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..."
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..."
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!]