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The Team Fortress Testing Initiative

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“And that's what that book ‘The Metamorphosis’ was about; a human who was so stupid that he turned into a bug, so his brain would fit properly into his skull.” Wheatley said to Scout, who was listening with rapt attention.

 

“Damn. Heavy’s always sayin’ it's a metaphor about how change affects people or somethin’ like that.” Scout responded, bouncing a tennis ball against the wall.

 

“Well, what would he know? You know what a PhD is? It's a form of self-validation. And his PhD is in Russian literature, isn't it?” Wheatley asked.

 

“Yeah,” Scout said

 

“Well, the original text was in German, and you don't hear that doctor saying anything about redemption, do you?” Wheatley pointed out.

 

“Yeah… yeah !” Scout said, standing up. “You're right!”

 

“Of course I’m right,” Wheatley said. “Now―”

 

“I don't know what he’s talking about, but he's definitely incorrect.” Spy said, walking into the room, making Scout jump.

 

“What are you doin’ here?” Scout was indignant.

 

Spy sighed. “I need the thing,” he said, gesturing to Wheatley.

 

“Well, what happened to your old sapper?” Scout rather liked hanging out with Wheatley. He was a goldmine of information, and he wasn't condescending about sharing it.

 

“It’s in the repair shop. Having to disable dozens of level three sentries will do that to a machine.”

 

Wheatley’s eye widened.

 

“Thank you,” Spy said, snatching the robot from the floor.

 


 

“Are we sneaking?”

 

“Alright, I'm disabling this machine now…”

 

“Act natural, we’ve done nothing wrong, right?”

 

“Why don't you just stab him, that way we can eliminate the need for hacking?”

 


 

After seventeen trips to respawn, the battle was over, and Spy didn't hesitate to follow their Engineer back to his workshop.

 

“Can you find some way to remove the speakers on this thing?” Spy asked, holding Wheatley up on the air.

 

“What? Hey!” he said as he was being waved around in the air for emphasis.

 

“Uh…” Engie really wasn't prepared for this debacle.

 

“If you removed my speakers, I would be a living, sensory being, with no way to communicate to the outside world. Do you know what that is? That is torture . Literally. Philosophically, that is one of the worst forms of torture a being can experience.” Wheatley said, still held high in the air.

 

“Y’all know I don't do philosophy.” Engie said. He’d met the “Ap-Sap”― Wheatley― once before, when handling the calibration settings, but he’d been programming the device at the time, so he’d never heard it talk.

 

“Well―” Wheatley began, but Spy cut him off.

 

“Please, just disable it.”

 

“Tell ya what, I’ve got your old sapper,” he handed it over. “Right here. That oughta do ya.”

 

Spy frowned at it. “True, but if I ever have to use this thing again…”

 

Even though Engie didn't do philosophy, and he didn't really think the robot was sentient, he didn't feel comfortable taking away its ability to speak. “Look, even if I would shut this thing up,” he said, taking it from Spy, “I don't know if I could. This ain't like any machinery I've ever seen. Hell, the bolts alone don't match any of my wrenches.”

 

Engie turned Wheatley around in his hands, analyzing the core-turned-sapper.

 

“I feel this is a violation of my personal space,” Wheatley protested.

 

“Aperture Laboratories― that was all the talk at my class reunion, shame it was just a myth.” Engie said all to himself, looking at the logo printed on the metal.

 

“What do you mean, a myth?” Spy said, raising an eyebrow. Normally, he would have just prodded Engie back to the present, but that sapper had caused much more trouble than just shoddy fieldwork.

 

“Well, the factory creates sappers and other specialty devices, apparently Pauling got this sapper from the place.” Engie murmured. “But the story is that the place is actually some messed up research facility. People trapped there as human guinea pigs, technology unlike any ever seen― stuff that would put my teleporters to shame. And actual AIs. This thing,” Engie gestured to Wheatley. “Is likely just a context-stimulated response generator. A box that pretends to talk, in layman’s terms. Probably why Pauling never got any more sappers from the company.” Engie said.

 

“That’s not true!” Wheatley protested, but it was lost amidst the conversation.

 

“Why do you care?” Engie asked Spy, puzzled. “Normally you just try and stop me from yammerin’.”

 

“I think I've taken a tour of this facility you are talking about. It’s not just a factory. And I have some questions you might know the answer to.” Spy was calm.

