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This place is not the first patch of Polish earth that has seen this many deaths. But the others were done by humans, and were driven by human hatred. The Combine have no such drive spurring them onward; quite simply, they do not care who learns about this place, or about what they've done here, only that the job of making this world their own gets done with as little interference from the local population as possible.

So there is nothing deliberately intimidating or sinister about the complex of plastic and steel and energy fields surrounding the European geneworm's spire. It's just one more blotch of alien architecture designed for funneling fuel into the alien monster's mouth, for inhaling everything Earth has to give and expelling the winds of an alien dimension in its stead. It could be anywhere. It has been anywhere, as ruins in North Dakota and Chapada dos Guimarães and Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park and the forests of central Africa will attest.

But it still seems oddly appropriate, to Gordon, anyway, for the tiny scrambling band of humans to be flinging everything they have with all their might at a foe this far advanced here, of all countries. Maybe it's not mustering the cavalry for one screaming ride of explosive defiance straight into the teeth of the invading tanks, but... well, the battle here feels like something he thinks those men would approve of, even if it is only a distraction to allow their vermifuge-laden Combine scanner to slip through and poison the monster at the heart of it all.

He's pretty sure he'll be deaf for a good several hours by the time it's all over. But he'll accept that. Some prices, you pay.

The Star

The landing was as simple as a landing can get when there are enough sand-dwelling alien insects around to throw even the Combine off their pace. The slaughter of antlions was nothing short of amazing. There was a bull, too, but the less said about that the better- by the time it was dead they'd used up near all their medkits, and Sergeant-Major Shephard was quoting Milton through clenched teeth. Apparently he'd never seen a man finish off a fifteen-foot-long armored alien bug with the business end of a crowbar before.

Gordon will never in a million years admit that he caught himself enjoying that particular moment of insanity. At least, not to anyone else.

Anyway, the time of slaughtering bugs passed, and the time of sounding out the Combine presence in the area has also passed, because on the journey inland towards the location of the Gene Worm the advance force encountered a number of humans. None of them spoke much English, but they had enough German for Gordon to communicate with them. He didn't like the look he caught them exchanging with one another when he introduced himself. It wasn't quite the look he got in Seattle, but it was close enough...

And now that they've all been shepherded carefully and secretly to the local Resistance hideout, he's been asked to come and meet somebody. This, he isn't looking forward to.
When Janusz Prohaska was a boy, he like everybody else he knew prayed and wished and hoped that something would happen that would break the Combine’s back. ‘Something’ was of course supposed to be the return of Gordon Freeman; Janusz didn’t like being specific in wishes, in case his wishing turned out to be wishing for the wrong thing. He would have settled for a plague that struck at their Synths, or a sunspot-storm killing electronics everywhere lasting a hundred years so long as it took the Combine technology down along with the human. But mostly, he like everybody else he knew was hoping for Gordon Freeman.

There were days when he wondered whether perhaps he should have hoped for something else.

Not that the man didn’t know his business- he did. Oh, God Almighty, how he did! For how long now had he been with them, keeping them in shadows and out of the Combine’s sight? How many times had he taken them into battle and cost the alien overlords dearly? With a few dozen more fighters, another truckload or two of better weapons, Janusz was sure the man would see them all through another year of independence here….

And yet- and yet there was so much about the man that Janusz could not bring himself to like. His attitude, his assumptions, the way he treated people- particular people- there was an air about him when you spoke to him that suggested he had made up his mind already and was only listening because you would give him trouble if he didn’t. At least, there was when Janusz spoke to him. It was different to watch him with the others, with the women-

Well. That would have to wait. He was going to have to listen now, whatever he had made up his mind about. Janusz steeled himself for the conversation coming and rapped at the man’s door.

“Who’s there?”

“Prohaska, Dr. Freeman.”

There was silence, and then Janusz thought he heard an ‘mm’ sort of sound. It was the most acknowledgment he could reasonably respect, and so he opened the door.

How the man operated in a space this size Janusz would never know. The little room beyond was stuffed with maps and papers and weapons on every flat surface, and more hanging from the ceiling besides. There was a light somewhere in all that, because something besides the one dingy window up near the join of wall and ceiling had to be casting the shadows, but hell if Janusz knew where it was. He stepped around a chair stacked with things that would probably explode horribly at the slightest provocation and waited for Dr. Freeman to look up.

The man, he thought, looked tired. Oh, yes, he was the hardest working human being Janusz had ever met; but even for that he looked tired. The glasses he wore did him no favors, only making the lines around and dark circles below his eyes that much more obvious. This was a man who hadn’t seen coffee in twenty years, and for whom no amount of tea would ever be enough. Janusz didn’t have to like him to pity him in that regard. Or in regard to the news he had to deliver.

“Dr. Freeman,” said Janusz, “there are two dozen human fighters, maybe more, who’ve smashed their way through the antlion warrens outside Gdansk. They’re headed this way; I don’t know how long before they reach our position, but they leave nothing alive behind them.”

