acts_of_gord: (down for the count)
Gordon got used to bad sleep long, long ago. It's better than it used to be- five hours at a stretch before the nightmares kick in, sometimes more than that- but it's still a very strange thing for him to wake up without some sort of interruption or disturbance.

This night, alas, is a strange thing of an entirely different sort. When his breath catches and his eyes flick open, he lies very still while the world stops blurring and spinning, the way it always does when he's wrenched straight to wakefulness from REM; then he rolls onto his back to stare up at the ceiling for a while, just to be sure it's there and he's here.
acts_of_gord: (I did not hear you say that.)
Beyond the door that Magnusson opened lay a short corridor; it opened out, inevitably, to a dimly lit garage. Gordon had just enough time to appreciate the rocket launcher and stacks of RPG crates next to it when a grease-stained rebel waves to him from the other side of the garage. "Dr. Freeman, that's for you," he said, "but I wanted to show you something-"

Gordon picked up the launcher and as many RPGs as he could carry and made his way over to where the man stood beside the half-yellow, half-skeletal muscle car. "I've taken a few liberties with your car," the mechanic said. He nodded to the blue-glittering form of a Magnusson perched firmly on the rear bumper. "Check it out- I added a rack for Magnusson Devices back here. Added onboard radar, too, so the Combine show up red on the dashboard for you. Plus it'll send a homing signal to your HEV suit in case you get separated from your car."

Gordon whistled, shaking his head. "That's a lot of work you did," he said.

The mechanic smiled. "No need to thank me," he answered. "Now, you and your driver come on over here and check out this map..."

"... wait. Driver?"
acts_of_gord: (young)
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
South Satellite Terminal (International Departures)
Delta Airlines Waiting Area

"Mom said I'd find you here."
( If you twist and turn away )
The red-haired man in the pilot uniform paused mid-stride, turned with one eyebrow raised. Oh, the look on his face said louder than any words, there you are.
( If you tear yourself in two again )
Gordon folded his arms across his chest and looked back at his father as the rest of the airport traffic streamed by them. No one seemed to notice; no one seemed to care. It didn't matter.
( If I could, yes I would )
He's shorter than me, Gordon realized. When did that happen? I don't remember that.
( If I could, I would )
Bill Freeman's other eyebrow rose, a silent invitation to speech, or at least to explanation. There might have been just a hint of I have places to be behind it. For that and that alone Gordon almost held his tongue longer, just because he could-
( Let it go )
"You... are my father, aren't you?"
( Surrender )
If airline pilots wore glasses Bill Freeman would've pushed his down his nose, just for the sake of looking over his glasses at Gordon in that manner which teachers and librarians the world over use to convey don't be stupid, boy.
( Dislocate )
Gordon nodded; it would have to do. It came back to him, then, that when he'd been little-
( If I could throw this )
( Jay was bigger than him; Jay was always bigger than him. Jay was faster, and stronger, and older. Jay never could quite understand why his baby brother didn't put some effort into catching up to him, and teased him every chance he got, trying to goad him into being worthy competition. Why he snapped when he was eight he never really knew, but snap he did, and oh, God, the look on his father's face when his mother told him about it... )
( Lifeless lifeline to the wind )
"You could have said something, you know." His father's voice was low, quiet, only barely carrying over the airport sounds. "I would've listened."
( Leave this heart of clay )
Gordon's turn for the don't be stupid look.
( See you walk, walk away )
"I would have," Bill insisted. "When did I ever not?"
( Into the night )
Gordon pressed his lips together, turned away. This had been a mistake. He should've stuck with his mother-
( And through the rain )
There was an exasperated sigh. "Look, Gordon, I'm sorry-"
( Into the half-light )
He turned on one heel to glare back at his father. Like that was supposed to mean anything?
( And through the flame )
Bill Freeman spread his hands. "Stupid. I know. What happened stays happened, whatever I say now."
( If I could through myself )
A moment's thought; then Gordon nodded fractionally. He'd give his father that much.
( Set your spirit free )
"I could've done better," Bill said.
( I'd lead your heart away )
For a while that was all. There were announcements in the background, music; the silence around the two men pooled like water in a quarry-pit.
( See you break, break away )
( When you're seven years old the greatest thing in the world is to have a father who's the envy of all the other boys in your class. It's hard to beat a father who flies, unless your father's a firefighter or something like that. Gordon had that much, even when he woke in the middle of the night from some bad dream: his father was out there somewhere, New York or Tokyo or Mexico City, he was flying, he was being incredible. That was enough when he was seven. )
( Into the light )
"... Gordon? You still there?"
( And to the day )
"I'm here." His voice sounded rough, hoarse, even to his own ears. "I'm thinking."
( To let it go! And so to fade away )
"You were always good at that." There was a trace of a smile in Bill's voice, if not his face. "Got it from your mother."
( To let it go! )
( Mrs. Maciejewski told the class to write about their heroes one time. Gordon wrote about Richard Feynman, the first physicist he really understood. When the time came to read their reports aloud, the first boy to stand up talked about his father- and so did the second. The first girl to stand up talked about her grandmother. The fourth kid's report was about his family doctor, but by then Gordon knew he was doomed... )
( And so fade away )
"I always wondered what got you two together." That wasn't exactly right, but I always wondered what she saw in you wasn't right either. He didn't know how to say it- he didn't even know what, exactly, he was trying to say. Just that he had his father there in front of him, and all the questions he'd ever wanted to ask were refusing to come out.
( I'm wide awake )
(Although the thought of Are you even the same species as me? was rising to mind again, the way it had in Black Mesa. He wasn't seeing anything of himself in the man in front of him, no matter how hard he tried.)
( I'm wide awake )
"Your mother valued her independence a great deal, Gordon," said Bill gently. "I admired that about her. That wasn't an easy time to be a woman in the court system, when we met. Your mom had a lot of spirit, and a whole lot of strength."
( Wide awake )
That was fine as far as it went, but it still didn't answer half the question Gordon couldn't quite phrase. He lifted an eyebrow and waited for his father to go on.
( I'm not sleeping, oh no, no, no )
"Me? Well, she always said she liked someone who didn't plan on trying to make her change her ways," said Bill to the unspoken question. "And she said she knew there wasn't a woman alive she ever had to be jealous of. Only thing she had to be jealous of was the sky."
( If you should ask then maybe they'd )
Silence, again, for a while as the crowds ebbed and flowed-
( Tell you what I would say )
( Sky. Sky. How long had it been since he'd seen it? )
( True colors fly in blue and black )
( The only thing that stirred him to move after escaping the garbage mashers was the thought that he'd like to be somewhere he could at least see the sky properly when he died )
( Bruised silken sky and burning flack )
( He fully expected to die before he ever saw the Lambda complex, let alone walked under the open sky again )
( Colors crash, collide in blood shot eyes )
"... guess I got something from you after all."
( If I could, you know I would )
"I never expected my kids to be the same as me, Gordon," said Bill gently. "Some fathers want to mold their sons in their own image, have 'em follow in their footsteps. I never wanted that. Not for you, not for Jay, not for anyone."
( If I could, I would )
"What did you want from us, then?"
( Let it go )
"Not from. For." A very small hint of a very small smile touched the pilot's lips. "I wanted my boys to be the kind of men who were as proud of themselves as they deserved to be. No fussing over what I thought about them, no fussing over what other people thought about them- just men of worth, who knew their own worth without being told."
( This desperation )
"It doesn't always work like that-"
( Dislocation / Separation / Condemnation )
"Yeah, I know that now. I never claimed to get everything right." Bill's expression turned rueful. "I could've done better by all three of you, and I'm sorry for that. In my defense, you turned out pretty damn impressive in spite of everything."
( Revelation / In temptation / Isolation )
If you say so much as ONE WORD that sounds like a Resistance member who thinks he's met the Messiah, I'm leaving, flashed across Gordon's thoughts- but he held his peace, and only canted his head a little at his father's words.
( Desolation )
"A lot of men would've lain down in the traces long ago."
( Let it go )
"Quitting's not an option, Dad."
( And so fade away )
"Yes it is," Bill said mildly. "It's always an option. It's one you choose not to take. You keep going until you break, and then you splint yourself together and you keep on going. You don't ask why these things happen to you, because you know that's not what's going to make the difference. You just deal with what gets put in front of you, and that's harder than it looks."
( To let it go, oh yeah )
( show me what I have to do )
( And so fade away )
( To let it go, oh No )
"I have to go, son," said Bill. "I'm sorry. I have places to be-"
( And so to fade away )
"Just like always," Gordon murmured.
( I'm wide awake )
"I'm sorry, Gordon. Whatever it is, you'll stand on your own two feet whether I'm there or not. You know you will, and so do I."
( I'm wide awake )
If Gordon could have articulated the questions, there would have been thousands of them to ask. As it stood, all he could do was watch Bill Freeman turn and vanish into the crowd, heading off to answer the call of the sky.
( Wide awake )
(It occurred to him, just before he woke, that he'd just spoken to the only person in living memory who had only ever given him choice instead of expectation. Perhaps that was enough.)
( I'm not sleeping )
acts_of_gord: (sleeping)
It takes twenty minutes to move from merely napping to the start of a proper sleep cycle. Anything before that is just idling, so to speak. After the twenty-minute mark the brain and body rhythms kick in that lead inevitably into dream and out of it. From there they ebb and flow, three to three-and-a-half hours at a time, until light or sound or other chemical signal sends the sleeper awake.

