Of Cotton Candy and Ballet
Or how Engie found himself in a dysfunctional family
Dark Lady Devinity
An: This thing seriously has a mind of its own. I just wanted to write about the characters' physicality in battle. And then there was candy…
One thing you couldn't deny Charles Snippy was his ability to move in smooth measures. The sniper was quick on his feet and able to get where he needed to almost instantly. The way he removed his gun from its home on his back was liquid and efficient. That same elegance existed in Pilot as well. The crazed man-child was often erratic and disconcerting in his manner of speech and hand gestures. But his legs were strong and when he jumped, he flew. He could use a pipe like a katana simply because his arm movements were precise and confident. Captain didn't really need smooth moves: he just threw cake or tea at his problems.
Alexander Gromov was not nearly so graceful. He had a tendency to stumble over any piece of debris that lay in his path. Luckily he had more than enough intelligence to be useful to Snippy and entertaining to Captain and Pilot. Although Engie had never actually tried to be entertaining.
There was a reason Engie was contemplating his companions' superior physical capabilities. Part of it was because Engie couldn't figure out why he was flat on his back when Captain and the others had managed to nimbly avoid whatever had knocked him down in the first place. Another aspect of his thought process was the fact that Snippy and Pilot were doing so well against ANNET's hunter drone. But mostly Engie was contemplating everyone's grace because he was concussed and hallucinating.
Earlier that day, Captain had decided that the team needed a family vacation to Disney Land in order to raise troop morale. Pilot had been ecstatic. Snippy and Engie shared a look of mutual long suffering but accepted that they had to go along with the inane idea. Snippy made sure that he had his rifle and the group set out for misadventure. Disney Land had turned out to be a dilapidated, long abandoned amusement park and zoo. Skeletons of large cats, human-like primates and a lone elephant dominated the zoo. It was both creepier and sadder than the countless human bones littering the dead city. The remains were a stark reminder that humanity had destroyed much more than just itself. Captain and Pilot ignored the poor remains and went to haggle the price of admission with a weather beaten human skeleton.
"I can't believe we're seriously doing this." Engie grumbled. "What if there's some monster lurking around here? There have got to be a lot of hiding places in a park."
Snippy appeared to be frowning, as his goggle lenses looked remarkably like furrowed eyebrows. "I'm more concerned about that rollercoaster. It doesn't look very sturdy and you know Captain is going to want to ride it."
Snippy didn't bother to mention that both of their insane companions would probably want to ride every single ride, as well as eat cotton candy and go on a safari ride through the zoo. Engie was already starting to sound like the whole experience was beneath him as well as growing more and more nervous, which had never been a good combination. The engineer was capable of a lot of sarcastic hostility when put into such situations.
"Listen, there's bound to be a lot of mechanical parts in an amusement park right? So let's go find you some. Maybe you can make something useful out of them." Snippy suggested. Mechanical science always seemed to calm Engie down.
Engie bit his lower lip although all Snippy could see was an impassive mask. The sniper had never bothered to ask who the engineer was and the engineer had never volunteered the information. When you were some of the last humans in existence identities didn't matter much. Engie wouldn't have known who Snippy was if it wasn't for the fact that Captain had never given him a nickname. Therefore, Engie was often exposed to Snippy's genuine nice guy side and he didn't know how to handle it. Not too long ago, if someone had suggested that Charles Snippy, failure and tour guide extraordinaire, was going to be acting like Alexander Gromov's mother… well, Gromov would have laughed and then made fun of that person behind their back with ANNET. Yet here was Snippy making a serious offer to do something Engie might like. It was disconcerting.
He took Snippy up on the offer.
In the end, the amusement park hadn't been that bad an idea. Captain and Pilot were able to keep themselves amused, Engie found enough odds and ends to build two rudimentary walkie talkies and Snippy only had to shoot one mutated dog. Engie had even found a cotton candy machine. As sugar never went bad and amusement parks were always filled with the stuff, Engie fixed the ancient motor and Pilot got to toss the sweetener in with some adult supervision from Snippy. Captain had watched his minions work together, simply standing still. Once the cotton candy was ready, Pilot, Engie and Snippy took off their respirators to eat it (although they left their goggles on). Captain stuffed his share into his mug and appeared to be sucking it up through his straw. By then no one questioned how Captain took sustenance.
They started the walk home that way: for once Snippy was content and Pilot was giggling like the seven-year-old that he was. Engie wasn't complaining or making sarcastic comments and Captain wasn't cracking lame jokes like he usually did. It was just very peaceful.
And then the world was yanked out from under Engie's feet and he fell backwards onto hard pavement and harder debris. The sound of his skull hitting the unforgiving ground was sharp like the crack of gunfire. He had enough sense to make sure that his goggles were in place as Snippy dropped down to his side, the remains of their cotton candy left forgotten on the ground when Engie fell.