“Hm,” was all Dr. Freeman said. The man leaned back in his chair, fingers interlaced save for the steepled index and thumb. After a while he said, “Backup?”

“At sea, from what anyone can tell. A ship- it seems to be named Borealis.” Janusz had some trouble with the name. Latin and its descendants were never his strong suit.


Janusz waited. It wasn’t a good idea to disturb Dr. Freeman while he was thinking. He took it badly.

Eventually, Dr. Freeman sat forward again, one hand under the desk. Any other man would have been reaching for a flask, but Janusz was pretty sure that was where the crowbar got kept. “There’s more news, isn’t there,” he said.

“Dr. Freeman, their leader claims to be you.”

”Hm,” said Dr. Freeman, and scowled. “Well. We’ll see about that, won’t we.”

Beyond the Sea

There's going to be a lot of swimming very soon. Gordon's good with that. Maybe not all that enthusiastic about it, though. He's read about Irukandji syndrome. It's almost enough to make him wish for Xen leeches instead.


It's a night swim, is the thing. The only way they could reach the Combine desalination plant undetected during the day would involve Pi portaling the Borealis directly alongside the rig and dropping them off faster than the Combine could shoot them all down. Alyx has the machine up and running again, but nobody wants to take a chance on Pi's current stability. And for all that people in the Resistance occasionally seem to think he's the Messiah, walking on water is not in his portfolio. So... they have to get to the rig under cover of darkness, through jellyfish-infested waters, and creep aboard undetected. And then pretty much put an end to the existence of anything on board with a pulse. Alyx won't be there, and the stalkers won't have any other way out.

He'll handle that part himself, if he can.

For now they've driven here from the Borealis They've got a dark equipment shed near the shoreline ready so that the handful of them who'll be going can get their eyes used to what lies ahead. They're all in their dive gear, as far as he knows. He's got his HEV suit and his helmet on. Hopefully it'll stand up to the jellyfish like it's done to the Combine. This is going to be a very short trip otherwise.

Here Comes...

There was a knock at the door. Gordon carefully set his soldering iron down- it wouldn't do to mutilate the circuitry Alyx had asked him to work on as part of her attempt at distributed repairs on PIaDOS- and leaned over to flip the locking mechanism off. He didn't recognize the grey-haired, Southeast Asian-looking man peering in at him, but he didn't wear Resistance blues; Australian, then. "Dr. Freeman?" the man said. "Hope I'm not interrupting."

Gordon shook his head. "Nothing that can't wait," he said. "Can I help you?"

"Maybe," said the man. "My name's Trần Quang Binh. One of Beatrice's people?"

He raised his shaggy eyebrows; Gordon shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "If I'm supposed to remember you-"

"No, no, it's all right," the man said hastily. "I was afraid someone'd mentioned me, is all."

Afraid? That was new. Gordon gave the man an enquiring look.

"Got into a bit of a card game with your radio man the other day," Trần said. "Mason?"

Oh, hell, Floyd. Gordon winced- there really wasn't any way this could end well- but nodded.

"Right, well-" Trần straightened his shoulders. "Wanted to let somebody know- look, I know I shouldn't be taking up your time, but... someone important needed to know."

"Know what?"

Trần sucked a breath between his teeth. "Weeeeeell.... I won a lot of alcohol off your radio man. Most of it's not drinkable. It's turps, frankly."

That didn't sound like a complaint. Gordon made a 'go on' gesture.

"That's not to say it's not going to good use. See-" Trần offered a small smile. "I'm a chemist. Taught organic chemistry at Australian National University. What your radio man had, like I said, it'd do very bad things to anyone who drank it. If I get it back to Andamooka, though, we can use it."

There were really only so many things you could use undrinkable alcohol for. Gordon had a feeling this man wasn't talking about antiseptics. Which meant-

"We've got some old dune buggies and such. Used to use them all the time, only we ran out of fuel. They look like shit but they'll get you anywhere you can name, long as they've got something to burn," Trần said. "I've got the gear in Andamooka to put your man's turps to use, if Beatrice says all right about the buggies."

... transportation. Maybe not enough to make up for losing PIaDOS' ability to teleport the ship, but they'd at least have transportation. They could get somewhere!

"Dr. Binh," said Gordon, slowly, "that might just be the best news I've heard in weeks."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith swallowed; she couldn't quite speak.

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

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

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

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

Jan. 17th, 2011

When the Citadel in City 17 fell, everyone in the world knew it one way or another. Maybe they didn't know exactly what had happened, but they knew that something had gone down. Between the Suppression Field being gone and the sudden stir of activity among Combine military units, something enormous had happened. Oh, sure, Isaac Kleiner took advantage of the stir to hijack the communications broadcast network and put the word out about exactly what was going on, but... well. No offense to Kleiner, but he was a physicist. Not a broadcast technician. His range was limited at best, and his signal repetition and coverage was patchy at worst. It was something of a miracle that any of what he said was received outside of North America.

