acts_of_gord: (interesting eye wear)
Barney pulls the bridge shut almost as soon as Gordon touches down in the building across the road. They've just come from apartments in foul condition, but this building's suffered more; the holes in the walls are enormous, and the floor feels as if it might give way at any moment. Some previous Resistance member took the precaution of bridging the gap between this building and the next with a length of metal walkway. It's very thoughtful of them, but Gordon can't help but wish he still had his old long-jump module. That's just not solid-looking enough for him.

That, and he can hear the whirring, thupping sound of oncoming rotors from somewhere very close by indeed.
acts_of_gord: (growly (with text))
The thing about electronically locked doors was that the vast majority of them were easily opened by the judicious application of a crowbar.

The thing was that the only crowbar Gordon knew of in the area was currently in D0G's keeping.

And the other thing was that his only possible alternative was the slim chance that the grating on the wall behind them led to an air vent that would eventually point him in the right direction, not simply lead him off back to where they'd come.

With a rueful expression, Gordon glances up at Alyx. "Think you can hold the fort without a flashlight?"
acts_of_gord: (apologize to science)
If things ever became normal again, and he was fully aware of just how unlikely that was going to be, Gordon would never, ever, ever set foot in a glass elevator as long as he lived. The Combine were far too fond of unwalled glass platforms for his liking, and the thought of riding one more elevator where he could see everything going on around him... well. To tell the truth it was a distraction from the fact that he was about to run into the heart of an atomic reactor doing its absolute best to throw off what remained of its shackles and light the atmosphere on fire, and attempt to collar the thing and bring it to heel.

Not much of one. There wasn't much that could take his attention away from the vast swelling, trembling, collapsing, and re-swelling orb of energy overhead. Even the pain that seared his eyes when he tried to look at it (was it his imagination, or did the blue-white light surround a core of utter darkness?) only warned him off a little. It was-

It was horrifying. It was a living and visible warning of the end of the human race, of the disaster that was only waiting for the Combine's signal. But in its own way it had a bizarre kind of-

( If the radiance of a thousand suns
were to burst into the sky
that would be like
the splendor of the Mighty One )


-splendor.

( and I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds )

He shivered and forced himself to look away.

There were unformed bridges to be spun across the abyss, with Stalkers tending the controls to stop him. They didn't last long. The soldiers and Elites waiting for him in the first stabilizer room lasted a little longer, better-armed and self-willed as they were, but in the end they lay scattered around the chamber like a pile of ragdolls. Gordon wondered, just for a moment, what he would see if he took the helmet off an intact Overwatch soldier's head. Was there a face anymore under that? How far had the Combine remade those poor bastards?

Far enough, he told himself, that whatever remains, we'd never be able to recognize it. Leave the unmasking to Luke Skywalker and get on with the work.



The last of the manhacks exploded, its shrilling alarm cutting off abruptly as he punted it into the wall. Escaping unmolested from the chamber after firing up the first stabilizer would've just been too easy, he supposed. Well, nothing to stop him now but-

No. Oh, hell no.

He stood on a tiny metal balcony overlooking the reactor core's gulf. There were no elevators, no platforms, no gantries. The only way left to reach the next stabilization room was to cross the glassy, shimmering energy bridge directly to the center itself- to the glowing, half-melted metal ring that was all that remained uneaten by the heaving shudders of the fluctuating core. One touch of that thing would be like expecting a tin can to survive being touched by the corona of the Sun.

( "It's always an option. It's just one you choose not to take." )

Gordon watched the energy core shudder, flare, fall back-

( Pain fades. Fear fades. Something else takes its place. If I quit, it lasts forever. )

He ran. It was the longest six seconds of his life.




The second stabilizer was back on line, and there were no bridges this time. Just the ladder-like containment claws that would descend from above and envelop the core when everything else was in place, rotating slowly around their not-quite-captive sun.

Either the Combine's normal maintenance crew could fly, or there was no such thing as OSHA in their empire.

He leaped anyway.



The third stabilizer ground to a halt halfway into position. Gordon swore; he had not come through rapid-fire energy orb cannonades and Elite death squads to screw around with an alien machine until the lightning fell. Maintenance failures on the enemy's part were all well and good, but only when they worked in his favor, dammit.

Some poking around revealed a gap in the floor leading to a series of what should've been orb-powered generators. One was operational. Two were cold and dark. He gritted his teeth and went back the way he'd come, to the conduit full of onrushing energy packets. Apparently, he had to do everything himself around here. Damn Combine. Probably sabotaged the thing to make blowing the reactor that much more difficult to reverse.

(It occurred to him, in a dim and distant sort of way, that this probably wasn't a healthy reaction. Better, maybe, than the alternative- screaming at the top of his lungs and hiding somewhere until it was all over- but still.)

As the orbs he yanked out of the conduit snapped into place, the floor panel started to clamber upwards again. He ran for the platform and made it into the room in time to see the stabilizer resume its forward progress. The panels slid aside; it fired its energy stream-

There was one last blaze of coruscating light, and the containment claws descended on the unwary core from all three sides. He scarcely noticed as the extra power drained out of his suit and the gravity gun flickered from blue back to orange again.

Now he just had to find a way back.
acts_of_gord: (bad feeling about this)
There was no strength left in his limbs; arms, legs, hands, feet, even the muscles that kept him breathing were trembling, not with exertion but with exhaustion. How much further did he have to go? How much more did he have to do? One Strider lay dead behind him among the heaped corpses of Elites, brought low by the Combine's own energy orbs torn away with the gravity gun. Were there more? What else was coming?

As he stepped around the corner and caught site of yet another precipice and another system of transport pods he almost cried. He couldn't do it again. There was nothing left to hang on with.

One of the pods slithering by was occupied. The wasted, withered figure inside had been a human, once; some sort of metal plate covered where its eyes had been, and metal rods poked from the visible ends of its legs like mockeries of prosthetic science. As Gordon swallowed, its head thrashed violently, and it let out an inarticulate roar.

( "Look, Gordon. Look at what you're throwing away. Is it worth it?" Dr. Breen had said- )

There was no other way. Not for him.

Sorry, Ender, but this time the enemy's gate is up, he caught himself thinking as he clambered into the next transport pod to open in front of him. He'd find a way to make it work somehow, but right now, he couldn't do this any other way.
acts_of_gord: (apologize to science)
A flicker of light on the wall in front of him as he waited for his suit to finish charging was all the warning Gordon had; behind him, two telescreens had come to life. He turned, gravity gun in hand, and found himself facing Dr. Breen.

"So, this is Dr. Freeman, at last," Breen said, in a tone that other men reserved for their first sighting of one of their own kidney stones. "I wish I could say this was a pleasant surprise, but it's neither a surprise, nor, as you would surely agree, very pleasant. Well, I am nothing if not pragmatic."

The screens went back. Gordon blinked a few times, and kept moving. Useless as the moment was, it probably indicated he was on the right track.



Damn. Even the Elites' pulse rifles disintegrated under the strange new energy blasts from the gravity gun. Oh, well, not like he wasn't doing just fine without-

"Well, Dr. Freeman," said Breen from the telescreen behind him, "under other circumstances I like to think we might've been able to work together in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. Certainly judging from your brief tenure at Black Mesa while I was its Administrator, you showed every promise of becoming a valuable and productive contributor to the scientific process. And yet, I'm not sure what spurred you to it, but there is no place in this enterprise for a rogue physicist."