"Are you alright?" Snippy asked, slipping Engie's hood off and feeling the back of his head. When the sniper pulled his hand back it appeared dry and clear of blood.
"What happened?" Engie asked. If Snippy replied that the engineer was simply accident prone he was going to kill him.
It was Captain that responded though. "Zee giant baseball of death tripped you Engie."
"It's a baseball?! Can I hit it?" Pilot asked.
"Giant baseball?" Engie asked, wondering why everything was getting hazy. He was barely listening when Snippy explained.
"It looked like an ANNET drone. I had one harass me for a while back before all this." Snippy said. "It was hiding under some rubble when it just came out of nowhere and grabbed your ankle. I can't tell where it went. You're not bleeding but I don't know if you're badly hurt."
"Zee baseball is returning." Captain pointed out helpfully.
Engie considered sitting up to see the drone but he didn't have the energy for it. The traditional spike of cowardly adrenaline simply wasn't there. So he heard the drone instead of seeing it.
"I see you've made friends my love! But I don't recommend sleeping outside." The drone said. ANNET had found him again.
"Bwah?" Snippy asked.
"Oh, have you sustained an injury? I could kiss it better if you would revoke your admin privileges." The drone offered in what it no doubt thought was a helpful tone.
"Go 'way Annie." Engie murmured.
"BWAH!?" Snippy asked louder. And before Engie had a chance to register what was going on, Snippy had pulled off Engie's goggles, leaving the engineer's entire face exposed.
"You!" Snippy cried in a strangely betrayed tone. It was in that moment that Engie suspected he was going to die. Snippy looked like he was ready to commit murder. He had gripped his hands in Engie's coat and was pulling the man forward. But it was ANNET that swooped in with the actual intent to do harm. She had not recognised Snippy's actions as violent ones and instead chose to interpret them as affectionate ones. She was jealous. Snippy yelped and dropped Engie before throwing himself over the other man. Engie could feel the sniper's arms protecting his head and could feel his warm breath against his face. He didn't feel the breathing stop.
The moment ANNET acted in aggression was when Captain decided that a nice game of Instant Death Baseball would be a nice way to end their family vacation. Captain nodded his permission to Pilot and Pilot unsheathed his katana. The green-goggled man proceeded to hit ANNET's hunter drone like it was a baseball and his sword a bat.
Snippy shakily got to his feet and watched Pilot attempt to hack the machine into pieces. Captain was a safe distance away and every time Pilot or the ANNET drone got too close, the superior officer merely stepped out of the way. Snippy's primary concern was Engie: Gromov hadn't panicked, cried out in pain or curled up into the fetal position. He had barely moved a finger. So he had to be badly hurt. Snippy didn't know if his basic first aid training would be much use in treating a concussion when it would be the only treatment available for the rest of Engie's life.
He had to get rid of the drone first. It was the immediate threat to everyone's safety. Then, once everyone was back at the base in one piece, he'd decide whether or not to kill Gromov.
For once in his life Snippy wasn't the injured party and he wasn't even going to get a chance to enjoy it.
With one smooth, impossible move, Pilot grabbed hold of Snippy's shoulder and launched himself into the air. The hunter drone had gotten behind Snippy and Pilot had reacted before Snippy even had a chance to turn around. But the sniper didn't even wince when the aviator used him as leverage in getting to the drone. Pilot then swung his katana towards the drone and shattered the sensory panel. ANNET could still communicate and had all of her battle functions but she had been efficiently blinded. As Pilot landed perfectly on his feet, Snippy turned with impossible speed, rifle primed, and shot directly into the glaring wound Pilot had made on the drone's face. The machine sparked and shook before it shut off and hit the ground hard.
Engie watched this all in hazy fascination. The way Snippy and Pilot had moved together was too perfect to not have been co-ordinated and practiced beforehand. But the two men could never get along so Engie wasn't sure when they would have learned to use each other that way. He kept imagining the way the muscles of the ballet dancers had moved as they performed complicated dance steps. As he thought that, Engie had the sensation of being in Russia and at the ballet with his parents. But the last time he had seen the Russian ballet was when he was very small wasn't it?
Suddenly his mother laid her hand on his forehead and he leaned into her warmth.
"I think he's losing consciousness." His mother said in a strangely masculine tone. Why did she sound so far away?
Alex wanted to point out that he had been paying full attention to the dancers even if he would rather be at home with his handmade robots, thank you very much.
"Mein minions, the baseball is starting to make angry noises and smoke. Someone should inform it that smoking is bad for the lungs!" Alex's father said, also sounding like he was some distance away. Alex frowned. His father's statement had made no sense whatsoever.
