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Meredith put her hands over her face and tried not to think about their situation. They'd gotten the GPS up and running, at least; that was the beginning and the end of their mercies. It said they were in Australia. Stranded in Australia, in a boat high and dry in what was once a lake and now was nothing but salt flats. Hell, the fact that it was Australia was bad enough! Before the Combine it'd been some kind of killer murder death world, as full of poisonous things with too many legs as Xen-

Oh, and while the GPS was working the radio wasn't, and with Ms. Vance busy working on the ship's computer it was her job to fix it. Of course. Just what she needed.

She pushed the heels of her hands against her eyes, half hoping to see sparks. It wasn't quite hard enough- but she did feel a hand on her shoulder. "Hey," said a male voice she couldn't quite place. "Let me help."

"Okay," she said tiredly, and settled back on her heels. "You need any tools or- oh..."

She might not have recognized his voice, but even without the HEV suit it would've taken a blind person not to recognize his face. What was Dr. Freeman doing here? Other than poking around in the ship's radio's innards, anyway... actually, why was he even doing that? There were plenty of people who could.... do...

Oh, who was she kidding. She couldn't do it. If she could've it would've been done by now. "Thanks," she murmured, and hunched her shoulders.

Dr. Freeman glanced up at that, eyebrows rising, green eyes peering curiously over the top of his glasses in a silent you okay?

"Sorry, Dr. Freeman," Meredith said. "I just-" But she couldn't say it. You couldn't look him of all people in the face and tell him you were overwhelmed, exhausted, scared. You just couldn't. You might as well ask an earthquake to go easy on you, or a tsunami to cut you slack because your feet were just too slow.

He glanced at the radio rig a moment. Then he glanced back at her, expression considering. Then- much to her surprise- he put down the tools. "Do you want to talk about it?" he said.

Meredith never really remembered what she said next. She would never in a million years have dreamed of Dr. Freeman even asking a question lie that, let alone spilling her guts to the man- about the radio, about the mission, about their situation, about everything. By the time she was done she was gulping and aware that she'd probably said way more than she ought've. It didn't seem to matter, though. Dr. Freeman was still listening, and nodding at her words. "I'm sorry," she said. "You were trying to work-"

"It's all right," Dr. Freeman said. "This was more important."

More important? Than getting their radio fixed? She gave him a disbelieving look.

"Really," he answered, and it might've been her imagination but she thought she caught the edges of a smile on his face. "Radios we can fix, or scavenge parts for. Somewhere. People are another story."

"Dr. Freeman..." Meredith shook her head. "I'm sorry. You took on half the Combine in City 17 by yourself. You don't need-" me, us "-this dragging you down. You could probably find those people who sent the signal and rescue them all by yourself if it was just you."

"Meredith, if it was just me, I would never have made it out of Black Mesa alive, never mind City 17," Dr. Freeman said. "If I didn't have people to fight for I'd have never gotten this far in the first place."

She eyed him again, but he seemed to be serious. "You have Ms. Vance," she said, "and your children-"

Dr. Freeman nodded. "They're important," he said. "Very important. But they're not the whole world. This fight is as much for you and every other human being alive as it is for them. You deserve to live and be free. You, everyone on this ship- everyone. And I don't plan on stopping, even for a minute until that finally comes to pass."

Meredith swallowed; she couldn't quite speak.

"Right now that means getting this radio fixed," Dr. Freeman went on, pointing to the rig with a screwdriver. "Or as close to it as we can manage. We're going to assemble a team to go out and scour the area for scroungeable parts if we can't get it working. Either we'll get the radio working and contact the people who sent the distress signal, or we'll find them ourselves on foot. One way or another, we'll find them and get this ship up and running again. And once we do, the Australian gene worm is as good as dead." He bumped her arm lightly with the butt end of the screwdriver. "We can do this. I know we can."

Coming from him, Meredith could believe it. She nodded, and managed a smile.

"There we go. Come on. Let's get this thing up and running."

Meredith might've heard the sound of eavesdroppers' footsteps pattering away on the other side of the door as she reached for the toolkit. She ignored it. There was work to do.

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Gordon Freeman

December 2012

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