The chirruping sound of a scannerbot moving into position to blind him could not have come at a better time. Gordon grinned as he snatched the thing out of the air and aimed for the dark-again screen.



Gordon tapped the green button to call the lift; there was no other way out of this part of the Citadel except the wide, flat, open elevator platform. To his disgust, he heard a nearby telescreen switch on.

"Your mentors are partly to blame, of course. My disappointment in Eli Vance and Isaac Kleiner is far greater than my sorrow over your unfortunate choice of career path. In a way I suppose you could not have done otherwise. Who knows what seeds of iconoclasm they planted when you were young and gullible? But while they certainly share a great part of the responsibility for the recent troubles, it is you alone who have chosen to act in such willful disregard for humanity's future!"

Fine words from a man who'd informed his soldiers that they'd better shape up because the alternative, if you can call it that, is total extinction - in union with all the other unworthy branches of the species. Gordon sort of had to wonder whether Breen believed any of what he was saying, or whether absolutely everything that came out of the man's mouth was a lie.

But there were Overwatch coming, and a whir of manhacks in the air. Speculation could wait. Survival now.



Everything hurt. Everything. The Overwatch had been matched in number by the Elites, and no matter how many of them he tore from their balconies as the lift rose past floor after floor there were always more of them. The suit still had enough power left to begin repairing its own structural integrity, but the morphine was gone, and the feel of his own blood slithering between suit and skin from unstanched wounds was something he'd feel in his nightmares if he lived to ever dream again-

"Tell me, Dr. Freeman, if you can," said Dr. Breen from the suddenly-live telescreens in front of him. "You have destroyed so much. What is it, exactly, that you have created?"

( "This is the Freeman. The Combine's reckoning has come." )

"Can you name even one thing?"

( "For once the lesser master lay defeated, we knew the greater must also fall in time." )

"I thought not-"

( "You're not 'the One Free Man'. I understand that. But I believe in you." )

"Hope," he said aloud, and tore the telescreen from the wall.
acts_of_gord: (apologize to science)
It might have been Gordon's imagination, but he was pretty sure he could hear Barney's final syllables over the inexorable clang of D0G dropping the Combine wall once more. But that was it; when the last echoes died away, the sounds of the world of men were gone. For all that there was no roof between him and the skies, Gordon was as cut off here, on the brink of a precipice deeper than he liked to think about, with nothing else around him except what the Combine had made.

At least, he thought as he picked his way slowly along the stony path in search of a way in, there were no damn floating islands.



There'd been an entrance on the tower's south side, little more than a sally port, and it'd been unguarded. That had struck him as suspicious at the time. Not now, though, not so much. Ultimately it only led to one place: a vast and almost endless corridor, stretching off into the dimly-lit distance on either side, plunging down hundreds of feet, and rising up probably nearly as far. There were no ladders into the precipice, no stairs on any side. No elevators offered a hint of the way to proceed. Not even so much as a seam in the black alien metal of the walls betrayed the possible presence of a door. All that could be seen moving, anywhere, were the pods: scores of them, hundreds of them, the same prisoner transport pods that they'd had Eli in at Nova Prospekt, clanking endlessly by, stopping and opening for a moment, and swaying as they continued along their way suspended from rails too far overhead to reach.

He couldn't remember any more whether this or Nova Prospekt was the scene from the nightmare vision he'd had just before awakening on the train. It didn't matter. The vision hadn't given him any kind of a clue how to proceed- and every moment he stood there staring was a moment neither Eli nor Alyx had to spare. There had to be a way...

The rails split over the mouth of the precipice, he noticed. Pods that were directed to the right passed through a brighter-lit zone that bathed them in a torrent of electrical current. To the left they rumbled onward into the semidarkness unmolested. If he wasn't too badly mistaken, there seemed to be a hint of something lifting in the shadows, as if the pods' rails rose to some other level of the Citadel. That would be a step in the right direction, at least- although not one he wanted to take from inside the pod. If another of those electrical baths was up there somewhere, he needed to be able to free himself quickly. So...

The pod in front of him snapped closed. Before Gordon could question his own sanity any further, he'd leapt up onto it, braced his feet on the tiny bottom lip that prevented prisoners from kicking at their captors, and just barely managed to wrap his arms around the thing. Now all he had to do was hold on.

... and, he discovered a moment later as the pod rattled forward on its journey, not look down for ANY REASON WHATSOEVER.



How long it took before the pod clunked to a stop in the high-ceilinged chamber Gordon couldn't possibly say. The ride had been alternately taken up with fascination, horror, and pure instinctive terror as he stared about him in a quest to do anything but think about how likely he was to accidentally let go and plummet to his doom. There'd been gunships hanging on the walls for maintenance, Striders marching through narrow passageways, units of troops, trains full of prisoners- all kinds of wonders and horrors alike. This was, after all, the heart of the Combine's military power.

The distraction it provided was only for the mind, though. His fingers and wrists were just about to give way. When the pod stopped and he realized there was floor under foot, he let go immediately. Landing on his ass was better than trying to hold on even one second longer-

"Section alert," said an all too familiar female voice. "Unregistered weapons detected. Confiscation field engaged."

The air lit up with a glimmering blue energy, and an intangible force ripped every last one of Gordon's weapons away from harness and hands alike. One by one, they fell to the floor in piles of blackened ash- pulse rifle, SMG, shotgun... even the crowbar.

There were no words. There were absolutely no words. Not even the profane ones would come to mind. Just a dull, solid clunk noise, like the last chunk of metal falling useless to- Wait, no, that was a real sound. Apparently the gravity gun didn't qualify as a weapon. The field had released its hold on the device as soon as its orange internal energies shimmered out of existence, replaced instead with the same blue that filled the air. Well... maybe it still worked? And it was better than nothing? Gordon grabbed it up and examined its tiny instrumentation, but nothing indicated what had just happened. He was going to have to find some way of testing-

The rhythmic thumping of booted feet caught his attention. Overwatch if he was lucky. Elites if he wasn't. Either way, unless he could pull the guns out of their hands, he was screwed; the gravity gun didn't work on organics and the post-human soldiers were still organic enough to qualify. Gordon swallowed and plastered his back against the nearest wall (funny how much easier that was without actual weapons in the way). Closer, now (it wasn't going to work), and closer (it had to work), and closer (it wasn't going to work)-

As the first Combine soldier rounded the corner, Gordon closed his eyes and pulled the gravity gun's secondary trigger. There was a startled squawk- and the sound of booted feet stopped.

When Gordon dared to open one eye, the lifeless form of the Overwatch soldier was dangling in the zero point energy field's grip. And when his finger twitched against the other trigger, the gun flung the corpse straight into two more oncoming Overwatch. Another twitch, and the energy bolts that'd only ever pushed metal and wood and stone around before were lancing out of the gun like blue lightning, striking the rest of the soldiers down...

There was no one left alive in that part of the Citadel to hear Gordon suddenly start cackling. It was probably for the best.
acts_of_gord: (Resistance)
The harsh chill light of day in the latter half of the year greets the final team to arrive from Milliways as they step out of a shattered building's shadow and into the street. The cobbled courtyard underfoot is dusted with yellowed leaves, the walls with posters and graffiti. An old, tired wind wends its way between the buildings, carrying the stink of gunfire and ash with it. Gordon knows this place well enough: it's the courtyard he first arrived in after scrambling out the window of the City 17 arrival processing area. If he recalls correctly, the street ahead leads to the long-forgotten playground, and ultimately to the central plaza.

