You did not grab the object right away. Still hunched over, you allowed the silence to weigh down on your shoulders. Various thoughts popped in and out of your head as you kept re-analyzing the strange golden object. Finally, you reached into the depths of the shelf to pull out the box that it sat in.
It required moving some of the other various items that were piled on top of its bar shape. You grabbed the object only to be surprised at how heavy it was. It now rested in your palms, and its surface mirrored back a distorted figure of your face.
A dash of astonishment came across you while gazing down at the bar. “Is this some type of gold…?” You mumbled to yourself. The tips of your fingers grazed on its bottom, but something rigid and bumpy replaced the smooth slick feeling you’ve observed so far.
Slowly, you flipped to reveal its bottom. Writing was elegantly engraved into it. Though, it seems that you were holding it upside down. You corrected the quick error. The typography was extremely curly and decorated, so it took a few scans of the word before you could comprehend what it read. Your body went stiff.
It was your last name.
Over and over, you kept rereading the fancy lettering. It left you frightened, but somewhat excited as well. What does this mean? This was an odd discovery to unearth. It only made sense to leave you in a mixed emotion of joy and fear.
Perhaps you were a few hundred dollars richer? It seemed like a fairly heavy ingot. Or it was just a crazy coincidence that it had your surname? Maybe your last name was more common than you thought. Sure, you’ve seen golden bars in the movies, but nothing ever like this in real life.
After putting the remaining junk on the shelf you rose to your feet. Holding the bar close to your body, you collected what items that still sat on the desk from writing. With one more glance at the clock (it was far later than you wished it was), you juggled your things back to your room.
That night at dinner you enthusiastically explained your discovery with your team. Your constant use of the term “gold” seemed to puzzle them. There were times that you noticed that some of the men would exchange various looks with one another. The only one who seemed just as energized about your discovery was Scout. But only out of jealousy because you found a “fancy-schmancy metal”.
The golden bar didn’t leave your mind all meal. What made you the most excited was revealing your treasure to Spy at some point. He seems like the type of person to know what to do with valuables like that. So maybe he could give you some tips on how to cash it out once you get the chance.
Conversations passed around the dinner table returned to normal soon after. Every now and then you would pick up your head to scan the dining room. On multiple occasions you caught Sniper giving you a rather odd look. Once your eyes would settle on him, he would slowly turn his head back down towards his plate or to one of the mercenaries next to him. It was quite peculiar, as it was never brought to your attention that the bushman has looked at you like that in the past.
Once the meal ended and everything was almost cleaned up, you were about to head to your room for the evening. You stood at the sink drying the last few dishes when you felt a few gentle taps on your shoulder.
It turned out to be Sniper.
He took a few steps back to give some distance between you, the sink, and himself.
“Oh, hey ‘Snipe! What’s up?” You greeted with a friendly smile.
“Heya, Back-- ya know the gold bar thing you were talkin’ about at the table?” His voice spoke in his common deep mumble. If it weren’t only the two of you in the kitchen, you probably wouldn’t have heard what he had said.
“Yeah, what about it?”
The man brought his hand to the back of his neck as his eyes glazed over the room. He spoke in an even quieter tone now, “Can… Can I take a look at it? I promise I won’t steal it from ya... ‘Just curious is all.”
Your cheerfulness still shined, “Of course, it’s in my room. You can come and check it out if you want.”
Sniper shook his head in response. He took a step closer, probably so you could hear him a bit more clearly, “Bring it to my van. There’s something I might wanna show ya.”
Something in your brain clicked and a sudden boost of energy shot through your veins. Mystery was lingering right in front of you, and you wanted to take the bait. Eagerly, you nodded your head, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Without further conversation, Sniper spun on his heel and walked out of the room. You felt yourself pick up the pace of putting the last of the silverware away and headed to your room to get the ingot. With quick speed, you jogged towards his van.
The only exception the Administrator had made in regards to going out of the facility after hours for the mercs was the front (as opposed to the back where most of the fighting and cleaning happens). Here is where Engie’s workshop garage doors opened up to, and just a few yards ahead sat Sniper’s van. There was a room for the huntsman within the building, but he always insisted on being put separate from the rest of the group. He valued his alone time.