There are ways of altering the cycle: medicines, meditation, environmental conditions, fatigue beyond the common run. All of them jar the inevitable turns of the body, and tend to knock the dream-cycle out of whack far enough that the sleeper holds no lasting memory upon awakening. As such, they're not healthy. Useful in the short term, maybe, but not healthy.

Gordon's aware of this. He just wishes they were reliable. He's had the nightmares so often since Black Mesa that he's starting to envy Tomas Izquierdo. For a long time he kept them at bay by walking himself to the point of utter exhaustion every night, so that when he slept he'd drop too deep to dream, but that's not an option now. When he's awake he's got to keep watch for Charlie and Valerie and Alyx, and stand guard over Barney. There's no time for walking the lake. And when he finally gets to drop off on the couch... well, that's when they start coming.

Sometimes they're familiar. The clench of terror low in the abdomen as he leaps from walkway to pipe, his Geiger counter screaming in anguish as he fails by inches every time- that's an old friend by now. So's the arena of open sand and high stone walls, whether it erupts in antlions from below or the thup-thup-thup of an Apache's rotors from above. There's one nightmare in particular that's nothing but mournful whale sounds as a guard whispers, Be quiet! This thing hears us!, coupled with the sure and certain knowledge that his foot is already on its way down and will inevitably strike the metal floor with enough noise to draw the tentacle thing's wrath. And there's the green glass dream; that one keeps coming back, even if half the time it's just the tink! of his foot against fused sand or the sight of the guard's shadow burned into nearby stone.

But there are others now. The trip home saw to that.

The one where the dune buggy runs out of fuel and the nearest thumper's four hundred yards away, and all he's got is his crowbar as the sandy soil along the sides of the road starts to shake and erupt.

The one where Combine soldiers run past him on both sides, ignoring him completely, as the antlion bull bellows and he realizes he's out of ammo and the gravity gun won't work.

The one where he's got to get across the remains of a three-story building to the spot where Barney's crouching next to a pillar of brick, only there's no walls left and the whole place is lighting up with the tiny blue sparks of Combine sniper sights.

The one where (and oh, this one is common, this one is almost as bad as the green glass dream) the door flies open, and it's Alyx, only when she lunges at him to press her head against his chest and wrap her arms around him, her whole body turns to ash and starts to blow away as he watches.

Them and uncounted others. They're all there. If he could push them away somehow he'd do it in an instant. Now and again he has a sleep cycle where they don't disturb him, but they're few and far between. The most he can do, he supposes, is adapt to them. Learn to calm himself down before sleep; learn to push them away after, come awake as quickly as he can, put them aside. He's getting better at that- practice does, after all, make perfect- but there's one he's never, never, ever going to be able to adapt to.