He glances to Barney and the others briefly for his cue.
acts_of_gord: (Resistance)
In better times City 17 had many, many ways of crossing town. For the most part, the citizens of today travel on the surface, and mostly on foot. This is partly because they're easier to track down, and partly because the alternatives haven't been maintained lately. On the other hand, the Combine don't use the underpassages any more either. Clearing one of the tunnels that crosses half the City is a priority for the Resistance; it'll give them a much better crack at getting behind enemy lines. Thus the infiltration team finds themselves in a small courtyard at the back of what was once a highway maintenance building, facing a poorly lit flight of stairs leading down.
acts_of_gord: (Resistance)
The group of fighters tasked with getting civilians out of the line of fire opens on an unremarkable side door of a thoroughly unremarkable building. The walls here are largely grey brick, scribbled here and there with graffiti in a mingle of languages- English, Spanish, something that might be Russian or Ukrainian. A tattered poster of a white-bearded man in a business suit hangs limply from the wall next to a roll-up garage door.

Barney leans forward to rap swiftly on the smaller door, as there's no handle to open it from the outside. The first thing anyone sees of what lies beyond is the muzzle of a shotgun. Before any hostile reaction can happen, the wielder leans forward: a bald, bespectacled, lab-coated figure, blinking in the light of day. "Barney?" he says. "Alyx? My God, when did you get here? And who are these people?"
acts_of_gord: (Resistance)
The group of Milliways patrons earmarked for the pincer movement is ushered into City 17 without much ceremony. The streets here are cobbled, the buildings grey with age; the handful of cars in the street are old, old things, worn down with time and lack of care. They have the look of machines that were abandoned where their owners fell. This was a residential part of town, once. That was before the Combine- before the black thing on the horizon existed. In the distance it rises, visible down the eastward-facing streets: a tower of such immense size that its top pierces the low-lying clouds.

"Hey," calls a human voice- a Hispanic-looking woman, young of face but old of eye and attitude. She's dressed in dark blue and black, partially bulked up by the body armor of a fallen Civil Protection metrocop, and she carries a submachine gun. "Didn't see you guys show up. Are you part of the diversionary force?"
acts_of_gord: (patron saint of kicking ass)
( Here we stand or here we fall )
"I have been asked to say a few words to the transhuman arm of Sector Seventeen Overwatch, concerning recent successes in containing members of the resistance Science Team."
( History won't care at all )
It was Dr. Breen's voice this time over the prison's PA system, not the distorted, pseudo-British female announcer who'd made all the other announcements Gordon had heard so far. Not that he was listening very closely. There were laser tripmines up ahead-
( Make the bed-- light the light )
"Let me say up front that I regret having to temper my heartfelt congratulations with a strong measure of disappointment. But I wouldn't be doing my duty as your Administrator if I didn't pass along the message I have received from our Benefactors."
( Lady Mercy won't be home tonight )
There was a BOOM, and a rain of antlion parts. So much for the tripmines.
( You don't waste no time at all )
"The capture of Eli Vance is an event of major significance, make no mistake. And while it's true that conceivably we could have taken him at almost any time in the last several years, the manner of his capture may prove to have unexpected benefits."
( Don't hear the bell but you answer the call )
From somewhere around the bend came the sound of booted feet at a forced run. Gordon started digging into the tattered remains of his pheropod for a pellet.
( It comes to you as to us all )
"It cannot have gone unnoticed by all resistance members that Doctor Vance's capture coincided with the act of giving shelter to Gordon Freeman. This might cause other resistance members to think twice before harboring Doctor Freeman. It might cause them to question his allegiance; even prompt some to turn him out, or turn him over to our cause. "
( We're just waiting for the hammer to fall )
There. The guards' shadows ran ahead of them; they were within range.
( Oh, ev'ry night and every day )
"However, we cannot count on such developments. Doctor Freeman's reputation is such that other desperate renegades are likely to grant him a great deal of license in the spirit of spreading general chaos and terror."
( A little piece of you is falling away )
Paff! went the pellet against the first of the unlucky bastards to emerge. The soldier froze, looked up; the antlions screamed...
( But lift your face the Western way )
"This brings me to the one note of disappointment I must echo from our Benefactors. Obviously I am not on the ground to closely command or second-guess the dedicated forces of the Overwatch, but this does not mean I can shirk responsibility for recent lapses and even outright failures on their part. I have been severely questioned about these shortcomings, and now must put the question to you:"
( Build your muscles as your body decays )
Antlions, Gordon had found, tended not to leave much in the way of corpses. Just blood and crunchy bits, which Gordon tried not to think about too much when he fished through the little heaps after the fact, looking for the soldiers' ammo. He wiped his hand on his suit, loaded the pulse rifle, and kept moving.
( Toe your line and play their game )
"How could one man have slipped through your force's fingers time and time again? How is it possible?"
( Let the anaesthetic cover it all )
Up ahead they'd had enough warning of his progress to set up an emplacement. Once again, Gordon couldn't help but feel that the Marines had done a better job with theirs. Honestly, if you couldn't expect quality and care from forcibly upgraded half-alien soldiers in their own fortress, what was the world coming to?
( Till one day they call your name )
"This is not some agent provocateur or highly trained assassin we are discussing!"
( You know it's time for the hammer to fall )
Paff. And again, the screaming...
( Rich or poor or famous, for your truth it's all the same (oh no oh no) )
"Gordon Freeman is a theoretical physicist who had hardly earned the distinction of his Ph.D. at the time of the Black Mesa Incident. I have good reason to believe that in the intervening years, he was in a state that precluded further development of covert skills."
( Lock your door-- the rain is pouring )
Hm. That was an interesting little comment. Gordon filed it away mentally as he ran up the stairs to the emplacement, wheeling swiftly to turn the gun against the soldiers trying to close in from behind.
( Through your window pane (oh no) )
"The man you have consistently failed to slow, let alone capture, is by all standards simply that--an ordinary man. How can you have failed to apprehend him?"
( Baby now your struggle's all in vain )
"Don't know," Gordon answered aloud. Two of the soldiers were left- no, one- no, that was the last of them. "Don't care."
( For we who grew up tall and proud )
"Well...I will leave the upbraiding for another time, to the extent it proves necessary. Now is the moment to redeem yourselves. If the transhuman forces are to prove themselves an indispensable augmentation to the Combine Overwatch, they will have to earn the privilege. I'm sure I don't have to remind you that the alternative, if you can call it that, is total extinction - in union with all the other unworthy branches of the species."
( In the shadow of the mushroom cloud )
Gordon would've rolled his eyes if he weren't already on the move again. Two tripmines, a set of gun turrets, another tripmine; okay, he had to admit, this would've been a much hairier situation if he hadn't had the antlions to soak up the worst of what he was running into now.
( Convinced our voices can't be heard )
"Let's not allow it to come to that. I have done my best to convince our Benefactors that you are the finest the species has to offer. So far they have accepted my argument, but without concrete evidence to back it up, my words sound increasingly hollow even to me. The burden of proof is on you."
( We just wanna scream it louder and louder louder )
Another squad of soldiers up ahead, now. Gordon dug into the pheropod again and found... one last pellet. He considered his chances, then opted to throw it anyway. The empty pod would still leave him smelling enough like a bull that he wouldn't get attacked, which was probably more important right now regardless.
( What the hell we fighting for? )
"As is the consequence of failure."
( Just surrender and it won't hurt at all )
Paff.
( Just got time to say your prayers )
"I'll just leave it at that," concluded Breen, as Gordon ran on into the darkness.
( While you're waiting for the hammer to, hammer to fall. . . )
acts_of_gord: (bitchez)
If antlions had eyes, Gordon couldn't have said where they were for the life of him. Nevertheless, the two antlions in the pit were staring at him, he was sure of it. The problem was that all his life, he'd been told not to stare back at a dangerous animal if he could help it, and he had no clue where he was supposed to look or not look. "Uh," he said carefully, opting for a ridge on the larger antlion's carapace, "what do I do now?"