A small light peaked through the closed shutters; he must already be inside. After lightly knocking on the door, you waited while rocking on the balls of your feet. It took a moment, but eventually, Sniper opened the door and ushered you in to take a seat.
You retreated to the little table that sat in the corner of the cramped space. Sniper placed a warm mug of… something... down on the table before sitting across from you. His hands were folded as they supported his chin, he eyed your hands which covered the bar that sat in your lap.
“Let’s take a look at it now, yeah?” He questioned. The hum in his voice didn’t show any sign of rudeness, he was just as much on the edge of his seat as you were to figure out what this thing was.
Slowly, you lifted the golden object to present to him. The shine of it reflected onto the vehicle’s rooftop when revealed under the light. Sniper’s mouth hung agape slightly. He did not take it right away from your hands; his awe left him immobile for a few moments.
“Where did ya find this again?” His hand finally reached for the bar, taking it out of your grasp tenderly.
“I was in my office putting a few things away before dinner. It was sitting in a box on the bottom shelf.” Bravely, you decided to take a sip of the mysterious liquid in the mug to clear your throat. To your relief, it was only green tea.
Sniper must have felt the ridges on the bottom because he flipped it over to reveal the text in the light. It took him some time to scan over the word as you both sat in silence. His eyes squinted before raising back up to look at you. “Isn’t this your last name?”
“Yeah! It’s weird, isn’t it? Maybe my last name is more common than I thought? Still, I wouldn’t understand why it’s on there.” There was another pause as he looked at you blankly not knowing how to respond. You let out a small sigh, “I just don’t get it, why would anybody have a piece of gold with my name on it just laying around?”
Pushing his aviators up with his hand, Sniper rubbed his eyes sleepily. “I don’t think that’s gold, sheila.”
You raised a brow, “What is it then?” From what knowledge you had about gold, most of the traits of the bar seemed accurate in your book.
He placed the bar on the table and rose from his seat. Near the front entrance of the van, there was a small knob that poked out of the wall. He grabbed onto and slid to open a wide cupboard. A long black case was held between the space. Sniper took one of the ends of the case and brought the entirety of the container down onto the van’s floor. Unlocking the latches of the case, he opened to reveal a bright golden reflection, only this one was much, much larger than the one your ingot mirrored.
What looked like a sniper rifle made out of a golden material now sat on the table. Sniper picked up the bar and placed it side-by-side with the long barrel of the gun. “See? It’s the exact same material.” He waved his hand down at the two items.
You were left in awe. It was difficult for you to come up with a response, but finally, you managed to croak out, “What is it?”
“This here is what they call Australium. Have ya ever heard of it before?”
You shook your head. “It doesn’t even sound real.”
“That seems to be the way they wanna keep it, bloody mongrels,” His hand pointed down at the ingot, “Your bar looks a lot different from normal blocks of Australium I’ve ever seen. If it weren’t for the shine, your last name, an’ placin’ it next to my weapon I’d mistake it for gold, too.”
“What does a normal block of Australium look like?” You leaned in to look at the bar once again.
“Normally they’d have some bogan fighting a ‘roo on the top. Yours seems to be missing that.”
“Huh? Who’s fighting a what?”
“It’s not important right now-- what is is that you’ve got a ‘real high valuable item on ya. Be careful who ya show it off to. People are real bloody life-sucking greed pots nowadays. I’d even suggest keepin’ it as much of a secret from the other blokes as much as possible.” Sniper grabbed onto the rifle and carefully placed it back into its box.
“I don’t mean to sound rude when I say this, but then why are you helping me? Wouldn’t that mean you would want to take it too?” You cocked an eyebrow at the man. He had just finished putting away the case and sat back down.
“Ya don’t have to worry about me, it seems like I couldn’t get away from this bloody dosh even if I tried…” A grumble followed after his words.
“What makes this stuff so valuable? I was never told about something like this growing up. Is it just super rare?” You slid the bar closer to your side of the table, but your attention never left Sniper. He sat in his thoughts for a few moments.
“... There isn’t much more I can tell ya… Just know to watch your back. We can’t have anything nice around here it seems. I wouldn’t know if they’d give ya the fair suck of the sav and leave yer stuff alone. It doesn't matter if it has your last name on it or not.”
