Chapter 1: 1. No Weapons
The mercenaries living at the Pauling Institute for the Betterment of Mankind were a rough bunch. They were, after all, a large gathering of the most dangerous people in the world, always armed to the teeth with threatening weapons such as shotguns (sawn-off, modified or otherwise), rocket launchers (old or futuristic), kindly-treated miniguns, pistols, butterfly knives, machetes, baseball bats, bottles, jars of dubious fluids and many more. Every man and woman here lived by their weapons and took good care of them, knowing that, despite the miracles of Respawn and Mediguns, their lives might one day depend on them.
All that being said, even dangerous mercenaries have to eat sometimes. The mess hall, once a robot production floor, had not only become their go-to place for a quick snack or a more complicated meal, but also the main hub for social connections. There was always at least one group of mercs who had claimed one of the old, crooked tables and a bunch of cheap plastic chairs to play cards, show off new tricks or just catch up with each other.
Unfortunately, though, these mercenaries were violent. Not only that, but most of them had short tempers to boot. The combination of volatile Soldiers, drunken Demomen, hyperactive Scouts, grumpy Spies and over-enthusiastic Medics led to confrontations much more often than the already-overworked Misses Pauling could take. Aside from keeping Respawn and the Medics busy, they also had to replace the furniture every few days.
One time Demo Owen had left his unfinished sticky bomb-prototypes underneath the table and Scout Jimmy had tripped over them, and then Soldier had decided it would be a good idea to demonstrate his new rocket launcher indoors. Shortly after that three Pyros had played “who can make the most pretty rainbow trail with their flare-gun” a little too close to the Institute’s only public bookshelf, and barely two days later Scout Thomas risked eternal damnation in the form of a lifetime ban from the kitchen when a shot from his scattergun, directed at Heavy Piotr, who had been chasing him because Thomas had put itching powder in his boxing gloves, went wide and ricocheted off the metal of the stove, hitting Spy Constantin in his upper arm and causing him to drop his pan of soup.
After that little incident, which left not just Constantin but also his kitchen helpers Medic Holger and Emily Pauling with impressive burns, Katie Pauling decided that it had been enough. One day she marched out of her office, heading straight towards the mess with a large roll of paper under her arm and a hammer in her hand, gathering a large trail of curious onlookers along the way. She wiped a tasteless black-and-white painting from the wall, spread out her sheet and ordered the two tallest people near her, Heavy Anatoly and Sniper Bailey, to hold the poster as high up on the wall as they could. She stepped onto a chair, took a nail and started hammering.
After a few minutes she took a few steps back to admire her work. There, nailed to the wall, was a large sheet of paper with a single line written at the top in black ink.
It was, of course, a Scout who first opened his mouth.
“Uh, what’s this, exactly?”
Katie glanced over her shoulder, but even she couldn’t tell which one of the four Scouts standing in the crowd had spoken. They were still clones of each other, after all.
“It’s a new list of rules,” she stated confidently. “This whole business was getting out of hand.”
There was a long silence behind her as the mercenaries slowly studied the list. It was Demo Iain who eventually broke it.
“How far does this rule go?”
“Isn’t that clear? No weapons allowed in the mess. Replacing tables isn’t cheap, you know.”
Spy Pierre snorted. “They are plastic tables. Getting cheaper ones than these would be quite the challenge.”
“Question,” one of the Soldiers barked before Katie could reply. “Are shovels considered weapons?”
Miss Pauling sighed internally. I should have seen this coming. “Of course they count. You kill people with those, right?”
Soldier studied the list for a moment. “What about whips?”
“Yes, those too.”
Katie sharply turned around. “Look, it’s a simple rule. Can you kill someone with it?”
Soldier looked thoughtful. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Then it’s not allowed.”
“Zhen vhat about cigarettes? Zhey kill people, nein?”
She sighed deeply. “No, Erwin, cigarettes do not directly kill others, therefore they are not classified as weapons and still allowed in the mess.”
Medic Erwin did not look convinced, but before he could argue further another voice came out of the crowd.
“What about m’hand? I’ve killed folks with this puppy before, so should I take it off? I can’t eat right with just m’ left hand, missy!”
The crowd parted slightly to show the face of Engineer Connor, pulling the orange glove off his right hand to show the prosthetic metal hand beneath it.