"Behold the training mannikin," said the Vortigaunt behind him, with the serenity of someone who had seen this very scenario play out a thousand times before. "The Freeman will produce one of the pellets from within the pheropod and mark the mannikin for attack."

Gordon winced. Don't think of it as an alien bug's scent glands, he told himself. Pretend it's a pomengranate and you're after a seed. That's all. Just dig out one of the seeds and throw it.

It wasn't a very convincing lie, but it was the best he could manage. Fortunately the scent pellets were close to the surface, and the one Gordon fished out flew true when thrown. As the antlions launched themselves at the mocked-up Combine soldier's form with the fury of brides-to-be at a Filene's Basement opening, the Vortigaunt intoned, "The Freeman excels at all tasks."

"Please stop that."

"Hmm?"

He hadn't meant to say that out loud. Gordon slid his free hand under his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment. "Sorry. I just- never mind. It's my first time."

The Vortigaunt seemed unfazed. "Nevertheless the Freeman does well. Follow now and go swiftly. Nova Prospekt lies not far from here, and the Eli Vance relies upon you."

It turned on one hoofed foot and trotted up the tunnel that led into the darkening distance. Gordon followed, trying to shut out the sound of ever more antlion claws behind him.



Gordon had very few particularly outstanding memories of his father. Bill Freeman had been an airline pilot in high demand. Gordon knew his father's voice over the phone more than his face or his presence. Still, there were things now and again that still resonated in memory. Bill Freeman's fondness for History Channel documentaries, for one thing.

Given the sheer carnage being unleashed against Combine entrenchment after Combine entrenchment by what he could only describe as the antlion horde Gordon wasn't sure whether this counted as the D-day invasion or the arrival of Genghis Khan. Either way, he felt sorry for any cameraman who might try to capture the scene. The amount of editing they'd have to do to make this fit to broadcast....



The route he'd found into the space between the walls and the prison proper involved a lengthy swim. Gordon broke the surface in a patch of shadow overhung by a small ledge. He hung back in the darkness, waiting for his eyes to adjust- and for any sign of the local defenses. Sure enough, there were guard towers manned by Overwatch on several sides, and smaller guard-posts just barely visible at ground level.

He'd read, once, that until the age of air warfare the Acropolis had never been taken while it had been defended by those who knew it. Nova Prospekt bore no outward resemblance to the fortress of the Athenian kings save for its position on an immense crag overlooking the sea; still, that was enough... Another man might have prayed. Gordon only closed his eyes and took a long, shaking breath.

Pain fades, he told himself. Fear fades. If I quit, it lasts forever.

The sniper crossbow he'd picked up from some poor bastard's corpse on the coast road was in his hand and ready before he even opened his eyes.
acts_of_gord: (fogging up)
For all that he knew it made him a blatant target, and for all that the rebels at Lighthouse Point had assured him he was close enough to his destination not to need it any more, Gordon stell felt a twinge of mourning as he watched the Combine dropship cruise away with the dune buggy in its clutches. He'd liked that car. On the other hand, there wasn't much functional road left between Lighthouse Point and Nova Prospekt, just rocky landscape and sand- and the thing's traction on sand was absolutely horrible. Given that there was supposed to be some kind of antlion warren nearby, that would probably make the car more trouble than it was-

"Hey! You there! Don't move!"

Gordon froze in mid-stride.

"Stay on the rocks," ordered the speaker: a bald human in a dingy grey jacket, crouched several yards away beside another man's prone, bloodied form. "This is antlion country. We're right over their warren. Stepping on the sand around here makes them crazy."

Gordon looked down; his right foot hovered above a patch of sandy ground, but his left was securely on stone. He backed up a pace.

"Smart man," said the bald fellow. "Laszlo and I were on our way to the Vortigaunt camp to get some bugbait when they attacked us. We made it this far and they gave up, but-"

The wounded Laszlo moaned, rolling sideways. The bald man's eyes widened in alarm. "No! Laszlo, don't move!"

But he was too late; Laszlo had rolled off the island of rock and thumped one hand against the ground. The sand shivered, shuddered, began to rise- and erupted in screaming green and orange as the antlions tore through to the surface. It took Gordon a moment to realize that the men were completely unarmed. The instant he did, he pulled his shotgun free of its harness (anything less and the bugs wouldn't even notice, but anything more and he'd almost certainly take out the humans, too) and started firing.

It was all over in a few moments. Bug guts splashed over the rocks and sand alike- and the survivor, who stared wide-eyed at his companion's tattered corpse for a moment before breaking into a deluge of sobs. "Dear God!" he cried. "Laszlo! The finest mind of his generation- gone..."

Gordon really didn't know what to say to that. He opened his mouth to speak, but the other man wasn't finished. "I know we were going to go on, but-" The man choked back a wail. "Without Laszlo, what's the point?"

"Uh-"

The man shook himself sharply, apparently remembering Gordon's presence. "It's all right," he said tearfully. "I don't blame you. I know you tried to help." He glanced at the shattered carapaces a moment before looking back to Gordon. "You'd better go on, if you can. Teach these antlion bastards a lesson."

The prospect of leaving an unaided, unarmed human alone in a place like this didn't sit well with Gordon at all. "Listen," he said, "can you use a gun?"

"Not a good idea," said the man. "I'm afraid Laszlo here used to call me 'Butterfingers'. He said I'd shoot my own eye out one of these days."

Huh, boy, thought Gordon- but a moment later an idea occurred to him. The sandy valley that led off to the northwest was littered with all sorts of detritus. "If I can get you a bridge from one rock to the next," he said, "will you come with me?"

The man shook his head. "Thank you, but I- I'm going to stay here. With Laszlo." He nodded to the corpse. "There's something I have to do."

"If you say so," Gordon murmured. He took out the gravity gun anyway. Whatever funeral the man had in mind could only last so long, and the least he could do for him before moving on was pull together enough of a trash bridge to let him reach the path back to Lighthouse Point.



Two football fields' worth of open sand behind him. Gordon's arms were starting to tremble from having to hold the gravity gun so steady for so long, having to grab objects at the very limits of its range and pull them in. The antlions didn't pay much attention to the scraping of large objects, but a short shart impact from anything small was enough to send them boiling out from under the surface. Not a problem if only one or two of them showed up at a distance, but more than that, or closer, and it was everything he could do not to fall onto the sand and inadvertently summon more. . .