It starts when he rolls over in bed and cracks open one eye enough to read May 15, 2001 on the calendar. And always- every single time- it always ends twenty-four dream hours later, in Sector C Test Labs' C/33a Test Chamber, with Dr. Sark's words ringing in his ears:

"Soon, Gordon."
acts_of_gord: (...)
Some days are longer than others. Days where the weather outside is rainy and bleak, and an attempt to get to the target range involved several falls and a lot of scratches and mud, and the sleep the night before had been poorer, thinner stuff than usual are a fine example of this. All Gordon wants at the end of a day like this is the chance to get warm and put on dry clothes.

There is, however, a slight problem. Namely: the door to room 287 is not there.

And the replacement, a life-sized, hyper-realistic sculpture of Han Solo encased in carbonite- which appears to have been made from dark chocolate- does not seem to have a knob or handle of any kind...
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 )
( 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."


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?"


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?


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)
( 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 )
( 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 )
( 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? )
( 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 )
( 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 )
( 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? )
( 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 )
( 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 )
( 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 )
( 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 )

. . . no.


No way in hell.

( 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 )
( 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. . . )
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 )


( 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-


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-
acts_of_gord: (blood)
In all his life, Gordon thought, he'd never heard any two sweeter words than: "Morphine administered." Where Dr. Kleiner had found the opiates Gordon didn't know, but he owed the man every favor he could possibly render him and then some.

He watched the flames devour what remained of the hunter-chopper, doing his best not to move. The suit's automatic medical system was extremely limited without wall injectors or a medikit; the best it could do was suppress fatal levels of bleeding, or correct for the worst effects of fractures. And that was when the suit was fully charged. The hunter-chopper's guns had drained nearly all the suit's power- or the mines it'd dropped like a box of marbles had, one of the two. Either way, the suit was only barely functional. As for Gordon himself, he strongly suspected there was more morphine in his veins than actual blood.

He had to move eventually, of course. Eli Vance wasn't exactly going to come trotting out of the building overlooking the deep end of the swamp and walk him the rest of the way to the lab. It was just a case of mustering the will to do so, especially since it was going to involve unlocking a couple of access gates and (oh God) turning the wheels to open them. Worst of all, he'd have to fire the engine up again. In his current condition it'd probably vibrate his teeth right out of his head.

Well, there was still a little morphine left. Pain is temporary, Gordon told himself, and kept telling himself that as he coaxed the limping, battered airboat forward.

The water was a little shallower on the other side of the opened, rusty gate, an arc of open water bounded by steep hills to the left and concrete to the right. A pair of drainage pipes emerged from the rockface almost directly across from the little central island- storm drains, probably, given their grated coverings. They were big enough to empty entire sewer systems in times of extreme weather. There were none of the barrels or boxes here that had washed into the deep end of the swamp, save for a forlorn pair of rusty cylinders off by the drainpipes. The only real signs of human presence were the building on the central island- it had the look of a maintenance facility- and the barbed-wire fencing that ran along the top of the concrete barricade. That was probably security for the dam beyond.

Gordon's stomach clenched at the thought of having to deal with anything else sharp; he looked up at the maintenance building. It occurred to him that where there was maintenance equipment, there were people to do the maintenance work, and where there were such people there were probably first aid kits to keep them from having to leave their posts for long because of an injury. If he was very, very lucky, he could patch himself up a little further- and find some way of bridging the gap between the island building and the dam that didn't involve getting shredded again. If not, well, at least he could get himself out of the line of sight of anybody who might be coming to check on the hunter-chopper's fate.

Not relishing the idea of having to wade through the water to retrieve it, Gordon persuaded the airboat up onto the shore. Another moment to gather up his willpower, and he managed to step out of it- even maintain his balance without grabbing for the thing. Good. That would do nicely. Now to make his way up to the door.

It occurred to him that dams were important elements to low-lying cities' infrastructure- were, in fact, the sort of places likely to be guarded by more than a lone (if vicious) helicopter.

That, and that alone, warned Gordon to spin to one side as he threw open the door. Combine bullets tore through the space where his head had been; he flailed, stumbled, fell backward. His suit shrilled a protest at him, but it went unheard over the sound of the CPs who'd been waiting inside. One of them hung back, firing from the partial cover offered by dimly glimpsed tables and shelves, but two charged the door instead. Gordon made a desperate grab for his pistol. As the first of the CPs took aim, Gordon fired, shattering the lower part of the man's mask and setting off the standard high-pitched squeal. It was a good sound. It was a magnificent sound.

It was followed shortly by a horrifying sound: the airboat's engine grumbling into life at the hands of the other CP. . . and the recollection that, for all its faults, the airboat tended to accelerate faster in a straight line than an armored man could take down the driver.

Morphine had its uses. So did adrenaline. Gordon pushed himself to his feet and ran. The dam rose vertically to the right- no help there- but if he could just find a sandbar and make it across the arc of water to the hillsides he should have a chance. There was enough cover there to fire from-

The sound of helicopter guns rang out to his left, slugs blazing across his intended course to shelter. Gordon remembered what the man at the last station had said: that the gun had been taken from the same model of helicopter. Hot on the heels of that recollection came the realization that at this point, a couple of hits from that thing would probably kill him. The water to his right was too deep to cross on foot, and he was in no condition to swim; ahead of him the rockface rose…

The protective grating that covered the pipe on the left squeaked a little, swaying in a brief, trickling breeze.

Gordon never really managed to sort out afterwards just how he managed it, except for a vague recollection of somehow gaining enough purchase on one of the rusted barrels to pull himself up, and then to haul himself into the pipe before the gun could fire on him again. He backed up as far as he could manage while still keeping a view of the approach to the pipe. Foul-smelling stuff sucking at his feet; he ignored it, and readied the SMG. The instant- the instant- that boat came into view. . .

"Warning," his suit called out. "Hazardous chemicals detected."

". . . what?"

Then the airboat's engine whine spun up to his ears and drowned out everything else. Well. Everything except the gunfire, anyway.

There was blood on the wall when the smoke cleared. Quite a lot of it. The CP in the airboat had been a much better shot than Gordon had imagined, and his companion had been willing to wade out enough to make a stab at climbing into the tunnel himself. If it hadn't been for the lone grenade left in the automatic's secondary firing chamber, Gordon was pretty sure it all would've been over then and there. As it stood, the air was quiet and still as he stared numbly at the splattered mess of his own blood trickling down the tunnel wall where he'd stood a moment before.

