“Plan is simple. Get in. Get the jokes. Get out. Try not to die.”
You remember the words of your superior as you listen to the sound of worn tires traversing the dusty roads of what was once a magnificent city. You stare out of one of the darkened windows of the orange van, seeing the ravages of mother nature taking over old office buildings and abandoned houses. The van whizzes past a withered, vine-covered motel at top speed, but you still feel the eyes of the beings lurking inside the dark rooms. You shudder.
Next to you sits Chirurgeon, your stealth specialist, wearing his almost trademark scowl. You can’t remember ever seeing him smile. You don’t blame him. Not much reason to smile, when your home has been bulldozed to make room for another goddamn circus tent. He fiddles idly with his field radio, and raises an eyebrow at your staring. You cough and turn back to the window.
God, you hate these stupid codenames you all have to use. It’s not like clowns have any use for tracking someone down based on a name. They’ll just wipe out the general area an agent MIGHT have been active in and call it a day. You most of all hate your own codename. You never use it.
God damn it.
The person who called out your embarrassing and totes unfitting nickname was Bonesetter, arguably the only person on your squad with a decently rad-sounding nickname. There he is, waving at you excitedly. He’s sitting opposite of you, almost vibrating with excitement. He’s alright, you guess. He’s just a bit…
“Dude, aren’t you excited to finally do this? This is going to be our first REAL job! None of that training exercise or secret test of character bullshit, just plain gettin’ in and shooting a bunch of bozos with high-powered automatic weaponry.”
“Need I remind you that our objective is to STEAL something, meaning we really shouldn’t go around making a ruckus? Need I remind you that this is frankly some dangerous goddamn shit we are doing? Need I remind you that right now, you are wildly gesturing with a loaded pistol in your hand, and risk shooting the driver and causing us to crash into one of the fifty million abandoned office buildings, killing us all in an anticlimactic explosion? Need I-“
“No, you don’t.”
You interrupt another one of Chirurgeon’s half-paranoid half-depressing lectures before it can spiral out of control. Problem being, most of the time they are already spiraled way out of control and into oncoming traffic before he even starts them.
You are startled by a low, long-winded moan coming from next to Bonesetter. There’s nothing to be startled about, you realize, as it is simply Accoucheus, yet another old-medical-profession-themed dick you have to drag around with you. (You often wonder why you got chosen to be put in this squad, despite having a nickname that’s not even close to being related to medicine. Most likely they ran out of old professions starting with a “D”.) They are already wearing their mask, and injecting something icky into their arm. You briefly consider telling them to cut it out, before you realize they are just taking a hollandaise supplement directly into their bloodstream.
A brief glance at the mask’s eyeholes later, and you’re creeped the hell out again by the shifting colours dancing around behind it. You always wondered what the hell was up with that. You’re not about to ask them, though. Accoucheus kind of creeps you out, so you avoid actively engaging in dialogue with him whenever possible. You’ve never seen them without their mask on, for instance. They’ve been with the Splintered Path for far longer than anyone else you know, including yourself. Some say there’s not actually a face underneath, due to a peanut overdose at early age. Some say they traded their face to an ancient deity, in exchange for a boon of unimaginable power. Some say these rumors are bullshit. You are pretty sure you are the person who said that last one.
You grab your duffel bag, and take out your weapon of choice: a 9mm submachine gun. Your limp-wristed firing stance, honed and perfected through MINUTES of training, ensures that you can’t fire anything heavier. Hell, even this thing misses most of the time, and because you flinch a lot, you don’t even take the time to aim and just kind of close your eyes, squeeze the trigger and hope for the best.
You also unpack and put on a belt with a bunch of syringes filled with various helpful antidotes and deadly poisons on it. There’s something for every situation, from emergency hollandaise to lethal aioli overdoses. You’ve never used that last one. The description the requisitions officer gave to you of its effects made you vow to never, ever use it. You’re sure it won’t come up as some kind of Chekov’s Gun or whatever, so you take it off and offer it to Bonesetter, who gratefully accepts it and trades you a pack of cigarettes. You don’t smoke. Neither does anyone else you know, including Bonesetter. You decide to just slip the pack into your bag, and pretend you appreciate the gesture.
After some more idle banter, the van comes to a stop. You briefly consider softly saying something like “This is it” or “End of the line” to sound cool, but due to the fact that you are wearing thick, hooded rags instead of body armor and are about to steal some really lame jokes about chickens crossing roads as part of a clandestine operation to reduce carnie influence in the city, it’d just make you look like a tool and probably get Chirurgeon to punch you again. Instead, you quietly put on your respirator and breathe deeply.
“End of the line.”
God damn it, Bonesetter.