“As long as you and the other Engineers promise not to kill anyone with that hand, you’re good,” Katie replied flatly. “And keep the glove on. We don’t want machine oil in our food, thank you very much.”
Connor grinned, but he did as she asked.
“What about my ball? I want to play with that when I eat!” Scout Matt declared.
“And me golfclub?” questioned Demo Malcolm.
“Sandvitch?” Heavy Dimitri sounded worried.
“Rocket Jumpers? Those don’t kill anyone!”
“The Holy Mackerel?”
“ENOUGH!” Miss Pauling roared. The mercs quickly backed down and instinctively tried to hide their kneecaps from her.
“Yes, anything that can be considered a weapon is forbidden! It’s right there on the list! If you’re not sure, ask yourself: am I just being stupid or could I just read the simple rule?”
She looked around the mess and was satisfied to see that they were all trying to avoid eye contact.
“Have I made myself clear?”
A few sounds of agreement were muttered around in the hall.
“I said: Have I made myself clear?”
Spy Marcus cleared his throat. “Quite clear, mademoiselle.”
“Good,” Katie growled. “The next person who comes to me with a stupid question will lose their kneecaps. Now, if none of you have any more objections, I shall be in my office.”
With that, she turned on her heel and marched out of the mess just as determinedly as she had arrived and considered the matter dealt with.
Unfortunately, that would prove to be just a little too optimistic. She lived with mercenaries, after all.
Chapter 2: 2. No ammo
The creation of the list had caused quite the uproar among the mercenaries. One would think that, in a building filled with identical clones, technology leagues ahead of the rest of the world and the inability to ever permanently die, people would be talking about different things than just a poster pinned on the wall of the mess hall.
However, since the creation of the list two weeks ago, the mercs were still pointing at it and muttering amongst themselves in most mysterious ways, and it was almost a miracle that it had taken so long for someone to find a loophole in the undoubtedly very clear message.
Could it honestly have been found by anyone else, though?
"Alright, I am mad, but I'll lighten your sentence if you tell me exactly what happened."
"Well, first of all, chucklenuts here fuckin' rushed at me..."
"He started it!"
"Shut your mouth, dumbass, you shot a goddamn bullet at me!"
"Yeah, and I didn't break the rules, did I? You tried to shoot me!"
"And you're lucky Heavy was there or I woulda hit you! You'd be dead meat, tough guy!"
"Stop fighting," Katie Pauling sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "You've only told me this five times already."
"Yeah, 'cuz it's the truth," Scout Jake said as he scowled at his opponent.
"My point is that you're both in the wrong," Miss Pauling groaned. "The list is very clear."
"And I kept to it!" Scout Matt said. "I'm not the one who draws pistols on people!"
"Yes, weapons are prohibited. However, it is also not allowed to shoot bullets at people with an improvised slingshot, Scout."
"Whatcha mean by that? You said things were allowed long as they didn't kill anyone. Ammo doesn't kill people! Guns do!"
Miss Pauling could feel a very familiar headache coming up and sighed once again. "Ammo kills people just as much as weapons do, Scout. You should know that, with the amount of bullets you've been wasting on the shooting ranges lately."
"Just 'cause I practise a lot don't mean I'm wastin' ammo," Matt protested. "What if I need to shoot someone right in the face?"
"We'd get a Sniper to do it," Jake provided helpfully.
"Yeah, but what if there ain't any there?"
"I dunno, get a Spy? Those Frenchies are way too good with those guns o'theirs."
"Yeah, that's my point, numbnuts! I gotta practise so we don't lose to them again in the summer competitions!"
"Can we please get back to the matter at hand?" Miss Pauling interrupted. "You were telling me how you came to shoot each other in the face during lunch?"
"Oh, that," Jake said dismissively. "I was just telling him how Batman would totally kick Spiderman's ass in a fight."
"You take that back!" Matt yelled. Before they could go another round Miss Pauling quickly interfered.
"Hold on a second. You were catapulting bullets at each other over... a comic book character..?"
"Comics are serious business, Miss P," Matt said solemnly. "Many fights have been fought over their powers, abilities and tragic backstories."
"Don't call me that. And you're both confined to base for two weeks for fighting and on workshop cleaning duty for a month for breaking the rules."
"Two weeks!" Jake whined as Matt cried "I ain't done nothin' wrong! I ain't even broken the rules!"