"Hazardous chemicals detected," the suit softly warned him again. "Seek medical attention."

Gordon turned to look towards the mouth of the tunnel, the motion leaving him swaying. He wasn't sure he had the wherewithal left to tell the suit to shut up. For certain, he didn't have it in him to make it back into the daylight.

One hand reached for the nearest wall, only to find it sloping away under his fingers...
acts_of_gord: (Default)
Flood Control Facility No. 5
City 17 Canal System

Where the CPs were coming from Gordon didn't know. Where they kept the manhacks, he didn't know either. They just kept coming, in twos and fours and threes. He'd taken shelter for a while in one of the shipping containers they'd pulled into the warehouse, and then they'd called off the manhacks and started using explosives. He'd bolted, strafing the lot of them as he ran for the stairs.

They kept coming. His back to the low wooden barrier that marked the walkway's edge, Gordon fumbled at his belt (not like the prior owner would need it, after all) for one of his precious grenades. If he was careful, if he was lucky, if they bunched up-

He peeked over the barrier, caught a flash of white and black. Four SMGs opened fire as he hit the floor; the bark of a shotgun joined them a moment later. Keep doing that, Gordon prayed as he pulled the pin. Stay where you are.

There was an instant's silence, in which he dared pull himself up just far enough for the pitch of his life; there was another instant's silence; then from across the warehouse:

"Shit. GRENADE."

The squeal of five bio-alarms sounding the final flatline had never been so marvellous. Gordon pulled himself up to have a look, just in case. Sure enough, his aim had been true; there were no more CPs, nor any manhacks to accompany them. He started to pump a fist in relief.

Some reflex of survival niggled at him to say: something is moving, and you are not looking at it. Gordon glanced down at the warehouse's open floor.

In the patch of fractured sun leaking through the grimy warehouse windows, the shadow of a Combine helicopter slunk back and forth, in time to the muffled thup-thup-thup of a distant engine.
( Here comes the helicopter -- second time today )

Flood Control Facility No. 5
City 17 Canal System
Access Control

It didn't slink, it prowled, the easy, confident motion of a predatory cat. There was no escape, not from here. Every window lay open to its gaze, every door opened onto a space with no cover. Even the handful of cargo containers were next to useless as shelters. There was no escape. Nevertheless, Gordon looked up at the ladder and prayed with all his might for it to lead to somewhere better.
( Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away )
One grenade- and two dead CPs- later, it did.
( How many kids they've murdered only God can say )
Gordon pressed a hand against the slowly-sealing holes in his suit and watched the chopper limp away. For once, it seemed, a gun emplacement had done him some real good. Now if he could just find a medkit before the blood loss got to him.
( If I had a rocket launcher I'd make somebody pay )

It wouldn't die. The goddamned thing wouldn't die. It was waiting, right after the gates-
( I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate )
it started dropping the mines as he somehow banked off the wall and skittered into the tunnel-
( I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states )
it sped along on his tail as he dug his fingers into the handlebars and tried not to think of what would happen if he fell in the iridescent toxic filth to either side of him-
( And when I talk with the survivors )
it was there as he sped out of the tunnel, it was there when the smokestack collapse almost crushed him, it danced under the rocket fire from the APCs- it was everywhere! Was there no way to shake it? Would he have to flip over and let it blow the airboat to pieces and make it the rest of the way to Eli's on foot? He sure as hell wasn't going to bring that thing with him, not if the lab was as important as everyone had said-
( of things too sickening to relate )
It wasn't until he emerged from yet another tunnel and paused the engine that he realized the relentless rotor sounds had finally dropped off. Wherever the chopper was... it wasn't here.
( If I had a rocket launcher )
Somehow, Gordon didn't find that reassuring.
( I would retaliate )

There was a building up ahead that squatted across the river. As Gordon drew nearer, he caught a glimpse of orange paint on one wall: the lambda surrounded by a circle. There'd been one at the barn, too, and at the big red building where the helicopter had almost caught him. He had to wonder, just a little, whether the people who'd seized on it as their symbol knew anything at all about its origin. He'd worked alongside the first people to use it, after all-

"Hey!" called a woman's voice. "You're Freeman, aren't you?"

He cut the throttle in time to see a woman in a patched jacket, marked on the sleeve with the lambda symbol, waving to him from the underbelly of the building. As he pulled the airboat over, a dark-skinned man in similar clothes emerged from the shadows. "Well!" the man said. "I wouldn't believe it if I couldn't see it with my own eyes. Dr. Gordon Freeman himself!"

Gordon wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Not that it mattered, because the woman was talking- the Combine was coming, and it was time to take this place apart- and there was someone else as well. The Vortiganunt beside her bowed, two-fingered hands interlocking a moment, and solemnly rumbled, "Greetings to the Freeman."
( On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait )
He held up a finger, intending to say yeah, about that, but the man touched his arm. "C'mon in, Doc," he said. "I'll show you what you're up against."
( To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate )
With a suppressed sigh Gordon let himself be led over to a more detailed map of the region. There was a dam ahead of him, and a long stretch of canals. This area, it seemed, had been City 17's industrial infrastructure before the war, and still operated at a limited capacity in some areas. Not all, but enough of them to merit CPs and armored car defenses. "The hideout's here," the man added, "nestled in the old hydro plant down by the dam. Getting there with that hunter-chopper on your ass, though?" He shook his head. "Next to impossible. Good news, though- the Vortigaunt's working his magic on your airboat. You're gonna have some decent firepower going forward- if I know him at all, he should be just about done now..."
( Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate )
And he was right. Down at the water's edge, the Vortigaunt was just backing away from the airboat. The gun bolted to its right side was considerably larger than anything Gordon could've carried for long on his own, and of no design he'd ever seen before. As he bent down to peer at it more closely, the Vortigaunt rumbled, "The Freeman will accept this weapon, or suffer greatly on the road ahead."
( If I had a rocket launcher )
"What?" Gordon blinked. "Why wouldn't I accept it?"
( I would not hesitate )
"That gun came off one of the same hunter-choppers that you're up against," the man called from behind him. "I like to bring a little irony to a firefight. You don't have a problem with that, do you?"
( I want to raise every voice )
"If I did I wouldn't be alive today."
( at least I've got to try )
"Good. Give 'em hell, Doc," said the woman, and "You'd better get going- farewell, Dr. Freeman," said the man. As for the Vortigaunt, it said nothing until Gordon fired the boat's engine; then it raised one hand and called out, "For freedom!"
( Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes )
If he failed them now....