He almost sounded unsure of his choice of words. His line of view refused to look in your direction now as well. All his concentration was on his hands that were once mindlessly tapping against the table’s surface. Once he finished talking there was more silence held amongst the two of you.
To alleviate the awkwardness you took one final sip from your mug and stood up. “Well, thanks for the insight... And tea. I’ll try to remember what you told me and keep it safe.” You lifted the ingot to show him one final time with a weak smile. Sniper bobbed his head.
“Yep. G’night Back-uh. See ya in the morning.”
You quickly waved and departed from the RV. Before entering back into the compounds of the facility, you faced out into the open desert and loose gravel road that was paved nearby. The night sky had settled in on the rocky horizon, and only the distance sounds of chirping crickets filled the air.
It was a moment of concentration for you. Sniper’s advice played back in your head. This gold…
This Australium bar seems to be important. At least important enough to draw a rather reserved person like Sniper’s attention. Tucking it tight between your arm, you made your way back to your room.
Upon arriving you immediately hopped onto your bed. You couldn’t help but flip the ingot over to reveal where your name was engraved. It was surreal, but mesmerizing all the while. After some time you broke eye contact with it and looked back over to the mini teleporter that sat on your dresser across the room.
Since you already told Spy that you were going to be done writing for the night, you were hesitant about your next action:
Should you turn it back on to write to him again tonight?
This newfound material made you antsy to show off to him. Perhaps he might know a thing or two about Australium.
An idea popped into your head.
You rummaged through your room until you eventually found an old notebook and a pen. You began to write,
The teleporter bloomed itself to life in all its mechanical glory. You waited for some time, but no glow came from the box. First, you placed the note down on the platform of the teleporter. Then, taking the Australium block from your bed, you placed the bar on top to work as a paperweight.
At some point, he was bound to turn it back on. So what if you just left something on the teleporter to send when it’s activated next? It was at least worth a shot. Once satisfied with your idea, you got yourself situated for the evening. You tried to sit yourself down and read from Les Misérables, but you found that it just wasn’t nearly as enjoyable without Spy around. So instead, you ended up picking up another book you packed and reading that until you fell asleep.
That entire night left you tossing and turning. It was like how a little kid is waiting for Santa Claus to arrive on Christmas day; you were desperate to find potential answers in the morning. Your dreams kept gnawing at what the metal might be, all to only leave you stranded in the fog of mystery it evokes.
The alarm clock on your bedside began to ring its cry. Immediately, you shot up from your bed and slammed down a hand to silence it. Your first instinct was to glance in the direction where the teleporter sat. Still, no light came from the machine, but you did notice something different about the Australium’s position.
A piece of paper sat on top of the bar.
You hopped out of bed and immediately observed the changes made. The note was now in your hands as you read,
His note made you smile. It was pretty comedic, as you began to notice he spoke just as formally as he wrote. You let a small snicker escape your lips.
Observing the note once again, a sudden form of shock overcame you. There was a Teufort library? You wanted to kick yourself for not knowing earlier, or at least asking. Nonetheless, it was an exciting piece of news to discover.
Speaking of asking, maybe he was right. There’s bound to be some kind of book about Australium. Who’s better to ask about resources to send to base other than Miss Pauling? She gave you that as an offer to your team to make fortress life a little more bearable. It was the beginning of a new week, so the team had to have a video briefing before any missions with her anyways.
You could hear loud footsteps marching down the hall. It was Soldier, you already knew that as a fact. He was preparing to wake everyone up in his militia-like manner. Immediately, you plucked the ingot and teleporter off the stand, shoved it into your wardrobe, and closed the doors. The sound of rampant knocking and fiddling of your locked doorknob signified it was another day’s worth of missions.
“That should be all. Good luck today, guys.” Pauling concluded by giving a smile to the group. The men who were all once congregated around the monitor in your office dispersed while giving their own cheer or howl as a farewell. You sat patiently as each man filed out of the room. Once everyone left and the door was closed behind them you spoke up,
“Hey, Miss Pauling?”
“Oh, you’re still here Backer! What’s up?”
“I had a question regarding getting something sent here to the base.”
“Sure thing! What is it you’re wanting?” Her voice seemed interested, but she wasn’t looking at you on her screen. From her side, she was scurrying around the room trying to collect some papers to put into a briefcase.