"Crap. It's going to explode. DON'T TOUCH IT PILOT!" Mother screamed.
Alex whined as the ballerinas stopped their sensual, perfect dancing to stare disapprovingly at the Gromov family.
"Mother-" Alex said, fully intending to lecture his mother on her language. But a dull roar swallowed the rest of his words and the world went dark.
It was warm when he woke up. Engie struggled into the conscious world to find himself in bed at the base with Pilot curled up against his side. It was dark in the room which indicated that it was nighttime and the orange tint to the world told Engie that he was wearing his goggles. Engie briefly wondered how he got into bed as the last thing he could remember was finding the cotton candy maker and, oddly enough, the firm upper back muscles of a tiny ballerina.
Quiet footsteps alerted Engie to a presence outside his room. He listened intently in order to find out who was outside his door.
"I got your cotton candy machine." Snippy said in hushed tones. "Is Pilot still watching Engie?"
"Yes, mein Snippy-snipster." Captain responded in his typical booming voice.
Snippy sighed and pushed open the door to Engie's room. The sniper had two or three bags slung over one shoulder. They were all red with a large white cross on each. First aid kits. Engie watched as Snippy paused, startled, as he caught sight of Pilot. Then he walked over and gently woke up the aviator. Snippy was only soft with the disturbed man when Pilot wasn't conscious enough to make it difficult.
Pilot whined and curled up into a tighter ball.
"He hasn't got hypothermia, Pilot. You don't need to keep him warm." Snippy explained. "I brought the cotton candy maker home."
That got Pilot up out of bed and racing towards the kitchen, yelling for the captain. Engie had yelped when Pilot jumped over him so he now had Snippy's full attention.
"I see you're awake now, Gromov." Snippy said coolly. He dropped the first aid bags to the floor but not hard enough to damage them.
"Yes, with no help from you." Engie grounded out. Why did his head hurt so much?
"Whatever. I went back to the amusement park to see if they had any first aid kits. We're lucky that the park hasn't been raided. Although Captain wouldn't let me go until I agreed to bring back the cotton candy maker." Snippy groused.
Engie nodded, wondering why Snippy was telling him all that. Then he realised something. "…What did you just call me?"
"Gromov. That's your name isn't it?" Snippy asked with open hostility.
Engie gripped his head in panic, wondering if this would be how he finally died: in bed with an angry sniper sat by his side and… fishing through a first aid kit. Wait, what? Confused, Engie said the first things that came to mind. "I don't un… my brain hurts."
"Yes, well, that's probably the concussion. Which is most likely going to kill you sooner than later because I don't know how to check if you need brain surgery. Unless you know how to treat a concussion with more than what they teach you in first aid." Snippy said.
"I got into engineering because the human body confused me." Engie admitted. "Why do I have a concussion? Did you try to murder me?"
"I'm not going to murder you after you mistook me for your mom!" Snippy yelped.
Engie jumped. Snippy appeared to actually be offended that Engie thought he was capable of murdering a man that had made him miserable. Then the engineer decided that the concussion was making him stupid because he should have immediately realised that the most important part of that statement was "your mom." When Engie gave him a horrified look, Snippy explained everything that had happened that day.
"And now Captain wants me to adopt you and Pilot." Snippy complained. "We're going to be one big happy military family or something. Do you need help sitting up or can you do it on your own? I want to check out the back of your head. If you die on me I'm going to kill you."
"Why don't you want to?" Engie asked warily.
Snippy paused. "Because we're all that's left and that means you're too valuable to lose. And before you turned out to be you I had already invested a lot into your continued existence. I guess Captain isn't completely wrong about our being family."
"Oh." Engie replied.
Engie eventually fell asleep leaning against Snippy as the blue eyed man nervously prodded the back of his head. Even when he didn't know what he was doing Snippy used smooth, almost comforting movements. At some point Pilot and Captain wandered into the room bearing fluffy white cotton candy. Snippy was then made to tell everyone a bed time story. And in the morning, Snippy, Engie, Pilot and Captain managed to get along a little better… for about an hour anyway.
One thing you couldn't deny zee Captain's army was its ability to be completely dysfunctional.
A/n: As I was writing the cotton candy scene I realised: Snippy really is the mom and Captain is one of those crazy kooky dads. Pilot is the annoying little brother and Engie is a hormonal teenager that thinks they're too good for everything now that their boobs have come in. And as I realised this, I instantly thought "awww" and then "euh, creepy." So I guess that makes them a sort of post-apocalyptic Addams family… I'll probably end up doing a series of drabbles based on how the group functions as a family because once I thought it I couldn't unthought it.