Gordon had learned long ago never to so much as think anything as blatantly stupid as 'it's too quiet', but the vast, open space that he pulled into as the sun crept towards the horizon was precisely that. The water that lapped at boats' sides scarcely made a noise. No discernible current shifted the boxes and barrels in the deeper areas, either. Nothing moved among the tall grass but a bird or two, and even they seemed huddled, anticipatory. In any other time it might almost have been a scene of peace.
( Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry )
But there was a difference between peace and stillness, and the stillness that ruled the place was that of the grave: waters choked, boats wrecked, houses abandoned to whatever master might take them. Gordon had been on enough trails before Black Mesa to know that nature was never really quiet unless something was wrong; and here it was very, very quiet. This had been a place of the living once, and now it was only a place of desperation, and of endings.
( If I had a rocket launcher )
In the distance, beyond the deep waters that surrounded the lone remaining habitable building, the faint thup-thup-thup of a helicopter's rotor sounded. Gordon grimly slid one hand to the controls of the airboat's gun.
( some son of a bitch would die )
acts_of_gord: (eyebrows up)
There had been a time when Gordon would never have considered the world an especially hostile place. Oh, sure, there were dangers- what was life without danger, after all?- but they came and went and life went on. But now-
( There's a lot of tension in this town- I know it's building up inside of me )
Radioactive rivers. Acidic, toxic slime everywhere underfoot. Helicopters rising over the city's buildings, guns madly ablaze. Shadows full of barnacle tongues, CPs frantically struggling in their grasp before the life was choked out of them. Flying robots that whizzed up out of the darkness and shredded anything in their path to bits. Zombie half-corpses, dragging themselves along by hands and hatred alone for one last chance at killing. Rockets full of headcrabs plunging out of the sky. . . it all added up, and what it added up to was a horrible feeling that things were only going to get worse from here. How, Gordon didn't know, but...
( I've got all the symptoms and the side effects of city life anxiety )
Steady, Freeman, he told himself, adjusting his grasp on the airboat's handlebars. The engine roared behind him, speeding the vehicle along over the surface of the scummy, off-smelling waters. You're not going to get anywhere thinking like that. Just make it to Eli's lab. You can think about it then.
( I could never understand why the urban attitude is so superior )
There'd been a map in the train car, back in the city, with 'Black Mesa East' marked on it. That was his only real clue about where he had to go. He did his best to call the image up without losing control of the boat; he was on the right course-
( In a world of high rise ambition most people's motives are ulterior )
"This is the Freeman. The Combine's reckoning has come."
( Sometimes I feel as though I'm running on ice, paying the price too long )
Gah! What the hell was that supposed to mean? He wasn't a 'the'. He was just- he was him, that's all, Gordon Freeman... Come to think of it, Dr. Kleiner had sounded awfully strange when he'd first said Gordon's name, and Eli too. And not just in an 'I haven't seen you in decades' way, either. He-
( Kind of get the feeling that I'm running on ice- )
-wait. Wait. What the hell. What the freaking hell. Up ahead on the river's right bank, out in front of that old red barn- HIM. The son of a bitch in the suit! The bastard was here!
( where did my life go wrong? )
All thoughts of titles and the definite article were shoved aside as Gordon pulled the airboat over, hard.

Funny thing about the squeal the CPs' helmets made when they died: you couldn't hear it over the roar of the airboat's engine.

Given how bad they were at getting out of the airboat's way in time, that was something of a relief.

( I'm a cosmopolitan sophisticate of culture and intelligence )
What little he'd seen of City 17 was pretty flat and low-lying. Given how extensive the canal system appeared to be, Gordon really should've expected to run into flood control gates long before this. He stared up at the gates in frustration a moment, wishing for a couple of his old satchel charges. Then he sighed and steered for the right bank. Looked like he was going to have to deal with that CP on the platform after all, if he was going to get through those gates.
( The culmination of technology and civilized experience )
It helped- it always helped- that the masked man was shooting at him. It was damned hard to think of him as anything but a threat while the bullets were flying. Only the tone-shifting squeal of the death alarm reminded Gordon that he was dealing with a human being under the mask. The thought struck him: there was no one else around and no sign of other guards coming. He could take a moment to pry the mask off and see...
( But I'm carrying the weight of all the useless junk a modern man accumulates )
He almost did; but then he thought of the long road ahead of him, and of how many more of them he was likely to see as he tried to flee the city, and what he would have to do to get past them.
( And I'm a statistic in a system that a civil servant dominates )
He couldn't afford for them to have human faces. Wordlessly, he turned away.
( And all that means is that I'm running on ice, caught in the vise so strong )
The door behind him opened onto a dimly-lit room, blue-tinged light spilling weakly from a fluorescent fixture overhead and from an inactive computer terminal as big as the one Barney had used at the train station. Gordon eyed the terminal a moment, but it wasn't doing anything. There was a box of what looked like ammo for the dead CP's submachine gun on the shelves along the far wall-
( I'm slipping and sliding, cause I'm running on ice, where did my life go wrong )
"We now have direct confirmation of a disruptor in our midst."
( You've got to run, run, run... )
Crap! Gordon spun to face the terminal, gun at the ready. The screen had come to life with Dr. Breen's image. For one heartstopping moment he was sure Breen could see him- but no, the white-bearded man spoke blandly on. "-one who has acquired an almost messianic reputation in the minds of certain citizens."
( As fast as I can climb a new disaster every time I turn around )
( As soon as I get one fire put out there's another building burning down )
"His figure is synonymous with the darkest urges of instinct, ignorance and decay. Some of the worst excesses of the Black Mesa Incident have been laid directly at his feet."
( They say this highway's going my way but I don't know where it's taking me )
Oh, no.
( It's a bad waste, a sad case, a rat race- it's breaking me )
"And yet unsophisticated minds continue to imbue him with romantic power, giving him such dangerous poetic labels as the One Free Man, the Opener of the Way-"
( And I get no traction 'cause I'm running on ice )
"WHAT?" Gordon bellowed at the screen.
( It's taking me twice as long )
Whatever else Breen said, he didn't hear it.He was too busy staring in horrified disbelief; people were calling him what?? Were they insane? How the hell did they- what did- where did they get that kind of idea from, anyway? What in the name of everything that had ever made sense made anyone think that one scientist in a fancy orange suit rated that kind of title?
( I get a bad reaction 'cause I'm running on ice )
... how did the people calling him these things even know who he was?
( where did my life go wrong? )
"I am not the goddamn Kwisatz Haderach," he muttered, and stormed away in search of the floodgate switch. It was a positive relief when the CP's around the corner started firing on him. At least their actions made sense.
( You've got to run, run, run... )
acts_of_gord: (crowbar)
The spybots, Gordon had decided, were rapidly moving to the top of his list of things about his world that needed to be changed ASAP. The flash on that last one had almost gotten him killed. If the rails hadn't started singing under his feet he would've never had enough time to dive out of the oncoming train's way. At least he'd been able to wreck the blasted thing without getting a faceful of shrapnel this time. Hopefully there weren't any others in the vicinity; the cinderblock-walled corridors he was creeping through were poorly lit, and a flash to the face would blind him for-