“I was interested in renting a book from the library. Is it possible to get anything about Australium?”
She went completely still. Not one muscle moved out of position from the last action she was about to take. Her head slowly began to turn in the direction of the camera. A look of disbelief rested on her face.
“Australium…?” She repeated back.
“Yeah! I just found out about it yesterday. I asked around to some of the other guys and they don’t really seem to know much about it. So I thought it would be interesting to learn more.” You grinned at the purple woman. She visibly seemed to get more uncomfortable by the second.
“Uhh… I…” She trailed off. Her eyes returned to the room around her, “I… Don’t think the local library carries any books about the thing you’re wanting.”
“Are you sure? Have you tried to get a book about it before too?”
“Maybe books have been added since last time you looked! Could we at least check, please?”
Even more silence.
“... Miss Pauling?”
“I gotta get going, Backer. I’ll check up on you guys later.” With that, the monitor flipped off to a black screen. You were just left to sit there completely bewildered.
That… was strangely out of character for Miss Pauling. It was like she wasn’t even willing to try and look it up for you. An unsettling pit sat in your stomach. Bringing a finger up to the side of the monitor, you switched it so it would then show some of the cameras that hung around the facility and outside. The bridge between the two buildings sat dead quiet. It was only a matter of time until whatever chaos would ensue in that exact place.
Walking over to the bookshelf, you picked up your large red megaphone. You took a second to tighten the armband with the Backer symbol on it. After you rearranged your appearance as to how you wanted to present yourself, you opened the back door hidden on the side of the wall to give the team their pep talk.
Whatever the day brought…
“Mission begins in ten minutes.”
… you hoped it would go by quickly.
There was a lot you needed to tell Spy.
The missions given by the Administrator went by rather fast. Your team was crowned victorious for all three objectives fought. For the large mess made that needed to be cleaned after, the boys managed to pull off an almost flawless performance. The thought couldn’t help but make you laugh, the BLU team must have had an off day. It was even more hilarious to think about how Spy reacted to their defeat.
It wasn’t even eight in the evening before you finished cleaning (along with Scout’s help-- if it was even considered helping), ate dinner, and were getting ready to settle down. With glee, you went back over to your wardrobe and pulled out the teleporter. You set it on your nightstand and began to come up with a note for your blue friend.
It took some time, but eventually the whizzing and glows of the teleporter became known. Spy had his on as well. Now, you were able to exchange notes in real-time and give him some information as to what was going on. You wrote to him first greeting him, and he responded with a few personal questions like how your day was and such.
The small talk was nice for an introduction, but now you wanted to get down to business. You put aside a note that he just sent as a reply. Taking out a new piece of paper, you debriefed the situation,
Something came through a few minutes later.
You felt shaky by this point. Whether it be from frustration or anxiousness, it still made you think back to all the strange occurrences that have happened within the last few days. As you wrote your response, you found it more and more difficult to maintain your best handwriting. After a few minutes of painstaking concentration, you sent your response to him.
You could feel your heart race thinking back. The mini-teleporters, the odd behavior from Medic and Engie, Sniper’s strange interest in your Australium but apparently not knowing much about it, and Miss Pauling's sudden panic. It was taking Spy a long time to get back to you. Once an answer arrived all that sat on the teleporter’s platform was a tiny slip of paper.
“What…?” You mumbled out loud while raising a brow. You looked at your alarm clock. It read 8:21 p.m.
Now your curiosity was starting to boil over. It was such an odd and out of the blue question to ask. Your eyes never left the teleporter since you sent the paper. In the shortest amount of time ever this evening, another small slip of paper appeared.
Without even a second thought, you shot up from your bed and quickly began to put on your uniform. Then it dawned on you; what if someone were to come in and check on you?
Your fingers snapped when you came up with something.
At your bedside, you took a pillow and flipped it on its side vertically. The blankets were then tucked up as high as they could go, and you took a step back to look at your masterpiece. Oh yeah, it looks like you were sleeping alright.
Turning off the teleporter and the lights in your room, you made sure that everything else seemed to be in place. Once satisfied you tip-toed to the door (without trying to put too much weight on your ankle). With the same delicacy, you opened and shut it behind you.
Dusk was still on the horizon in the desert of the Badlands.
And it was calling your name.