Nov. 27th, 2012

acts_of_gord: (bloodletting)
Everything here is wrong.

Space is supposed to be contiguous. A sheet, a surface- a solid, if one is thinking in enough dimensions- a thing where each part touches the next, leads to the next. Space is one.

Space is not one here. And not in the way of the resonance cascade, torn full of holes, some self-healing and some ripping to hugeness before destabilizing and vanishing. This is space under pressure, folded, compressed, wrinkled, smashed forever from every direction. This is the weight of the brains and thoughts and minds of a thousand thousand dimensions, all the worlds the Combine has ever conquered, pushing space into submission all at once. This is the work of the Universal Union.

And everything here is wrong.




The thing is shadow-gray crystal, where it isn't Combine tech, and it's the size of a horse. Easy enough. Barney takes aim, fires-

It shatters before the energy pulses even strike it, shards hanging in air, gleaming under the light of a bile-colored sky. Barney's gunfire passes through the place where it was and thuds harmlessly into the ground.

The crystal shards swirl in a pattern Gordon almost thinks he can read before the swarm reforms itself, locking together in a swift-forming lattice that promises not dissipation but a suit-shredding explosion next time.




"What the hell are these?" says Floyd, as he dives for cover. Overhead a bundle of tentacles wreathed in fire streaks by, the antennas of its Combine masters visible here and there amidst the flames.

"Old Synths," answers Barney, his back pressed against what he prays is a wall and not something larger and more horrid. "From older conquests. Combine's been around a long time- you don't think they sent everything they had in store at Earth, do you?"

"Jesus." Floyd shakes his head, aims at the next fire-jellyfish-thing. "They wouldn't've needed seven hours if they sent a couple of these-"

"Assuming they could," says Gordon, as Floyd's bullets pass through the circling Synth without being noticed. "I don't know if these things can interact with Earth matter as we know it."

"Well, shit! How're we supposed to kill 'em, then?"

Gordon gives a very, very faint smile. "Same way the Combine did," he says. "Dark energy. And they need a lot of it to run this place."

He reaches over his shoulder. He's just charged the Gravity Gun. It's glowing blue.




Dr. Breen had spoken of vast meteorological intelligences, once, to Eli Vance. Gordon remembers-

-where form does not exist, but where glowing gases study the secrets of existence. And a violet-coloured gas told him that this part of space was outside what he had called infinity. The gas had not heard of planets and organisms before, but identified him merely as one from the infinity where matter, energy, and gravitation exist-

-he'll never be sure, after, whether what just happened was anything even close to real. The look on Barney's face tells him that whatever it was, it isn't anything either of them wants to think about ever again.

He's just glad the displacer cannon tore whatever it was apart.




Floyd is praying. Gordon kind of expected that from Barney. He didn't think Floyd was a praying kind of man.

Floyd's never been to Xen. He's fought, yes, he's been in war, but it's always been on Earth. It's always been foes of meat and metal and bone and tech. The rules have always been the rules. This is beyond Xen, beyond borderworlds; this is a place where nothing is what the rules of Earth say it should be, and it's getting to him.

The fire-jellyfish-things and the crystal things are not alone here among their enemies. Something howls in the distance, in a register like teeth streaking over a piece of slate. A shadow that staggers like a Strider in a rage is making its way towards them.

Two shadows.

Five.

They are anything but alone, and there is no time left for anything but lightning-




There are, Gordon notices, his thoughts as thready and thin as his pulse, shards of shadow-gray crystal stuck in his HEV suit. He waves one hand with an unsteady sort of curiosity. A trail of flakes falls away, the shards thinning. Most of them remain.

"Status," he says hoarsely. He's sitting down; his legs won't hold him up.

"Not good, Gord," says Barney from somewhere behind him. "I mean, I’m holding up, but that last wave took a lot out of me."

"I'm in one piece," says Floyd tersely. He ran out of prayers long ago.

Neither of them say what they're all thinking: it's you they're going after, Gordon, they don't care about us enough to bother trying to kill us.

"There's another wave coming," Gordon says. Barney moves forward, starts doing his best to get those shard things out of the HEV suit so it can seal up properly again. "I can hear them."

"I dunno how much good hearing is around here, Gord," says Barney, although he's looking at Floyd with a go and check it out RIGHT NOW expression. "Plays tricks on you. That wave could be miles away and sound like it's on top of us."

"Or vice versa," Floyd calls back from where he's perched atop a half-wrecked black cylinder, gleaming with lights of blue and green and nameless colors. "We've got a BIG problem."

Barney swears. Gordon stares at him. It's not a thing his oldest friend does lightly.

"Uh. Sir? What do you want me to do?"

Barney looks at Gordon a moment. Then, without turning away, he says, "Not you. We. Get Dr. Freeman's displacer cannon off his back. We're buying some time."

"What?"

It came from both men. Barney's deliberately not looking at Gordon as he says, "He's the one they're afraid of. Not us. None of what we've done means anything at all if Gordon doesn't get to the Overmind and put it down. So we're gonna make sure we get him there. Now get that displacer cannon, Mason."