Accoucheus groans as he opens the doors, and climbs out. Bonesetter quickly crawls out to avoid Chirurgeon’s glare. Chirurgeon peeks outside of the doors for a second, looks around, and then decides it’s safe to exit the van. You follow him. Your boots hit the sand, and for a brief moment you are blinded by the sun. Not much sun in the city, not with the rooftops transformed into a SECOND city, just to save space so these dicks can plop down more popcorn stands. Once your eyes get used to the light, you look around at your surroundings. You stand in front of a massive, garishly decorated trailer park of some sorts. It stretches out for miles, and on the horizon you can see the silhouette of a humongous circus tent. A dilapidated banner waves, bearing clown insignia, and your stomach turns when your gaze wanders to the empty, filth-covered cages that serve as home to the lowest of the low at a circus: the clown.
Chirurgeon peers through his binoculars, marking various targets and possible routes in his mind. On his hip is his MSP, the only truly silent weapon of your crew. Too bad it only holds two bullets and looks WAY ugly. You don’t know how he can stand the thing. It’s like a tiny gun for tiny babies. It’s like impotency fired bullets. It’s like a 50 year old man in a midlife crisis. That’s how lame that gun is. He takes down his binoculars, notices you glaring at his pistol, and raises an eyebrow at you. You quickly turn around again.
You come face to mask with Accoucheus, rocking back and forth and muttering something. That’s fine, you think. They do that sometimes. Seeing them reminds you to put on YOUR mask before you go any deeper into the territory. You grab it from your backpack, and put it on. It’s a sleek white thing, just like the one everyone else wears. Yours has a small crack through the right eyehole, though. Far as you can tell, almost everyone customizes their mask at some point or another. Accoucheus either hasn’t, or it’s on the inside like Bonesetter’s. Bonesetter painted the inside of his mask bright red, in a flame design. When you asked him why, he replied that it made him faster. You laughed for a while, until you realized he was serious.
Anyways, you haven’t customized your mask either. And don’t intend to anytime soon. The day you write a bible passage on it is the day you attach a scope, a laser sight, and an extended magazine to your gun, wear nightvision goggles everywhere you go, and talk in military lingo for no fucking reason while people around you ask how your day was.
Chirurgeon puts on his mask, and motions for you and the rest to follow him, and sneaks off through a gap in the fence. You follow him for a few minutes, sneaking through the trailer park like a bunch of rats in a really fucked up pantry stocked with cotton candy. Eventually, he motions for you to halt. Bonesetter bumps into you, and whispers an apology. Chirurgeon peeks around the corner, and does the universal hand sign for “Holy fucking shit, there’s a loose clown over there and it almost spotted us”.
To your left, Accoucheus walks off, undisturbed by these developments. Chirurgeon motions for her to stop, but they don’t seem to give even a faint hint of a shit. Accoucheus rounds the corner, and disappears from sight. He’ll be fine. Chirurgeon motions a three-count, and you all quickly move behind another trailer. You peek through the windows, and see there isn’t even anything inside except some straw. Seems he got promoted. With employment bonuses like these, no wonder the funnymen have almost limitless manpower. You move behind some boxes, and look over them, finally spotting it.
The clown stands there, smoking a cigarette and bobbing his grotesque head to the tinny MIDI rendition of “Entrance of the gladiators” emitting from the speakers mounted on all the trailers. The greasepaint on his face is permanently fused to him, and his cracked, raw lips have been forever forced into a crude mockery of a smile. A knife is attached to his hip, and he is wielding a compact assault rifle. He impatiently drums his fingers on the foregrip, and peers around him looking for prey.
Suddenly, he startles, and fires a full magazine’s worth into the direction of an adversary you can’t quite see. The clown starts to sweat as he notices whatever he tried to shoot didn’t die. He fumbles with a magazine, desperately trying to reload it before the heavy footsteps get too close. The clown seems to have forgotten the basics of reloading, and drops its rifle to the ground, raising its hands in surrender. You consider running in and gunning it down while it’s unarmed, but you are rather scared of whatever the fuck scared the dickens out of that clown.
A figure strides from the shadows, raising its long arms towards the frightened mirthmaker. The clown gasps, and starts to claw at its body, shaking its head and generally looking a bit uncomfortable. A second arm is raised, and the clown lifts up into the air, flailing wildly and honking in fear. The being, unsatisfied with merely terrifying a clown into whatever passes for submission in circus culture, then spreads its arms wide, and the clown, for lack of a better term, turns inside out. Bonesetter looks a bit nauseous.
A limp, smoking corpse drops to the ground, and immediately starts to disintegrate into a puddle of disgusting brown liquid, hissing violently. A foul stench hits your nostrils, and you gag. Turns out whatever is inside a clown really isn’t fit for contact with the outside world. A long, silent minute passes as everyone ponders what the fucking hell just happened. Chirurgeon is the first to speak up.
“A…Accoucheus? You… Y-you alright there?”