"No, please!" cried a woman's anguished voice from somewhere up ahead, around the corner. Gordon thought he heard a faint electrical crackle. "Stop! What are you doing?"

He flattened his back against the corridor wall and peered around the corner. Two of the helmeted riot cops- no, Civil Protection, he corrected himself- had a man on the filthy corridor floor. One held a pistol; the other, the sort of electrified stun baton he'd seen on the CPs at the municipal building. The woman who'd cried out was weeping against the opposite wall. The jumpsuited man on the floor wasn't moving in the slightest.

None of them were looking his way.

Gordon had never struck a human being with the crowbar before, except once in a hardware store in Espanola, and that had been meant to disarm, not kill. It showed. The CP swore in pain as the gun skittered out of his fingers, but nimbly twisted around to face his attacker. As for the other, he moved more swiftly; Gordon got an electrically amplified blow to his midsection for his pains. Gordon sent up a silent thought of thanks for the HEV suit and flung himself fully into the fight.

The two CPs crumpled after another strike or two each. Easier than the headcrab zombies, Gordon noted in some abstracted part of his mind; he was still panting a little from the adrenaline, and there was an odd ringing in his ears. The woman darted past him to the unconscious jumpsuited figure, touched two fingers to the groove of his neck.

"They'll be looking for you now," she said tearfully as she looked up. (Gordon wasn't entirely paying attention. The pistol the first CP had dropped looked like it was still in working condition. Wherever Eli's place was, he was going to need a lot more than the crowbar to get there alive.) "You'd better run. There's nothing else you can do here-"

Gordon's hand brushed against the CP's helmet as he retrieved the dropped gun. He paused, remembering the mask being torn off and Barney's face underneath. Way behind on my beating quota, Barney had said, and Working undercover with Civil Protection. What if this was somebody else he'd known?

"Get going!" the woman cried, snapping him out of the moment. Gordon nodded and set off for the stairs at the end of the corridor.

Somewhere there was a modulated female voice calling out to Unidentified Person of Interest. He didn't know where. He wasn't sure it mattered. He'd just brought down his fourth CP, and he'd had it confirmed for sure: that wasn't a ringing in his ears. It was the squeal of some sort of monitoring system going flatline before winking out with the last of their life.

Damn, that was unnerving.

The bizarrely tall, thin train whizzed by on the opposite side of the canal. It blocked the line of sight between the few remaining CPs and Gordon, but it wouldn't do so for long. The door in front of him must've been some sort of emergency exit- there wasn't a handle anywhere in sight.And for all his trying Gordon knew he'd never be able to jump high enough to pull himself up on the ledge overhead and get to the street. That left one option: the brown, stinking waters of the canal below. What he wouldn't have given for his helmet...

Crowbar in one hand, nose pinched with the other, Gordon jumped.

It was exactly as foul as it looked, but it had this going for it: nobody was trying to shoot at him down here. Mindful that the train would only offer shelter for so long (and wanting badly to get out of the stuff), Gordon made his way forward as swiftly as he could. The current was negligible, though the water was deep enough to drag at his legs, and several times he had to take a deep breath and dive under the surface for a while. At least it wasn't as bad as some of the swimming he'd had to do at Black Mesa, but honestly!

The way ahead was blocked, he suddenly realized. A wrecked, red traincar sat in the water. Too low to get under, but not too high to get over; he could just make out a ladder along one side, and a gap in the bars that blocked the canals above water every few yards or so. A quick glance showed him that the CPs were nowhere in sight. If he could just scramble up on the roof of the car quickly enough and get over to the-

A panel in the roof gave way under his feet. Gordon hit the floor of the- no. Not the floor, the... mattress? It sure felt like-

"Guess those sirens are for you, huh?" Gordon pulled himself upright and turned to face the speaker: a dark-haired, bearded man in the same denim jumpsuit as virtually everyone else in the city. "Good thing you found us. You're not the first to come through here, by all-"

"This is the Freeman," said a voice like a sock full of gravel. "The Combine's reckoning has come."

Gordon half-turned, and froze. The speaker was- it-

It was one of the red-eyed aliens.

You can talk? wanted to come out. And it tried, too, but it ran headlong into Wait wait wait wait what? 'The' Freeman? What the hell?. He couldn't have spoken either aloud if he'd tried, so he turned to face the human instead. A flicker of sympathy showed on the man's face as he said, "Look. We're just a lookout for the underground railway. The main station's right around the corner. They'll get you started out of here on the right foot. Meanwhile, let my Vortigaunt friend here give you a jolt to get you going."

He jerked a thumb towards the alien. Before Gordon could so much as manage a 'wait, what?' aloud, the same green lightning Gordon remembered only too well from Black Mesa was streaking towards him- No. Not the same. There was no pain, no damage of any kind. In fact, there was another sound he remembered: the low, satisfied hum of his suit's batteries rapidly charging.