Five yards ahead of him a ridge of stone reared up, offering an antlion-free vantage on whatever lay ahead. How much farther Nova Prospket was from there- or even the Vortigaunt camp Laszlo's friend had mentioned- he didn't know, but the important thing was that it was stone. It was safe. He could decide what had to be done next once he got there. Gordon closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep, deep breath. He'd come this far. This was no time to falter.

The trail behind him- wooden planks and sheets of metal from what'd once been a shed roof, mostly- wasn't quite long enough to bridge the gap, but it was close. Gordon managed the leap to the lowest part of the ridge without toppling back onto the sand, and spent several minutes leaning against the stone, panting. How much farther did he have to go? He couldn't do another hundred yards of this. Not without a thumper, or a car, or a- or something. No more antlion sand. that wasn't so much to ask, was it?

Apparently?

It was. Because once Gordon clambered all the way up the ridge, what lay on the other side was a long, wide valley of sandy soil, ringed on every side by stone. Gordon's stomach twisted briefly at the prospect, but a gleam of sun on metal gave him some hope: something man-made had been built into the cliff face up ahead. His suit was fully charged. If he was very, very lucky, once he picked his way down to the valley floor, he should be able to get there in the sprint to end all sprints.

Of course, said the treacherous little voice in the back of his head, that assumes that what you're seeing is a sign of life, and not some abandoned piece of architecture. Or something Combine, for that matter. Gordon set his jaw, told the voice to shut up, and ran. The first step, the second, the third, nothing happened.

On the fourth, the ground began to shake.

On the fifth, hell erupted.

It was fifteen feet of raw insectile rage, and it bellowed. Nothing like that ought to bellow! Its huge blunt head swung from side to side even as it CHARGED, thundering after him like the end of the world. Even the stone was shaking, or seemed to be; GOrdon couldn't tell and didn't want to. All he could think was shelter- find shelter- somewhere small! If he didn't find somewhere small enough to wedge himself without the beast being able to get at him, he was doomed. There was no way he could get off any kind of gunfire; it was right on his tail-

From somewhere up above, in the rockface, automatic gunfire rang out. The beast roared a challenge, pausing in its charge to face the gunman. Thank you, Gordon thought silently, and made the last few strides to the nearest solid stone. Then, and only then, did he unshoulder the rocket launcher. There was, after all, no such thing as overkill.

The thing didn't stand a chance. The rockets flung it backwards, and the bullets tore through its carapace without mercy. With a last scream of rage it expired, legs twitching as it toppled to the ground. Gordon eyed the corpse warily. He'd never seen the creature before. For all he knew, the corpse might be hatching one last surprise-

"Don't get twitchy down there," called out a voice from up above. "We're sending someone out."

Metal scraped against metal. With agonizing slowness, a gate concealed in the rockface slid open. A Vortigaunt trotted out briskly, casting an expert eye over the vast corpse. It gave what sounded like a hum of satisfaction. "Rest well, mighty myrmidont," it rumbled. Then it turned to Gordon. "The Freeman will do well to carefully perform the extraction of the myrmidont's aromatic pheropods."

"... what?" was all Gordon could think to say.

"He says he's going to split that dead bug open so you can pull out a souvenir set of glands," called a human voice from the gate.

"And... I'm going to do this... why?"

The speaker, a dark-skinned man in the delta-marked jacket of a Resistance member, emerged from the gate. "Get hold of a couple of those glands and you've got yourself your very own antlion army," he said. "They're the whole reason we're camped here. It's amazing how handy they can be in a tight spot. You're Dr. Freeman, right?" Gordon nodded. "Then you're gonna need them for sure, where you're going."

"The process is not entirely hygienic," the Vortigaunt added, "so stand back."

Gordon stepped back to the black man's side and watched the Vortigaunt summon the same green lightning he remembered all too well from Black Mesa. The vast corpse spasmed, sending sand and other substances in all directions. Then it fell back to the sand, the carapace cracked neatly down the middle. Gordon noted with some distaste that something green-grey and vile was already oozing out of it. Then he realized the Vortigaunt was looking at him expectantly. "You mean I have to..."

It nodded.

Suppressing a sigh, Gordon moved forward and knelt at the corpse's side. It's no worse than any of the things I had to swim through at Black Mesa, he told himself. At least it's fresh, not rotten. "What am I looking for?" he asked as he tried and failed to pry the carapace further open.

"The pheropod's about softball sized," said the human. "It feels about like... oh, if you put your finger against your eyelid and press."

"Great," muttered Gordon, and shoved his arm into the cracked carapace up to the shoulder. It helped a little if he thought of it as being like digging the bag of giblets out of a Thanksgiving turkey. Well- no, it didn't but it was at least a distraction from the fact that he was arm deep in a giant killer alien bug that smelled like the inside of a forgotten gymsock. The instant he encountered moderately squishy resistance, he closed his fingers around it and yanked it out. "There," he exclaimed, relieved. He held up his prize. "I got the pheropod. Can I stop now?"

The Vortigaunt said nothing. The black man seemed to be suppressing a snicker. Gordon's eyes slid over to the thing in his hand.

"This... isn't a pheropod, is it."

"No," the human said, "but it's the biggest antlion turd I've ever seen."

Gordon wanted very badly to cover his face with his hand.

"Wait here," said the man with a broadening grin. "I'll go get the camera."




[OOC: Thank you, Chris Livingston!]

The Bridge

Aug. 8th, 2008 01:04 am
acts_of_gord: (thoughtful)
( As silent as a mirror is believed
Realities plunge in silence by . . . )