Accoucheus raises its head backwards and gurgles, clearly satisfied with her victory over what is pretty much the clown equivalent of an untrained citizen. Sure, it had a rifle, but all clowns have at least five rifles on them at all times. You immediately draw some conclusions from all of this, and come to realize that Accoucheus might very well be both fucking rad and absolutely terrifying. In any case, there currently aren’t fifty strongmen barreling towards your group to pound you into dust, so you suppose the clown didn’t raise any kind of alarm. Accoucheus looks at you, and cocks his head slightly. You shudder.
Bonesetter seems a little worse for wear. Chirurgeon takes a swig from his hip flask. You don’t even know what’s in there, as alcohol is extremely hard to come by nowadays. You see Bonesetter inject a syringe of hollandaise, presumably to maintain his overall sanity and cheery demeanor.
Accoucheus shrugs, and walks off into another alleyway, towards the big tent. Seems they want to get on with the show already. You and the rest follow after some meaningful shared glances.
After about fifteen minutes of skulking around, taking care to avoid known strongman patrols, you arrive at a more isolated and luxurious looking trailer. Around it are some scorch marks, and a conspicuous tripwire surrounds it. There is a sign next to the thing, saying “Not a trap”.
“I think it’s a trap.”
Before you can step over the tripwire, you notice Accoucheus, leaning against the sturdy tentmeat. Right, the main tent. It’s right there. You can hear horrifying music and disturbing sounds coming from within the tent’s bowels. Accoucheus gives you a thumbs up. This is the biggest honor you have received in your life. You smile uneasily, and step over the tripwire.
As you carefully tiptoe towards the trailer, you start to make out more of its features. For instance, it has a waving banner on top of it. The door has odd sigils scratched into the wood, and the windows are blocked with wooden planks. Another sturdy-looking wooden plank blocks the actual door from opening. You motion for Chirurgeon to get over here, while Bonesetter keeps watch.
You and Chirurgeon start prying off the wooden plank. It budges, but it takes a lot of effort. Fucking clowns. The wood splinters as Chirurgeon delivers one final kick to it, and the door swings open. You and him share a glance, and when you see the nervousness in his eyes, you know it’s going to be your turn to go in first this time. You slowly enter the trailer, gun ready. He follows, lighting up various surfaces with his flashlight.
Another barred door is to your left, leading into what you hope is some kind of bedroom and not a torture dungeon. Chirurgeon nudges you to ignore it for now, documents come first. He shines his flashlight on a fairly large table, stacked with various documents. You glance at one.
A man wakes up in the cellar of his house, and immediately starts screeching. Clown! Clown! I can not feel my legs!
The clown answers: “That’s because I have cut off your arms!”
You don’t get it.
Chirurgeon starts shoving stacks of paper into his backpack, and you do the same. He walks out of the trailer, hurrying to leave the place. You follow, but pause when you come across the barred door once more. You shrug, and exit the trailer. Best to let sleeping mimes lie.
Another tense avoiding of the devious trap later, and you are all standing together near the tent’s wall.
“Alright, I’ve just heard from central that there’s currently an undercover team inside, ready to fuck up the show at our command.”
“Wait wait, what? No, fuck no. The mission was clear. Get the jokes and get out. No fucking with the show.”
“Relax, Domesman. The team was already there. Thing is, we’re in the neighbourhood now, right? Best to just do anything we can to help out. Two acrobats, one stone.”
You grumble and nod. Whatever. Let’s get this over with. Accoucheus skips over to the group from the wall, holding something in their hand.
“Whatcha got there? A remote?”
You and the team ready your guns, and run into the newly-created orifice in the tent. Bonesetter is firing his gun wildly into the roof, Chirurgeon is lagging behind, holding his head in pain from the eardrum he undoubtedly shattered. Poor guy.
You are met with what can only be described as a complete clusterfuck. A massive horde of Splintered Path assassins are firing their assault rifles wildly into the stage. A figure stands there, flinching rapidly from multiple impacts, before sinking to its knees and hissing.
You aim your gun, and squeeze the trigger at the stage. The recoil immediately makes the gun smack into your mask, cracking it something fierce around the eyehole.
You stumble backwards, groaning in pain. Accoucheus is firing some kind of rifle at various corpses, making sure to triple-tap every single clown on the floor. Bonesetter is still not doing anything that could possibly be described as useful.
The sound of gunfire dies down, as does the pained groans of mortally wounded circus goons and the labored breathing of mimepriests. The grunts are searching the corpses, and shooing out civilians.
In the corner of your eye, you spot someone getting up from their seat and attempting to sneak off. They immediately slip and fall down. Poor guy. Acrobat sweat is one of the most slippery substances in existence, right next to strongman drippings and mimefluid. No one knows what mimefluid does, but that is because no one wants to touch it.
The moment he hits the floor, you feel a stinging pain on the back of your head, and groan. You stick up your hand to your squad, and walk over to the guy. They’re groaning too, and shutting their eyes. You look at their face. It’s so impossibly familiar. You blink. Their face is obscured by what appears to be a whirlwind of colour. You step over to them, on autopilot, and extend your hand.