 

Engie was not. “You’ve ‘taken a tour’? Wait, wait― does this have anything to do when you had to find Scout about a week ago? And y’all missed dinner?”

 

“To all of those questions, yes.” Spy said.

 

“Well, then, bring him in. If this is anything like you're implying, I need to hear more about it.” Engie was leaning forward on his desk chair now, animated with curiosity.

 

“For scientific purposes or so you will be the center of attention at your next class reunion?” Spy questioned him.

 

“Probably both,” Engie replied.

 


 

By the time they had finished the story― Scout and Spy rushing to cut each other off whenever they could― it was not only Engie, but all of the mercenaries, who were gathered around the workshop table.

 

“Interesting,” Sniper said.

 

“So ‘interesting’, I find it hard to believe it happened. Especially considering that we’re only hearing about it now.” Medic chimed in.

 

Nobody noticed Scout leave the room.

 

“Why would I lie about this?” Spy addressed Medic, but it was Heavy who answered:

 

“Shame. You were lost.” the words were short, but they carried weight. Spy, lost and scared in the middle of nowhere? Unthinkable, but more likely than the other story.

 

“First of all, that is not what happened,” said Spy. “And, secondly, if it had― which I again will remind you it didn't― you really think that going along with a story that Scout made up would be my course of action? Of course not. The sheer ridiculousness of the event proves it to be true. There was simply no point in saying anything earlier, especially since I knew the credibility of this story is doubtful at best.”

 

“Well―” Demo said, but he was cut off by Scout slamming the door open like a drama queen on a reality T.V. show.

 

“If I were makin’ this up, then where did I get these ?” he planted a foot in front of him― a foot encased in a Long-Fall Boot. He'd been set to wear them everywhere, right up until he’d caught himself in the mirror after he’d come home. He’d stowed them in the back of his closet and never put them on again.

 

Well, until now.

 

It was impossible to tell who burst out laughing first. Engie calmed down the soonest, chortling until he looked closer at the sleek quality and careful design of the boots. “Come over here, boy,” he said, a grin still tugging at the side of his mouth. “Lemme see that.”

 

Scout bounced over― literally; these things were like springs for his feet― and  raised a foot, trying to keep the awkwardness to a minimum.

 

Engie could see the purpose of the boots, the way they were structured so a fall would never hurt the wearer, so long as they landed feet-first. He tapped his chin, Newton’s laws and energy equations swirling around in his mind.

 

Engie said, “Boy, I need you to walk around. Need to see more of it. How it works and such.” Actually, he didn't. But when would an opportunity like this arise again?

 

Scout blushed, but it was for the best. He paraded around the room, slowly walking heel-to-toe as he watched Engie watching him.

 

Engie did his best to keep a straight face. “Alright, now walk backwards.”

 

“Wha―”

 

Engie snapped his fingers. “It's important, boy.”

 

Everyone had caught on, and as Scout walked backwards― and straight into the wall― Demo had to hide his laughs in a round of fake coughing.

 

“These ceilings are high, boy.” Engie said, and it was all he could do to keep the smile off of his face. “Jump.”

 

“Did― didja say ‘jump’?”

 

“Yup. You have to jump.” The ceilings were tall, but if Engie’s guess was right, they weren't tall enough. “Just once.”

 

Scout was scarlet now. But it was okay; it was to prove it happened. And Engie was a total genius at these things.

 

He sprang up and collided with the ceiling, hitting a light fixture with his forehead and landing on the floor with no dignity whatsoever.

 

“HAH! HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!” Engie cried, slapping his knee. The rest joined in for another fit of laughter. “Holy hell, that was funny, boy. But in all seriousness,” he said, seeing the red mark on Scout’s head and feeling bad, “All I wanna see now is the gun.”

 

“The… gun?” Scout asked.

 

Engie put his hands on the table. “This could make teleportin’ on the field revolutionary. If you can give it to me, within a week, I can give a working model to all of us.”

 

“Um, I don't have it,” Scout said, avoiding his gaze.

 

Engie straightened up. “What do ya mean, you don’t have it ?”

 

“Uh, I think I dropped it somewhere after we left the place, before we got back in Spy’s car. It's cool, though,” Scout said. “I like the teleporters we have now.”

 

Engie leaned in closer to everyone gathered around the table. He had a fire in his eyes― and as everyone would soon find out, enough metal detectors to go around.