginning to enter a darker shade, and Runner started hurtling himself towards getting into the Dirtbowl facility - his chosen place of refuge - as quickly as possible. The Dirtbowl was a site of old conflict, where RED had successfully prevented BLU from launching a test missile into the stratosphere, where it would have intercepted global telecommunications. Now, the site was a wreck, but still maintained most of its furnishings, making it a respectable point of rest.
With his mind tunnelled toward getting to the security of Dirtbowl, it was no surprise that Runner failed to notice the partially buried ...thing he tripped over, scattering his belongings into the dust.

"Ow, that was completely out of nowhere! Hold on, what did I trip on exactly? Let me take a closer look..."
He went over and began brushing the surface of the submerged objects. It wasn't long before he found that he would have to dig to get any further - so dig he did. Without a shovel, he was stuck with using his bat - an unfortunate use of his treasured possession, but he didn't want to risk his hands completely. Perhaps he was a bit too rough with digging, as before long he accidentally smacked the object with a clean hit.

With sudden ferocity, the object began to vibrate, and broke free from its terranean prison, assuming a battle ready stance. It was armed with a sword!
Runner scrambled back, bat at the ready. Wait a minute, wasn't that the robot that sometimes found its way into the squad?
Why was it in the middle of the Bitlands, discarded and unused?
The robot, for its own part, wasn't able to sustain its posture, and slouched, resting on its weapon. Well, certainly not a threat now.
Dropping his own bat, Runner took but a few moments before running over to his scattered belongings - they hadn't moved out of sight, thankfully - and grabbed his notepad. Scribbling a few notes - "I'm not hostile, just out of a job. Are you the robot who Bann wanted to participate in a 'spur' arena?" - he handed the sheet of paper over to the robot. He received a silent nod, and the robot had enough energy to gesture to its antennae - or were they ears - and then a thumbs up.
Runner took the cue. "Mm, I suspected as much. I guess something went amiss, and you were abandoned. You've been betrayed by Bann too, haven't you? ...I've got an idea. Let's go to the abandoned Dirtbowl, and I'll try and fix you up. Would you be okay with that? I can carry you, no biggie."
The robot perked up upon hearing this, but insisted on walking itself over when Runner went to pick it up.

That was settled then. As Runner collected his belongings, the robot began to scout forward - while they weren't far from safety, there was always the potential for danger out in the wild.
Thankfully, the journey itself was uneventful, but what - or who - greeted them on their arrival was certainly a surprise.
"What the hell? Infiltrator?!"
"Yes, yes indeed. I didn't realize you had a ro- Oof! Get off me."
But Runner was too caught up in his emotions to comply, as he lunged into Infiltrator with a bloodthirsty aura.
"Gee, thanks SO MUCH for screwing me up even more. Now I'm out of a job, almost defenseless, and without a place to live. Thanks. A. Lot."
Knocking the European down to the ground, he raised a fist and prepared to strike.
The robot jumped in and tugged at Runner to ease off. Runner glared sideways and reconsidered, before surrendering against his own judgement.
"Thank you."
Dusting himself off - not that it was a priority, as his own clothes lacked the uniformed shine of his BLU set - Infiltrator recomposed himself, and continued:
"Look, Runner, I realize you have completely justified reasons for wanting me dead at present, but hear me out. When I spoke with you earlier, I did not expect any sort of surveillance to be in place. I had been reassured from earlier reconnaissance that the area was free from such spying. I had certainly not expected nor anticipated either of us to be fired from our jobs."
Runner looked puzzled. Surely Infiltrator - an agent who had found out the darkest secrets of BMC - knew everything? What did he miss?
"My only guess is that someone in BLU was a mole for Bann or Sale - a loyal mercenary extremist, if you will. Alas, I've lost contact since I was booted out of BLU."
A pause. The robot seemed particularly eager to head inside - after all, it was promised that it would be patched up.
"Ah yes, about the automaton. Isn't that the RED model? Surely the BLU model would be around somewhere."
"Oh, you mean the girl robot? ...I didn't see her around. Darn it, I totally should have looked harder." Runner turned to the robot, which was visibly distraught. "I'm sorry little guy, I totally didn't think about her when I first found you outside. Cross my heart that we'll find her, okay?"
The robot was still upset, but neither Runner nor Infiltrator could work out why.
"Let's go inside first - I did say I'd fix you up, right?" To Infiltrator, a slightly venomous question. "So what do you say we should do, secret agent? Get caught again?"
"Well, I would be satisfied in following your suggestion. Let's get the robot fixed."