"Wrong. I'm adding a rule right now," Miss Pauling said as she picked up a large black marker. "You can report to Engineer Dell if you have any questions about the nature of cleaning duty, but I'm sure you two would know the details by now."
And from that day forward, a second rule was eternalized in the List of Kitchen Rules:
It all started with an innocent little prank.
At least, that was how Demo Simon thought of it. Others might have considered it a 'dangerous undertaking', an 'idiotic plan' or a 'stupid idea'. But Simon was slowly growing tired of constantly having his fellow Demoman Callum rummaging through his stuff.
Like the Engineers and Medics, the Demomen all had their own little workshops, to mix chemicals and make more bombs. Unlike the Engineers and Medics, though, most Demomen used their workspaces as secret hideouts to get shit-faced drunk and then blow up whatever they had been working on. Not only that, but they had habits of "borrowing" each other's tools and half-finished projects and then -sometimes literally- making them disappear into thin air.
Simon didn't have a problem with most of this, given that he was a Demo himself and had borrowed things from his colleagues plenty of times. But this was just getting ridiculous.
His next-door neighbour was a extraordinarily alcoholic man named Simon, who happened to have been given the last of the workshops in the corridor on the third floor of the Institute. Unfortunately, this meant that he only had one neighbour, Simon, who he turned to whenever he needed something.
Again, most of this was fine with Simon. Callum was normally an alright neighbour. When he got drunk, he usually ran outside to fire his grenade launcher into the air and yell loudly whenever one of the grenades exploded at the height of it's arc through the sky. Sometimes he did so alongside Soldier or Pyro, who would enthusiastically join in with flare guns or "altered" rocket launchers - all normal Demoman stuff. It was what Callum sometimes did afterwards that was so annoying.
If he was gone far enough, Callum would run into Simon's workshop, no matter if the merc in question was even there or not, and steal hands full of bottles and vials from his shelves. He'd throw scissors and screwdrivers off their racks in his drunken quest for tools and mess up the entire system of Simon's neatly organised storage cabinets.
Supplies were easy enough to come by, so Simon didn't think much of it at first, but it was happening more and more often and he was starting to miss things when he really needed them, instead having to rely on the intercom system built into his workshop to get someone else to help him out. Not Callum, since he would usually just be sleeping off a hangover in his room or on the beach, but some of his other neighbours, and they were getting irritated by constantly having to help Simon out whenever he was up to his elbows in dangerous chemicals, or tangled up in a labyrinth of wires that could not be crossed without blowing up the Institute if he didn't get the necessary tools, right now, dammit!
Of course, Simon was a reasonable Demo and tried to talk to his clone first. Unfortunately, Callum either didn't understand the necessity of the situation or he just didn't care, but not much changed at all. Simon still came in almost every morning to a disorganized mess on the floor of his workshop. This went on for a few weeks until one faithful day he found his current project - a bomb, mind you - dangling off the edge of the windowsill by the very wires that were meant to activate it. Things needed to change.
So, Simon cooked up a plan. He went to Engineer one afternoon and returned with a small, wall-mounted security camera that was patched into a small recording device, so he would be able to see Callum's reaction. He installed it above the door, where no one, and especially not a completely wasted Demoman, would notice it, and started working.
It took him a few days, but then he finally set his plan into motion. Simon gave the room one last check to ensure everything was ready, carefully closed the door and retreated to his room, like a villain hiding in their lair, he thought contently. He opened a good bottle of scrumpy, relaxed onto his bed and started to wait.
Simon had only had to remain patient for a few days until Callum walked into his trap. One morning, he came down and opened the door to see a severely blackened work area and a lack of vials anywhere on the shelves, and threw his head back to cackle. His plan had worked!
It had been a very simple plan. He'd gone into Callum's workshop to steal his supply of potassium chloride and then booby-trapped his own. Callum would need to borrow his if he wanted to make another late-night bomb. So, Simon put the jars on a thin wooden plate and placed an explosive underneath. It was a small one, hardly damaging, but it would cause a blinding flash and make a noise like a Heavy finding out that someone had eaten his Sandvich once the weight was taken off of it. If this little trick wouldn't scare Callum away, then nothing would.
Grinning, Simon dismounted the security camera and checked the footage. He was right: the grainy screen showed Callum waltzing into his workshop and grabbing around to find the powder he needed, when suddenly a white flash blacked out all footage for a second. The screen eventually cleared and Callum was sitting on the ground, staring aimlessly in pure shock at the shelf, when he suddenly got up and raced out of the room like the Headless Horsemann was on his heels.