Once there was a cliff, hundreds of feet tall, millions of years old. Once there was a river, away down below as far as the eye could see and the stone could fall. Once there were terrible things tearing through the air and men with guns in the hot bright desert daylight, and the wind blew through the gap between the face of the cliff and the back of the neck like it wanted to be the last thing you would ever feel.
( I am not ready for repentance; )
That was long ago. Now, here, in this place? Now there is a bridge that seems to go on forever; stand on the right girder and the fog hides one end or the other from your sight. Don't stand too long, though. The bridge is old. Not the way the cliffs were old, but old as only the work of men can be: old through neglect in less time than it takes a human to live and grow old and die. When the trains rumble by above, the girders tremble and the rivets quake themselves that much looser. There were handrails once, pathways. They're not there any more.
( Nor to match regrets. For the moth )
The air is thick and cool, mist slicking the metal underfoot. You can't trust your own grip. Better not to try. Keep moving; forward is- not safer than stillness, not really, but balance is easier to keep when you have a vector and a velocity. Keep moving. Creep if you have to, jump if you must, but move. You can't stay where you are.
( Bends no more than the still )
There are men with guns here, there's that twanging bit of familiarity. If you can call them men, anyway. What's behind the mask isn't a face, and what's under the helmet isn't a brain, but they're shaped like men and they almost act like men, and they want you dead. And that, at least, is something you know very, very well. Your life or theirs, then; and there are other lives that depend on yours. Force the equation, and when they're gone, keep moving.
( Imploring flame. And tremorous )
There's a wind that blows here, twisting and winding through the gaps in the steel that surrounds you. The cliffside wind knew how very close death was; this wind doesn't care. Human beings have come here and been and gone. Why should it matter if any particular one loses his grip and falls? No pressure. Only presence. If it were blowing from your back that might at least be something; the leap from girder to concrete slab reeks of nightmares, boxes hanging over a void to be crossed, and a wind at your back would be at least a breath's worth of aid to that leap. But it comes and goes as it pleases, not as you would will it.
( In the white falling flakes )
So you move, ever forward, eyes always up. There's a tower to find, a control room, a switch or a button or a cable or something. If you're going to make it, if Eli's going to make it, you can't look down. Because there's no cliff and no desert daylight, and the wind and the air and the men are wrong, but away down below as far as the eye can see? There's the river.
( Kisses are,-- )
There's always the river.
( The only worth all granting. )
If it's not the river it's a length of the sea; but it might as well be the same thing, for all that it matters. Below you the water is moving, old and strong, waiting for the moment when your foot goes wrong or the bullet tears into you. Fail here, and whatever kills you, the end is the same. The water claims you.
( It is to be learned-- )
It would be good, maybe, to find a place where the metal is still strong under your feet- find it and wrap your arms around a girder. Scream about bad jobs and blue pills and waking up now. It would be a release. You wouldn't have to give up; you could get moving again after, if you were careful. Break, and it all comes out. You've done it before and you're still here. . .
( This cleaving and this burning, )
But that was long ago and far away, in a cave in a cliffside in what seems like another lifetime, in what was definitely another world. Crack now, and who knows whether you'll be able to put the pieces together again.
( But only by the one who )
Crack now, and one way or another, the river will win.
( Spends out himself again. )
So it's forward again. It's always forward. It's not even all that hard so long as you don't think about it, so keep your eyes up and keep moving, and when you finally reach the other side you can be thankful for the solid concrete under your feet at last. But not for too long; for all that it's solid it's not safe, because they're here and they saw you, and the gunfire rings out in a parody of welcome. Your own included, for all that you're one against their many. In the end, yours wins out and theirs go silent, and you move on.
( Twice and twice )
At the last you come to a room with a view of the bridge, stretching away into the foggy distance. It'll be a long time before you can remember that view without shuddering. You've got to make it back, after all, and knowing how far the journey really is doesn't sit easy on the mind. But there are hopes and dreams and desperation beyond your own riding on that journey, and what kind of a man would you be if you told them all, I couldn't do it because I was afraid?. So you turn your eyes away and find the switch at last. Flip it, and the bridge proper and the road beyond it opens to you at last...
( (Again the smoking souvenir, )
Can you run?
( Bleeding eidolon!) and yet again. )
It doesn't matter. You have to. They're coming. And the only way out is through.
( Until the bright logic is won )
By the time the last gun clatters to the ground and the light of its owner's eyes goes dark you're long since gone, out among the girders once more, praying that gravity forgets you and friction remembers. Your foot slips once, and a thousand nightmares (failed leaps careless falls empty elevator shafts the last instant before the bottom) jar loose- but you're still moving and there's no time to fall, only the grab and the stretch and the next step. Onward. Breathe, if you can remember how.
( Unwhispering as a mirror )
And when the bridge begins to shake around you this time, it's not a train any more. That's death coming. That's the sky shaking as the engine spins up and the machine that was once a beast cries out. It's after you; it knows where you are...
( Is believed. )
Below, the river. Above, the gunship. All around you, the metal of a bridge that doesn't know it's dead yet. It would be very, very easy to fall.
( Then, drop by caustic drop, a perfect cry )
There will be no falling today. Not for you, anyway. You've been running long enough. The concrete platform of the midway point is under your feet again. Now?
( Shall string some constant harmony,-- )
Now, it's time to dance.
( Relentless caper for all those who step )
And in the end, the river claims what it can take; and you make the rest of the crossing unmolested, and go on your way.
( The legend of their youth into the noon. )
acts_of_gord: (growly (with text))
Gravel sprayed everywhere as the buggy's wheels suddenly realized Gordon had pulled the handbrake lever. The buggy fishtailed to a stop; Gordon didn't much notice. He was too busy looking for some sign of human presence. There'd been Combine holed up near the last thumper, and the fighting had slowed him down. The settlement- New Little Odessa, wasn't it?- looked deserted, but at least it didn't look destroyed. . .
( We met as soul mates on Parris Island )
Something scuffed against a rock at the edge of his hearing. Gordon whipped around, shotgun in hand. An older man in a dingy, once-white jacket peered out at him from behind a half-wrecked cargo van. "Gordon Freeman?" the man said warily. Gordon nodded. "Hurry up and get to the cellar! We're expecting gunships any minute now."
( We left as inmates from an asylum )
"How many?" Gordon asked. He slid the gun back into its loop on the duct tape harness.
( And we were sharp, as sharp as knives / And we were so gung ho to lay down our lives )
"We don't know. Colonel Cubbage just managed to pick up the signal before it cut off."
( We came in spastic like tameless horses / We left in plastic as numbered corpses )
Nobody had mentioned a Colonel Cubbage back at the shorepoint installation, but Gordon nodded anyway. The man in the white jacket gestured to stairs leading under a nearby building- the one, Gordon realized, that he'd seen the Bastard in- and added, "He'll be glad to see you made it, that's for sure."
( And we learned fast to travel light / Our arms were heavy but our bellies were tight )
Before Gordon could say anything, the man had run off. Someone was speaking below, though; it had the sound of a briefing. He slipped down the stairs quietly and into the cellar, where a man, a woman, and a Vortigaunt were attentively listening to an Englishman. "-steerable rocket launcher is our best bet for taking down a gunship," the man said.
( We had no home front, we had no soft soap / They sent us Playboy, they gave us Bob Hope )
As the Vortigaunt glanced Gordon's way, the Englishman noticed his arrival. "Ah! Hello, I'll be right with you," he said. "Now- where was I? Ah, yes. The laser steering system. Using the laser guide, you can steer your rocket past the gunship defenses, like so, and make a direct hit. The first few will only anger it, of course. But if you can survive long enough to make several such hits, you will be rewarded with a prize worthy of any mantelpiece."
( We dug in deep and shot on sight / And prayed to Jesus Christ with all our might )
Gordon didn't know Vortigaunt expressions well enough yet to say what the alien might think of the speech, but the two humans looked more than a little bit skeptical of the prospect. The Englishman- a short, stout man with a fussy little mustache and knitted cap- seemed not to notice as he said, "Now. Who's going to be the lucky one to carry it into combat?"
( We had no cameras to shoot the landscape / We passed the hash pipe and played our Doors tapes )
No one said anything, but the humans' eyes slid over to Gordon. As for the Vortigaunt, it silently pointed one clawed finger Gordon's way in a gesture any human child would recognize as "not it!"
( And it was dark, so dark at night )
Before Gordon could say a word, the Englishman's eyes lit up. "Ah, yes! Gordon Freeman. I couldn't have asked for a finer volunteer."
( And we held on to each other )
Silently wishing mass infestations of small biting insects on the lot of them- what would you have done if I wasn't here?- Gordon stepped forward and accepted the launcher. The Englishman bowed. "Colonel Odessa Cubbage at your service," he said.
( Like brother to brother )
Somewhere up above, a klaxon sounded. "GUNSHIP!" somebody hollered. Cubbage's breath hissed between his teeth. "Damn!" he said. "You'd better get up there, Freeman. Just let me send a warning to Lighthouse Point, and I'll come right up and lend a hand!"
( We promised our mothers we'd write )
Gordon eyed the man's back- Cubbage hadn't even waited for an answer before rushing for the radio equipment- and allowed himself a huff of annoyance. Beyond that there was no point in hiding any longer, so he scooped as many rockets as he could manage off the nearby table and made for the stairs.
( And we would all go down together / We said we'd all go down together / Yes we would all go down together )