---

The interior of the Dirtbowl - well, the former BLU headquarters of it - was, despite its lack of use, still abuzz with nauseatingly flashing lights and electronic beeps. Certainly appropriate for data interpretation and updating the robot's firmware if necessary, but physical repairs would be difficult as supplies were low. The robot didn't express a need for a tune-up however, so the erstwhile mercenaries could afford some time to discuss their next course of action.

"...wait, so you're saying that Bann is after you as well?"
"If I were to take what a shady BLU merc told me after the Atalia campaign at face value, yes, they are out to silence me permanently."
Runner smirked.
"Well, I guess all three of us have a bone to pick with that lying mercenary group. They destroyed my life; they want to kill you; they ignore the contribution of the scout robots in the wars."
"Indeed. Say, Runner..."

Infiltrator went to the main computer, checked that it was no longer linked to any of the companies, and then slipped a small flash drive into it.
The maxi display screen hissed and crackled into life, and before long had projected a regional hologram of the Dirtbowl, Truefort and Harvest areas. Various textboxes materialized, listing vital information on many of the seemingly inconspicuous buildings. And there, just by the fringe of the Dirtbowl first stage, was the emerald BMC logo.

Runner was taken aback. "Woooooowwww... to think that we never used this technology in our old day to day battles. You are a gold mine of information, you know that?"
"Oh, hardly. You flatter me - I am just a man with an inquisitive mind and some skill with a knife and gun."
Runner knew that his companion was just trying to be modest.
Infiltrator dexterously pointed towards the Bann building's position with a gloved hand, cigrette in tow.
"Well, now that we've found a Bann sub-complex, don't you feel a desire to strike back for they've done at us?"
"...I kinda like that idea, but... don't we have like nothing to fight with?"
"Well, I wasn't lying when I said I have connections, Runner."

A swift tap of a keyboard, and the projection transformed into a database of what appeared to be a network of mercenary classes.
"All these people, Runner, are my contacts. I can get them to bring over weapons, supplies, practically anything. All for a cost, naturally."
"Whoa. I... I didn't expect you to have this much influence in the region. ...wait, why are you trusting me with all this knowledge? I was on the other gang to you, and yet, you're treating me like your closest friend."
Infiltrator chuckled as he replaced his cigarette.
"Why? You're trustworthy. I worked out that much from our duels. Not to mention, it's not like there's anyone else around to help me. Well, the robot would count, but I meant in terms of humans."
Turning back to the keyboard, he continued.
"What I propose is that we accumulate some funds to allow use to utilize my contacts' services - I'm sure there are citizens of Truefort who need help, and you're a sprightly young fellow fit for such tasks - and then, we strike. Where there is Bann, there must be more money. And secrets."
"You mean... You want me - I mean, you and me - to lay siege on BMC...? Expose the truth of their dirty campaign? ...we can DO this? I mean, that's totally insane! Insane, but... it feels right."
The robot beeped as it began to spring into reanimation. Walking over to it, Runner, unplugged the robot from its charger connections. Now free of cluttered cords, it ambled over to Infiltrator's keyboard, and wrestled control of it.
"Ohoho, and what are you doing, little automaton?"
The European received a cold stare in reply. With lightning fingers, the large monitor began to display a series of words.
=My memory has recovered. My companion robot from BLU team, code C#### B####, was taken into that BMC garrison. I will show you my video recorded memory - it explains better than I can with words.=
The robot's grasp of language surprised Runner in particular. From what they knew, this robot was mute (unlike the BLU girl robot), but they were aware that it could understand the mercenaries' conversations. Just... not to this extent.
It pointed to the docking port again. Runner enquired:
"Uh, you want me to plug in this S-VGA cord or something? I think that's the one for video...?"
The robot nodded, and was promptly hooked up. The hologram fizzled with new life, and a footage of the area outside Dirtbowl began to play.