Simon cackled with pride. His plan had worked, and not only had he managed to scare Callum half to death, he'd finally taken managed to teach him a bloody lesson! That'll teach the bastard to mess with his stuff! The proud Demoman spent the next few days prancing around the Institute. He handed out drinks to anyone who would listen to his tale and proudly showed the security footage to anyone who dared to doubt him, and whenever he saw Callum all he could do was cackle.
Eventually, Simon shook off the bliss of victory, returned to his normal duties and considered the matter dealt with. Unfortunately, that was a little too optimistic.
Demo Callum, after all, wasn't too happy about being made fun of to this degree. He'd gotten the message, but turning him into the village idiot with that tape was a little too much for him. Callum spent a few days brooding on a plan of his own, a way to get revenge on Simon. So when Simon's supply of booze blew up in his face one night, Callum was the first to run up to his room and laugh at him.
From that day forward, it was on. Simon and Callum turned it into a challenge to prank each other in the most obnoxious and creative ways, and since they were both Demomen, their pranks always included some form of explosives. Whether it were the sticks of TNT that Simon managed to stick underneath Callum's window, the cherry bombs that Callum left under the door of Simon's workshop or the flashbang that Callum found in his bed one night, it was always something that went boom.
One fateful night, Callum snuck inside the mess hall for a final strike, the crown upon his work. He was grinning, knowing there was no way Simon would be able to outclass him after this. He made his way towards the kitchen area, where various supplies were kept in fridges and storerooms. Mostly ingredients for meals, but also smaller, standalone snacks such as chips, peanuts and other things that could be used to combat the munchies. Callum's destination was a small cabinet in the back which he knew for a fact held Simon's favorite snack.
Five minutes later, Callum returned to his own room with a nasty grin that boded unwell for anyone who dared engage with him. Pyro Tianlong carefully kept his distance and idly wondered why Demo seemed so happy; his colors were more vibrant than ever.
The next morning was a Saturday morning, so the Soldiers did their best to get everyone on base involved in their "weekend regimen" which mostly included running laps and doing pushups. Many a Scout or Pyro joined in, the former because they liked to run and the latter because they didn't like disappointing Soldier after all his effort to get people moving. Plenty of innocent Demomen were also dragged into participating after making drunken promises to their Soldier friends, Simon among them.
Callum was aware of this and had made an actuall effort to get up early so he could watch from his window, which looked out over the courtyard, and keep an eye on Simon, who was dutifully doing jumping jacks until Soldier finally let him off the hook. After hard exercise, anyone deserves a snack, Callum said to himself proudly.
Simon made his way to the kitchen with a groan, dragging his grenade launcher behind him, already exhausted despite it being barely ten in the morning. It was as Medic always said: nothing replenishes energy better than food.
The mess hall was buzzing with people. Simon wasn't the only one to escape Soldier's training and the area always seemed to be filled with hungry Scouts and Heavies making sandviches. He had to elbow his way through the crowd, but eventually he reached his destination: the apple pantry.
It had been set up on demand of the Medics that there should at least be something in the way of healthy food available in the mess and Simon often made use of it. He seemed to be the only one, though; most mercenaries preferred the more sugary or substantial foods also available in the kitchen. He snatched one from the cabinet and went back to find a seat.
Simon idly wondered about the prank war as he weaved through the sea of mercenaries. He had made the most recent move, so it would make sense for Callum to strike back, but it had been almost a week. He'd probably have to be on his guard. Finally, he reached an empty chair and sagged down in relief. Freedom at last, he thought as he bit into his apple.
The entire apple exploded in a brilliant flash of light and the sound of the explosion was barely audible over the screams and cries of mercenaries that were being blinded by the flash. Once everyone got the use of their eyes back, the entire mess hall turned out to be covered in a fine black powder, similar to ash or sand, that stuck to the walls, clothing and to skin. In the middle of the whole chaos was Demo Simon, frozen in his seat as he stared at the remains of his booby-trapped apple.
The group that immediately gathered around him parted just as quickly as Miss Pauling marched up to him, death and destruction glowering in her eyes.
After that day, another rule was added to the list, which had miraculously survived the explosion:
Whew, this one took a while. I got a little carried away, though I'm still not entirely happy with the last parts. Oh well.