"That should keep the Freeman safe," the- Vortigaunt, was it?- said in a tone of considerable satisfaction as it finally lowered its hands.

"Be careful," said the human, who was pulling the side of the car open with the greatest of care. "If Civil Protection catches you down here, it's bad news for the whole railroad."

Gordon nodded; that, at least, he understood completely. He cast a glance at the Vortigaunt, still not quite able to believe what had just happened, but it only spread its two-clawed hands and said, "We serve the same mystery."

"You'd better get going," the human said. Gordon clapped a hand on his shoulder in silent thanks and dashed through the door into the wreckage beyond.
acts_of_gord: (down for the count)
It starts, innocuously enough, with a dream:

Gordon yawns, and tries to stretch. There's a dull clunk as the back of his head encounters the wall.

... wait.

Two blinks later he's wide awake, eyes darting wildly and the rest of him still. The train car is not giving way to his room at Milliways. The clothes he wore to bed have been replaced by a loose-fitting denim getup he doesn't recognize. His glasses are on; he doesn't remember putting them on-

There is no pillow. There is no crowbar to be under the pillow.

He's unarmed, un-armored, somewhere he doesn't know, and totally, utterly, completely alone. Oh, there are two other men dressed in the same outfit as him at the other end of the train car, yes, but that hardly counts. He's never seen either of them before. They could be anyone, for all he knows; they have the look of people who want to be anywhere other than where they are now, and to be there as soon as possible. The darker of the two glances his way with an expression of dull surprise. "Didn't see you get on," he comments, and, "This is my third transfer this year."

Gordon's mouth is too dry for him to do anything but struggle for sound. This isn't right. This can't be happening-

-what the hell is going on outside the window? That's not any city he recognizes. The buildings look like they've been stringing themselves along on the strength of old construction and no maintenance for years now-

"No matter how many times I get relocated I never get used to it," the other man says softly. There's an enormous weariness in his voice; Gordon suppresses a shiver. He moves to pinch himself, just in case. It does nothing.

No. No. This can't be- whatever this is, whatever's going on, this has to be another nightmare-

"Well," says the first man as the train shudders to a stop, "end of the line."

Gordon's pretty sure he's going to be sick.

He numbly follows the other two men off the train. It's not as if he has much choice. He barely catches a glimpse of his surroundings- a shabby but vast railway station, with a few other trains pulled in and the roof arching high overhead- when a painfully bright light blinds him. One arm comes up reflexively, though too late. As the purple shadows swamp his vision he rubs at his eyes, blinking hard and squinting furiously. The light's already faded, revealing its source: a hovering, metallic thing, almost square in shape, with a glowing red lens or eye or something of that nature at its center. It emits a quiet hum and turns in midair, whirring away towards the rest of the station. There's a voice coming over the speakers, one he's almost sure he ought to know, and oh, God, there's a gigantic screen and a face he does know is speaking to him and everyone else:

"Welcome. Welcome to City 17," says Dr. Wallace Breen, the man who used to be in charge of Black Mesa. "You have chosen, or been chosen, to relocate to one of our finest remaining urban centers."

There are other voices speaking, an indistinguishable murmur in the distance. Gordon shakes himself roughly and makes his way forward.

"I thought so much of City 17 that I elected to establish my Administration here in the Citadel so thoughtfully provided by our benefactors."

There are... security guards? Police? He can't tell. They're dressed and armored like riot cops, but they've got white full-face coverings like mutated gas masks instead of visors. Two of them are arguing with the man who couldn't get used to being relocated. Gordon turns away, looking around for something more hopeful-

"I have been proud to call City 17 my home. And so, whether you are here to stay, or passing through on your way to parts unknown, welcome to City 17."

There's a chicken-wire fence at the right end of the platform. On the other side, one of the red-eyed slave aliens he remembers much too well is morosely pushing a broom across the station floor, its whole body hunched to a degree he'd only seen in the nightmare factories of Xen. It lifts its head and looks Gordon's way, silent and miserable; then it turns back to its work.

"It's safer here."

Gordon can't get out of there fast enough.

There's a woman, too young to have those lines on her face: "Were you the only ones on that train? Overwatch stopped our train in the woods and took my husband for questioning. They said he'd be on the next train- I'm not sure when that was. They're being nice and letting me wait, though..."

There's a man, old and worn, huddled at a table as grimly functional as the same jumpsuit they all wear: "Don't drink the water. They put something in it to make you forget- I don't even remember how I got here."

There's another man, pacing, frantic, murmuring words that've lost all meaning through repetition. Something about the trains being empty, how they never arrive on time, how you never see anyone really leaving or coming but they're always going. Another, angrily muttering about the loss of his suitcase. Two others, side by side, watching another great screen; the shorter confirms what Gordon already knew, that the bearded, turtlenecked speaker is in fact Dr. Breen. The other all but elbows his companion in the ribs and hisses something about this being his base of operations. It's like waking up one morning to hear that Bill Gates really did manage to take over the world, and by the time Gordon's put the thought of Black Mesa's chief being completely in charge of... wherever this is?... out of his head, his feet have automatically led him through the snaking chicken-wire fencing to an open space where the gas-masked riot police are searching luggage and hassling people. If there's a way out, he doesn't see it-

No, wait. There's one up ahead. The sign says 'Nova Prospekt', and the train on the other side looks nothing like any train Gordon's ever seen before, but it has to be better than this, right?

There's a camera flash as the gate swings shut without warning. As an alarm shrills, a door Gordon hadn't noticed before opens. "You," says the riot cop on the other side, pointing his billy club at Gordon. "Citizen. Come with me."

One of the other cops gives Gordon a shove, and he stumbles forward. By the time he regains his footing, the door's closed behind him. Some poor fool's cries of protest- "There must be some mistake! I got a standard relocation coupon just like everyone else!"- creep out of a side door before it clangs completely shut. There's nothing here to grab, he notices, nothing to pry loose or pull down or wield in any way, and he's got a nasty feeling that these ... whatever they are... arranged it that way on purpose. The feeling only solidifies when the one in front of him throws open a door to reveal a dingy room with a bloodstained examination chair and an even more bloodstained floor. "Get in," the riot cop growls.