An old, wrinkled, debatably fashionable man spoke with calm monotony. "How very disappointing. The robots are programmed to disobey the First Law of Robotics, and yet they will not turn their weapons on anyone. More concerning is that none of the Mercantile came."
The view panned to a feminine looking robot that was staring at the ground. Shame?
"Hanako, record this venture as a failure. We will need to find a means to make the robot division a true terror of a class so mercenaries respect and fear them - as they are considered scrap, if this is anything to go by. Hmm... no-one would suspect the female to be a ruthless murderer, would they? Take her in. If Project Brace succeeds, we should be able to move into the mass production phase."
High pitched screaming and protests - the words were inaudible. The vision began to shake and tremble - evidently the robot had moved in to protect its companion from her impending fate.
A gunshot, and the visual feed swung to the ground, fizzling irregularly.
"Good work ZaSpai. Ensure that the robot's memory is damaged beyond repair. Icy, make use of your equipment for once, and give this scrap metal an unmarked grave."

The feed cut out. Runner ran over to the robot and hugged it. Despite its metal build, Runner felt that the robot experienced human emotion - and what it had been through was simply heartbreaking and terrifying. Something he could empathise with.

Infiltrator nodded gently. "Such a sad story. We are most thankful for sharing your returned memory - speaking of which, whatever those Bann scum did obviously wasn't enough to break through your resolve. I take it you'll join us."
The robot nodded, unplugged itself, and typed:
=Affirmative. It's not just about C#### B####, even though she and I are close. It's about our role in shaping the wars. I'm glad that the two of you acknowledge us as being equals to mercenaries.=
An extra pair of eyes, arms and legs would never be turned down, especially not with that resolve-
And now, this left Runner.."Well? You've had some time to think it through, Runner. Care to join us?"
It didn't take long for Runner to make a decision. He offered a hand.
"You know what, Infiltrator, I think we can work well together on this. It's a deal."
"Excellent, my dear friend. Welcome aboard. Now, since we are acting as renegade agents, to avoid suspicion, we should address the matter of codenames..."
"Codenames?"
The robot typed again.
=I am model Q####, but since almost everyone recognises that, I wish to choose the codename 'Scout'.=
Infiltrator was pleased. "Very well. For myself, I would call myself 'S Pawn'. As in espion, French for spy."
Runner could not refrain from giggling a bit at Infiltrator's choice. Unfortunately, try as hard as he could, Runner struggled to think of a codename for himself.

He did, however, have another idea to tell the others.
"Sorry guys, I'm kinda still thinking of my own codename; but you know what? I think I've got a catchy title for us..."

---

And thus began the crusade of the Garrison Runners. With the convictions of the Runner who lost (practically) everything, the connections of the Infiltrator who knew (almost) everything, and the contemplations of the robot whose memory and adaptability could see through (possibly) anything, a dream of exposing the reality of the Bitland Wars was born. The legacy of the corporate juggernauts in these wars would never be the same.



FIN



~~~
« Last Edit: September 06, 2015, 08:50:56 am by ZaSpai »
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ZaSpai

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Re: [Writing] - [ZaSpai] - [Narrative/Fanfiction] - [The Garrison Runners]
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2015, 08:48:35 am »

Since the last post, the narrative received some revisions which have pushed the total character count over the limit for a single post. How frustrating.

As before, critiques/comments welcome. It's a long read, but I think you'll enjoy it if you put in the time to read it through.

Since I removed some of the out of story text from OP I'll post them here.

The theme was inspired by a certain other setting involving Runners. Each of the Garrison Runners represents a faction in the other setting.

Special thanks to Hanako for assistant consultation, post-draft suggestions (of which I've taken most on board), as well as talking about context development which actually occurred a little while back. As Hanako hasn't exactly directly helped with the writing, I don't believe this would qualify for a dual submission.
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[FR]YB

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Re: [Writing] - [ZaSpai] - [Narrative/Fanfiction] - [The Garrison Runners]
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2015, 03:50:06 pm »

It's a long read, but I think you'll enjoy it if you put in the time to read it through.
Can confirm

(click to show/hide)

There's probably more to say, but I'd have to read it again to find more. Overall you did really well and it was worth reading. :c1:
« Last Edit: September 06, 2015, 03:50:46 pm by [FR]YB »
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