In other news, I'm going on vacation for the next week and I have no idea whether or not I'll have time to write, so the next update might take an even longer while...
Still, thanks for reading!
Chapter 4: 4. No power tools
Hey there, been a while. Sorry this one took so long, I had holidays and then a new obsession and then finals week at school and aaaahhhhh....
But here's the chapter. I had a lot of fun coming up with this one; hope you enjoy!
"Is this honestly the best you have?"
Spy Constantin didn't as much as blink at the waving finger barely two inches from his face.
"Oui, labourer, this is what we have available at the moment. If it does not suit your... needs... perhaps you could come and cook something for yourself?"
Engineer Jed huffed as he tried to make himself as tall as possible without directly standing on his toes.
"If I have to eat this crap one more time, I swear to god I might just blow this whole joint to hell!"
"I'd help with that," one of the Demos in the background said enthousiastically and a few Soldiers nodded in approval.
"Alright, that's enough," came the cold voice of Miss Pauling. She stopped in front of the two and treated them both to the infamous Glare of Doom. "You two can complain about the food as much as you want, but stop dragging the whole Institute into it!"
"But just look at this," Jed grumbled as he held up his plate. It was filled with an unrecognisable brown substance. "I can't even tell what this is supposed to be! Some kind of stew?"
"It's Bœuf bourguignon," Constantin stated proudly. "A traditional French dish including beef, onions, red wine..."
"It's a mess," Jed said. "And it sticks to my plate if I turn it upside-down."
"I said enough," Miss Pauling snapped. "Get out of the kitchen, you two."
Jed kept grumbling to himself the entire way down to his workshop. Sometimes, the food from the cafeteria was edible, but most days, he wondered if the people running it just pulled a few random ingredients from a shelf and threw it all into a blender before serving it to the poor, hard-working mercenaries. There was a separate pantry for the Engineers, who often needed to eat a quick sugary snack, but it was empty more than it was full, from being raided by desparate Scouts. Sometimes the food dripped over the edges of the plate, sometimes it was so leathery that they needed an hour to fully finish, sometimes it was just straight-up dissolving while you looked at it. The Pyros seemed to love everything that the kitchen staff gave them, though, and were always happy to finish off plates. The same went for the Heavies, but that was mostly because they were used to eating anything, no matter how disgusting it was.
The door slammed behind him as Jed, after a quick glance to check his workspace, dropped down onto an half-finished dispenser and leaned against the wall. At this point it was almost favorable to just go hungry. Maybe he should ask Sniper Lawrence to catch some fish for him so he could barbecue those instead.
Speaking of barbecue...
Jed slowly rose to his feet, face scrunched up in thought. Now there was an idea.
Breakfast was alright the next day, but lunch consisted of a strange grey goo Heavy insisted was a Siberian delicacy. He and his Russian brethren gladly accepted the various plates dropped onto theirs, but Jed just gave the food a considerate look and told Engineer Connor to keep his seat occupied and watch over his plate. Connor watched him go back down the stairs with a frown.
When Jed returned, however, Connor jumped right up from his chair. Jed was holding a welding machine in one hand and the corresponding mask in the other, with a massive grin on his face.
"The hell do you think you're doing?" Connor hissed as Jed managed to get through the crowd without being noticed.
"I was just thinking this particular dish needed a little... improvement."
Jed put the mask on, activated the machine and turned to his plate.
The flame hissed as the grey mass stared to slowly sift under the heat, the edges of the plate curling and bubbling as the plastic started to melt. A few Pyros stopped abruptly as they passed the table, their eyes focused on the fire.
"Stop that!" Connor yelled in alarm. "What are you even doing?"
"Hrrngprrvng," one Pyro said admiringly.
More people started to realize what was happening, most of them alarmed by the smell of molten plastic and smouldering fish guts. A crowd quickly gathered, as it always did in groups of this size, and more and more Pyros huddled around the table. Jed was cackling like a madman.
"Look at that," he called. "Maybe it'll taste better as a soup!"
There were approximately five more seconds of confusion before the plastic table finally gave out under the heat and collapsed. The group of Pyros who had been leaning on the table to watch the pretty colors were taken down with it, ending up on the floor in a heap of muffled cries of surprise. Jed deactivated his welding machine and laughed, even despite Miss Pauling marching towards him with a furious look in her eyes.
No one was surprised to find a new rule added onto the list that same night:
No power tools.