To Gordon he says, "Gord, you owe me the beer this time."

And that's the last Gordon ever sees of him.
acts_of_gord: (contemplating)
There's something about what's become of space and time and physics here that's affecting their guns, their suits. It should take more energy than this to squeeze off a bolt from the pulse rifle. More D38 should be going into every pull of the displacer cannon's trigger. They should've run out of power long ago, should've been stranded somewhere miles away-

But that's the thing, isn't it. Space is wrong here, time is wrong here, everything is wrong here, and if it weren't for the intervention of trollish alchemy, there wouldn't be enough rightness left to keep their bodies functioning properly. They would have been dead forever ago.

But they're not.

And their guns are still working.

They don't complain.



There was a time, Gordon vaguely remembers, when Floyd Mason was an idiot who could just barely be trusted to operate a radio without winding up with the handset up his nose.

The sound of pulse rifle fire fills what passes for air, and the stream of molecule-dissociating flame spat at Gordon by one of the flame-jellyfish synths dissipates in an instant. The thing spasms and blows apart in a dozen directions.

As Gordon fires a bolt of zero-point energy at a Synth that looks like the unholy offspring of an Erector set and a Vortigaunt's nightmares, and latches onto one of the self-shattering crystalline things to punt it into a third Combine horror as hard as the Gravity Gun will allow, he wonders – just for a moment – if there's anything left of that idiot in the man fighting next to him now.



There is no warning. There's just-

FOMP.

It's not pressure from outside. It's that there's nothing in the world but pressure. Everything is crushing, unspeakable pressure, all at once, to the point where there's no room for thought-

FOMP.

He's not breathing. It's not happening. That's all there is to it. His body's forgotten how.

FOMP.

It takes everything he's got to convince his diaphragm to move, to haul in air handful by strained handful. To force it out again in the next moment, because his body can't remember how.

FOMP.

Another breath. He's pretty sure-

FOMP.

"MASON! Mason, are you breathing?"

FOMP.

The other man, despite the space-proof vest he wears, was turning blue. Was. He's remembered now, he's coming back to himself-

FOMP.

"It's the damn Overmind! We're close enough to get affected-"

FOMP.

Floyd swallows. Nods. Tries to raise his gun.

FOMP.

It falls from his fingers. Without the Gravity Gun's intervention it would've hit the ground and shattered.

FOMP.

"They're pressing on our brain stems." The words are each a supreme effort. "Trying to kill us. Directly."

FOMP.

"I dunno, Doc," Floyd forces out. "I don't know about trying."

FOMP.

"On your feet," Gordon says, and moves to brace the other man. "Keep breathing. I'll walk. We can get there-"

FOMP.

One step. Two. Three.

FOMP.

"Hey, uh, Doc? Just me, or have we got company?"

Gordon pales, because Floyd's right. The sky's not dark here because of oxygen loss or atmospheric phenomenon or spatial distortion, it's dark because the enemy is here.

FOMP.


"Doc. Tell you what." Floyd tears his eyes from the sky. "Lemme go."

"What?"

FOMP.

A huge, labored breath. "Still got my teleporter. I can blink some of them out with me. That's gotta screw this thing up."

FOMP.

"Take the pressure off you."

He doesn't wait for Gordon's approval. He draws another breath, pushes himself away, starts running.

FOMP.

The last thing Gordon sees as the Overmind's psychic pressure starts to distort his vision is Floyd flailing his arms, and the last thing he hears is a series of profanities that would do Adrian Shephard proud.

FOMP.

He doesn't need to see to know which way he has to go, though. It's the one that makes every cell in his body try to shut down operation at once. The more wrong, the more right, until he's at the heart of the sickness-

FOMP.

But it's getting harder to keep both lungs and legs moving, the closer he gets. Every function, every least little thing his body ever did on its own, it's going out of autonomic mode and into voluntary, and he's got to pilot them all one after another. And there's only so much of him to go around-

(there is no distance between us )

Space is wrong here. Space is not one-

( no false veil of time or space may intervene )

( we weave the Freeman's life with hers )

No.

This isn't how it ends.

Get up.

Gordon, get up.

You can do this. I know you can.

You are stronger than this. We are stronger than this.

We have fought gods and monsters, and won.

We have stared death in the face until it blinked.

We have stood back up every time we have been knocked down, and this will be no exception.


Somewhere in between the sound of her words and the sound of his own breath, he finds enough brain to think, I'm going to need a little help with that...

Something that feels almost like a smile ripples through his thoughts. I think we can manage that, some part of him thinks.

When the next FOMP comes from the Overmind, it's not the black of incipient unconsciousness that washes over him, but the blazing blue-white of Alyx's sustaining rage.

I love you, Gordon. Make them pay.

And he does.

There is no one left to hear him laughing, only ashes; and when even those have fallen and he takes a step forward, it is into a different kind of darkness.

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Gordon Freeman

December 2012

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