No. No. Not without a fight. There has to be something he can grab, somehow-

One by one, the room's surveillance cameras switch off. Gordon's fingers close on a wastebasket propped against one wall. It's pitifully small, made of cheap metal more likely to bend than to do damage, but it's more than he's got otherwise. The riot cop turns to face him.


The cop reaches up to pull off his gas mask.

"About that beer I owe you."

"..... Barney?"

It's him. It's undeniably him. Oh, sure, he's dressed like every other thug in the station and he's surrounded by the tools of nightmare, but Gordon would know his old friend's face and voice anywhere. It's Barney Calhoun, from Black Mesa. Alive.

The former security guard grins (it's the same smile, it throws years and years of lines and wrinkles into sharp relief for a moment, but it's still the same smile) and notes, "Sorry for the scare, buddy. I had to put on a show for the cameras. I've been working undercover with Civil Protection-"

Gordon takes a deep breath and steadies his voice. "Barney, what's-"

"I can't take too long or they'll get suspicious," Barney continues, heedless. "I'm way behind on my beating quota."

Beating quota? Gordon almost repeats aloud, but Barney's turned back to the massive computer terminal that takes up most of one wall. The screen flickers into life, and Gordon's throat constricts a moment at the sight of another familiar face. "Yes, Barney, what is it?" says Dr. Kleiner. "I'm in the middle of a critical test..."

Barney shakes his head ruefully, glances Gordon's way. "Sorry, Doc, but look who's here."

"Great Scott! Gordon Freeman! I expected more warning."

So did I, thinks Gordon, who's too overcome to do more than raise a hand in greeting. I'm home, oh, God, I'm home. And it's all wrong...

He looks up as Kleiner notes, "Alyx is around here somewhere. She would have an idea of how to get him here." He's heard that name before, hasn't he?

There's no time to think it over, though. Barney's talking about checkpoints, and not having time- and someone's knocking at the door. Loudly. As the transmission cuts off Barney mutters, "That's what I was afraid of! Get out of here, Gordon, before you blow my cover!" He jerks open the door to a half-empty storeroom and gestures frantically. "Out the window. Keep going 'til you're in the plaza. I'll meet up with you later..."

The door closes, leaving Gordon in a whirlwind of silent confusion amidst a clutter of neglected boxes.

"Let me read a letter I recently received," says Dr. Breen from yet another vast screen. This one hangs inside a municipal building where jumpsuited citizens listlessly shuffle about their appointed rounds under the blank and pitiless gazes of masked Civil Protection officers. "'Dear Dr. Breen. Why has the Combine seen fit to suppress our reproductive cycle? Sincerely, A Concerned Citizen.'"

There has to be an exit around here somewhere, doesn't there? Barney mentioned a plaza, and all these people have to have come in from someplace else, right?

"Thank you for writing, Concerned. Of course your question touches on one of the basic biological impulses, with all its associated hopes and fears for the future of the species... "

The first few doors don't work. Breen continues to ramble on. Gordon realizes, with growing horror, that his old boss-of-all-bosses is speaking on behalf of some agency infinitely more powerful than himself. And it only gets worse from there; if he's understanding correctly, these Combine've made human reproduction impossible- and tried to pass it off as being for humanity's own good. Worst of all, Breen seems to believe it- to agree with it, and to praise it. The door to outside can't open an instant too soon for Gordon's liking; he all but collapses in relief on the external steps of the building...

"-beginning with the basest of human urges: The urge to reproduce," Breen's voice continues from overhead speakers. Dammit. "We should thank our benefactors for giving us respite from this overpowering force-"

There has to be somewhere he can get away from Breen's droning long enough to think. If he can just find someplace out of the way, he might have a chance of pulling himself together before Barney comes along to find him. There's got to be somewhere, right?


It should have been so simple, he thinks, doggedly walling out the sounds of gunfire. There'd been an alley within sight of the plaza; he would've waited there for Barney, caught his breath, figured out what was going on-

But the other cops had shouted at him to move along. He'd gotten himself lost trying to work his way around to the municipal building and seen things he probably shouldn't. Wreckage, fine, posters, fine, even the two masked cops beating up a cringing, jumpsuited woman in another alley; he could handle all that, almost. But the thing that stood over it all was thirty feet or more of spidery leg and a central mass the size of a Volvo, and the gun that hung from its underbelly like some obscene ovipositor swung as it moved in the way that only living things can quite manage. It was no Xen species Gordon had ever seen, but something worse by far, and it had turned to look at him.

He'd broken. He'd run. There'd been a side street and an open door and stairs leading upwards into the building's dingy heart. There'd been people-

Behind him the whirring grows louder, the camera-bot drawing relentlessly closer.

He's running. He's running as fast as he dares across the rickety wooden slats that bridge the gaps in the roof of what was once a decent apartment building. Where he's running to he doesn't know, but he can't let them catch him, can't let the camera-bot flash him in the eyes-

There are boards slanting from the corner of the roof down to a ledge as narrow as any he'd ever had to walk at Black Mesa. He doesn't trust them. He makes the jump instead, just barely, and skitters along with his back against the next building's wall. The camera-bot never falters, even as he tries to scramble up a slanted tile roof to somewhere that a flash in the eyes won't mean a lost grip and a fast death. He ducks his head and closes his eyes, hard, as the thing swings around in front of him. There's a click and a flash, but he's not blinded this time. In fact, he can see that the ledge ahead of him shows signs of recent maintenance. Someone's left a paint can out. As the camera-bot bobs and dives towards him Gordon grabs the can by the handle and swings it upward with all the force he can muster. The shower of sparks and smoke is immensely satisfying for the instant it takes for the damn thing to explode into Gordon's face.

If there's anything to be heard over the sudden ringing in his ears, Gordon doesn't know about it. He's lucky he's not blinded as well as deafened; the chunk of machinery that flew his way caught his forehead, but not his glasses. As it stands he's barely able to keep moving on the ledge without losing his footing. At least there's an open window just ahead; he can get through that without too much difficulty, and wait for the spinning to pass.

But as his hearing comes back and he can lift his head again, he can hear the sound of booted footsteps coming up the nearby stairs...


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Gordon Freeman

December 2012



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