( Remember Charlie? Remember Baker? )
The air was filled with fire and a reek like nothing on Earth. Bits of the- thing- were still falling on all sides, flaming down to flecks of ash along the way. Gordon couldn't seem to catch his breath. The chopper back in the canals had been hard enough, but this! The gunship had flowed, pouring from place to place through the sky like some malevolent sea creature after its prey. And the noise it had made as it died. . .
( They left their childhood on every acre )
"Dr. Freeman?" A woman wearing the medic's cross on her arm eyed him worriedly. "Are you all right?"
( And who was wrong? And who was right? / It didn't matter in the thick of the fight )
"Fi-" He coughed. "Fine. I'm fine. I'm sorry, I- my glasses-" They were half-coated in the black, greasy residue of the thing's fiery passing. "Is everyone else okay?"
( We held the day )
"We've got a few injuries, but nobody died," the woman said. "That was amazing. I don't think I've ever seen one brought down so quickly!"
( In the palm of our hand )
Incredulous, Gordon glanced sidelong at her. It'd taken seven rockets, no less, and more running and hiding than he'd dreamed possible. She seemed quite serious, though.
( They ruled the night )
"Are you sure you're all right? You don't look so good."
( And the night )
"I'm sure," he finally said. "Where's Colonel Cubbage?"
( Seemed to last as long as... )

( Six weeks / On Parris Island )
Gordon wished the basement lights were brighter. The gunk on his glasses made it all but impossible to see, and his suit wasn't exactly designed for wiping off corrective lenses. He paused at the bottom of the stairs to try anyway.
( We held the coastline, they held the highlands )
"Well!" said the Colonel's voice from somewhere off to his left. "That's that. I gather you've disposed of that gunship, Dr. Freeman?"
( And they were sharp, as sharp as knives )
No thanks to you, Freeman thought sourly as one thumb rubbed the worst of the stuff away. Still, he nodded.
( They heard the hum of our motors )
"Very good. Your reputation, sir, is well deserved."
( They counted the rotors )
Wordlessly, Gordon slid his glasses back on. He could see again, though dimly at best, and the lights through the smeared lenses blurred everything into a kind of fog. He turned towards Cubbage-
( And waited for us to arrive )
It was the man he'd seen speaking with the Bastard in the scope.
( And we would all go down together )
The Colonel must've seen the recognition in Gordon's face, because he hastily muttered something about having the gate opened right away. Before Gordon could so much as utter a word, a Vortigaunt was escorting him out and up the stairs.
( We said we'd all go down together )
One day, Gordon thought sourly, he would get some damned answers; and on that day, the world would probably come to an end.
( Yes we would all go down together... )
acts_of_gord: (grrr)
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( I must have dreamed a thousand dreams / Been haunted by a million screams )
The sound of the thumper relentlessly pounding against the unyielding ground outside blocked out all other noise as Gordon picked through the handful of supply crates in the small barn. How people could get used to living with that noise he didn't know.
( But I can hear the marching feet / They're moving into the street )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( Now, did you read the news today? / They say the danger's gone away )
Although he supposed it beat the alternative of death by antlion. The name alone was enough to give him the shudders. You couldn't've found a less appropriate name for the insectile monstrosities out there. When they'd started rearing up out of the beach sand at him, there'd been a moment-
( But I can see the fire's still alight / They're burning into the night )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( There's too many men, too many people / Making too many problems )
-when he'd almost taken his foot off the gas to stop and stare and make sure they hadn't been invaded by a third alien world. Xen, fine. The Combine Empire, fine. But those things were from friggin' Klendathu!
( And there's not much love to go around / Can't you see this is a land of confusion? )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( This is the world we live in )
At least the thumpers were pretty much the opposite of what he'd been expecting. The word spoke of giant sandworms and Fremen, to him. He'd half expected to have to plant them himself in order to lure the Bugs away, but no. They were a repellent, not a lure. He could live with that.
( And these are the hands we're given )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( Use them and let's start trying )
Especially since the noise the damn things made pretty nearly blotted out the sound of his buggy's engine. If there weren't Combine in the house nearby, with supply stacks like this in here, he'd be damned surprised.
( To make it a place worth living in )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( Oh, Superman, where are you now? )
There were three of them. The first was bent over some sort of scope, pointed out across the water; he never looked up again. A shotgun blast to the place where helmet didn't quite join neck armor properly saw to that. The other two-
( When everything's gone wrong somehow? )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( The men of steel, these men of power )
-were a little cleverer, one outside holding off antlions but still alert, the other emerging from the basement, pulse rifle blazing. It didn't do either of them any good. Gordon had a long road ahead of him, and he did not need enemies alive to send a distress signal in his wake.
( Are losing control by the hour )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( This is the time, this is the place / So we look for the future )
He was a little curious, though, as he looked around the remains of the house. What was so fascinating on the other side of the scope? Uneasily- he'd read about Simo Häyhä's dislike of telescopic sights, and feared a headshot himself- he bent down to have a look.
( But there's not much love to go around / Tell me why this is a land of confusion )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( This is the world we live in )
The scope was automated, sweeping slowly in an arc that covered a significant portion of the horizon. At first all the view held was water. Then came land; then houses, buildings, wrecked vehicles. Then people. Resistance people, wary and waiting and armed, eyes on the skies.
( And these are the hands we're given )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
( Use them and let's start trying )
Except for two, visible through a gap blown in the second storey of a building larger than the rest. They gave the impression of conversing as if there weren't a thing in the world wrong at the moment. One had the Resistance look about him, knitted cap and all, but the other-
( To make it a place worth living in )
WHUMM.

. . . no.

WHUMM.

No way in hell.

WHUMM.
( I won't be coming home tonight )
The other figure visible through the Combine scope carried a briefcase, and wore an all-too-familiar suit.
( My generation will put it right )
WHUMM.
( We're not just making promises )
Gordon tore himself away from the scope before the son of a bitch in the suit could turn towards him, and made for the car. If that bastard was messing around at a Resistance stronghold, it could only mean one thing: all hell was about to break loose.
( That we know we'll never keep. . . )
WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM. WHUMM.
acts_of_gord: (blood)
". . . "

Gordon didn't bother finishing the sentence. Dinah had been there a moment ago, and wasn't now. There were no zombies around and no blood on the tunnel floor; there'd been no sound of even a silenced bullet. Either the Combine had developed the sort of teleportation technology that would make Starfleet Command envious, or Dinah had done as he himself had done several times in the days before the Incident and accidentally stepped into Milliways. Regardless, there wasn't much he could do about it now. He sighed, shrugged, and went on.

The black headcrab that lurked under a box at the very mouth of the tunnel never saw the irritation coming.



One of the perks- although very few people would recognize them as such- of being promoted to the sniper corps of the Combine Overwatch forces is the relatively slow progression through the ranks. A newly chosen sniper officer need have no fear of being shot. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, his job will entail a position on the outskirts of patrolled territory and orders to fell as many necrotics and xenotherian biologics as possible with as little ammunition as possible. There's even a laser sight bolted to the rifles of newly commissioned sniper units to help them in their containment duties. It's not as if the necrotics notice.

The problem is the hundredth time. Sometimes there are anticitizens instead. They're faster. They're smarter. They notice.

Especially the ones who wear glasses.



"Pray that you never encounter one face to face," Eli had said. Now Gordon knew why. The masked bastards were fast, and- from what he could tell- smarter than the Marines. Or at least more responsive, which counted for about the same in his book. The ones back on the railroad tracks'd been distracted by headcrab zombies. These guys-

The heavy thudding sound of one of the Combine pulse rifles tore through the air overhead. Gordon flattened his back against the remains of the cargo van and readied another grenade. If he could just get a clear line of sight on the propane tank alongside the maintenance facility this'd be so much easier! With a grimace, he counted to three and pitched the grenade in what he estimated was probably the right direction. The explosion was suitably thunderous (Gordon wondered a little whether he'd have any hearing left at all by the time all this was over), but after it subsided he was still hearing gunfire. It took him a moment to realize it was coming from inside the building.

It took him another moment to realize that he was running towards the gunfire. A wry little acknowledgment of exactly how irrational and impossible that prospect would've seemed to him only a few months ago passed through his head at the idea. It vanished swiftly, of course. There were at least five Combine among the stacks of equipment on the main floor, and he had to concentrate.

When the last one fell he lowered his gun and listened for any others that might be sneaking up. All he heard were voices- human voices, not computer-modulated ones- so he started forward.

"-been hit," said one of them, an older, Asian-looking woman in the half-jumpsuit, half-scavenged-armor garb Gordon had come to associate with the Resistance across the board.

"Patch him up and get him to the back as soon as he's stable," said her companion, passing her a medkit. As he turned to reach for another, his eye fell on- "Gordon Freeman? It's incredible you made it! We've been getting communications from Alyx-"

Good. She's still alive, Gordon thought with considerable relief. He nodded.

"I'll see if I can reach her again," the man continued, and gestured to a door off to one side. "Follow me."

"I came as fast as I could-"

"The fact that you made it at all is pretty amazing, from what we heard about your course," said the man as he led Gordon down a narrow corridor and rapped at another door. "Hey! It's Leon. We're all clear." He paused fractionally before adding, "And I've got Gordon Freeman."

Before Gordon could comment on that, the door opened a hair. "Doctor Freeman?" said an incredulous voice. "You're kidding. I've been on the line with Alyx. Her father's been captured."

Gordon blanched at that. He barely heard the rest of what they had to say, even the Vortigaunt nearby; Leon had to guide him in the direction of their communications rig. "Come on, now- we've got her on the line..."
acts_of_gord: (Default)
The darkness closed in behind him as Gordon clambered up the ladder, headed for Ravenholm. He should've asked Alyx why they didn't come here any more, he thought ruefully. If the Combine had invaded, it would be nice to know what sort of forces they-

No. No, it couldn't be a Combine holding now. It was supposed to be his only chance to get away without being-

( if the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky )

seen.

( before you decide to do anything too rash, Gordon, you should see what happened next )

Involuntarily, he glanced down at his suit. There was no ticking from the Geiger counter. That didn't mean anything, though, not really. Fuel-air bombs didn't leave behind radiation, after all.

( Cedar Creek, site of the viral infection )

... of course, it could've been biological warfare, now that he thought about it. But wouldn't that necessitate a better airlock? Or some kind of seal? Or-

-was that fresh air up ahead?

He stepped out of the tunnel and into the moonlit night. The buildings looked... badly done by, to say the least, but still standing. So much for the nuke and fuel-air bomb hypotheses. Maybe-

Something dinged against his booted foot. He looked down; it was a sign, twisted and bent where it had been ripped from its moorings. It took him a moment to puzzle out what it said. The name RAVENHOLM was obscured by dark paint, graffiti scrawled by a desperate hand and worn away by time:

y u s u dn t come here

He stared at it a moment, then shook his head and looked around more cautiously. In the shadows nearby there looked to be a darker spot, a form of metal... one of the rockets that'd devastated the shantytown of rebels who'd given him the airboat. One of the headcrab rockets. Up ahead there was a winter-killed tree; something that might've been a person once- or rather, part of a person- dangled from one of the limbs. He averted his eyes as he moved carefully past it, not wanting his guess to turn out to be right.

There was no way out from the plaza with the tree in it except through one of the nearby buildings. With considerable trepidation, he eased the first likely door he could find open. The room had belonged to a ... carpenter? Craftsman of some kind, certainly; there were enough saw blades and edged tools hanging in the place to cut up a whole building's worth of furniture. Gordon bent over to peer at one of them just as something punched through the nearby wall, its clawed fist streaking through the air over his head. He twisted sideways, grabbed for his nearest gun-

Well, he tried, anyway. What he got was the gravity gun, which was too bulky and awkward to stash much of anywhere at the moment. The headcrab zombie that had punched through the wall didn't appear to notice when he started frantically pulling the punt trigger; he suppressed a curse and darted backwards. And the thought occurred to him: Wait. Why am I spazzing out about this when I'm in a ROOM FULL OF SHARP OBJECTS?

The gun yanked one of the sawblades off the wall quite nicely. It did a splendid job of firing it at the undead horror's midsection; the zombie fell to the ground, making two wet, squelchy noises. Gordon hopped away from the nearer of the pieces, which might not have been the best strategic move; there was another zombie's corpse in the room already, blackened and burned by something, and it tripped his footing up. He lost his balance-

And fell through.
acts_of_gord: (Default)
The Milliways portal door is a capricious, fickle thing. It had opened for Gordon earlier when he'd tripped over the charred, blackened remains of a lurking zombie while firing a sawblade into its still-mobile companion. Then it'd gone and opened again, back to Ravenholm, just as he was leaning forward to check and see whether the zombie that'd loomed over him before had gone.

The blade had flown true and eradicated the zombie threat, but in the moonlight that trickled through the cracks in the boarded-up window and badly patched roof, Gordon could see he still wasn't alone...
acts_of_gord: (Default)
The toxic waters underfoot in the tunnel had been no better going out than coming in, but the medkits in the Vortigaunt's cave had given Gordon all the edge he needed to cross them and come out in one piece. There'd been a pair of dispensers on the wall in the building where the CPs had hidden, too, along with enough ammo to make him wonder why they hadn't tried to charge him earlier. Not that he minded. The more mistakes his enemies made, the happier it made him. He stocked up with what he could and continued on his way.

The sun was inching on towards evening when one slanting orange streak of light through clouds lit up a well-concealed lambda painted on the wall of what might very well be a former hydro plant. Good; the airboat's condition was starting to get a little precarious. He pulled up to the rudimentary dock, cut the engines, and clambered out to look for the door. There wasn't much searching to do, really; around the cart, up the inclined patch of concrete beside the building, past the mutilated propaganda posters on the wall, and... there. A fenced alcove with danger signs and barrels ringing the door. No sign of anyone on the premises, though, and no guards or surveillance cameras that he could see. That was odd. Dr. Kleiner's lab hadn't had any visible security, either, but at least it had windows. Frowning, he slid his crowbar loose from his belt and eased the door open.

No response. The lights were on, but nobody seemed to be home- was he too late after all? He stepped through-

WHAM.

The door slammed shut, the lights went out, and for half a second he was absolutely totally completely oh dear God no NOT AGAIN NO sure he could hear the breathing of Marines-
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