The broadcasts that started going up after that were a little better, as the Resistance grew more familiar with their equipment. When they finally took the Greenbrier, and all the equipment the United States Government had once planned to use to push its message of 'we're still here' should the Bomb ever fall, they hit a jackpot without realizing it. The Greenbrier equipment was designed to bounce signals off satellites, to reach Americans and their allies almost anywhere in the world. True, it was out of date and yes, many of the old satellites hadn't been tended to since the Combine came, but there were enough to push the word farther and clearer than had ever been done before. For the first time, news from the North American continent stood a chance of reaching Europe. True, it was in English, and even with the satellite equipment it was still a little patchy, but it got through.

At least, it got through enough for one man in a remote holding high in a mountain range out of the direct Combine line of fire to hear, and to stare at his radio, and then to swear copiously under his breath.

A Few Words

"This is Gordon Freeman. You know who I am.

"Last year, the Combine did their best to wipe the Resistance off the face of the Earth. I am sending you this message today to tell you, and them, that their best wasn't good enough. It won't ever be.

"To any of the Combine or their agents who may be listening: all your effort in this world has gone to waste. We survived. I survived.

"And we are coming for you."

The Edge of Hope

Dear Eleanor-

Tomorrow we're going to be making a strike at the Combine installations in Fort Collins. It's far from the most heavily fortified location I've ever seen, but it's still battle. I know better by now than to think my luck is guaranteed.

The people who're going to be following me tomorrow think I'm a hero. Some of them probably think I'm the Messiah. I hate that I have to go on letting them think that, but I remember Black Mesa. When you run out of everything else to keep you moving forward, sometimes the only thing that can move you is hope. I'm not going to take that away from them. I think we have a fair chance of securing our objectives tomorrow if we move quickly and strike hard enough, but Manuel's pictures have me worried about just how much resistance we're going to encounter. We're going to need the edge of hope to catch the Combine off guard enough to snatch what we need and get back alive.

That's the important part, really. Hitting the Combine hard doesn't matter if we don't get out of this alive. There used to be a time when generals could throw soldiers at objectives and call it a victory if they came out of it with a couple of men left standing, so long as they secured what they needed. I'm not saying it was right, but- well, they used to do that. We can't. I can't. We need to capture those Combine Scanners if we're going to have even a ghost of a chance of killing the geneworms. There's not going to be a future if we don't.

But even with the Field down, there's not enough of us left. It'll be another sixteen years before the next generation is capable of picking up and carrying on. Every single person who dies following me tomorrow is a person who won't be able to keep up the fight. Anyone I lose, that's another hit to the chance of humanity making through those next sixteen years. I have to keep them all alive as far as I can. I have to give them every edge possible. I know commanders before the Combine would probably say I have to look at the big picture but that is the big picture. There's so few of us here that every single one of us matters now more than we ever did before.

And that includes you. It's always included you. I don't think I ever told you, but when Black Mesa happened-

I've been staring at the paper for a good ten minutes now trying to figure out how to write this next part. I'm not good with words.

I can't say I made it out of Black Mesa because I didn't want to die, because that's not true. There was a point- I'll tell you about it later, in person, if I can- there was a point when I knew I was going to die. I was sure I was going to die before I ever saw the sky again. All I wanted then was a death I could be proud of. I lived anyway, and I didn't know what to do after that but keep going. I made it through Xen somehow, and I still don't know how that happened, just that it did. When I got dropped in the Milliways borderworld after the Nihilanth died I honestly didn't know why I was still alive, or what kept me moving. But there was someone... he told me that after everything like that happened, I had to find something to live for. Something that really would keep me moving. Even if it was something small, just as long as it was something. I remembered your picture in my locker at Black Mesa when he told me that. I didn't know if the resonance cascade had hit Seattle yet, or what might've happened to you. I just thought that maybe you were out there, and maybe you were okay. Maybe I could at least find out, if I kept going. maybe I could fix the mess I'd made, for your sake.

So there it is. You kept me going. I have other things to fight for now but you're what I learned the importance of the edge of hope from.

I don't have any way of getting this to you before the battle. I'm hoping I can deliver this to you in person. We'll see.

Wish me luck tomorrow anyway.

Your uncle,

In progress

Gordon is not looking forward to the conversation that lies ahead.

He and Dr. Magnusson never got along back at Black Mesa, even before the casserole incident. The only reason they seem to have gotten along at all since the Combine invasion has been because Gordon made great use of the Magnusson devices and went to considerable lengths to protect the man's rocket. It has been, by and large, a peace maintained by distance and silence.

Today, however, there is a message to be delivered, and thus Gordon is combing the cave complex of Rowlesburg in search of the other man.

After the Walk

There's been a lot to catch up on since making it to Rowlesburg from White Forest. Gordon's met a lot of people he didn't know, and talked to plenty of people he'd only just met once or twice. He's doing his best to actually interact when that happens instead of just listening and nodding at critical points. Talking to people was never his strong suit.

There is, however, one particular person he wanted to talk to, or at least check up on. It's been a fair while since he's seen his niece, after all.

Aug. 25th, 2010

It was a cold cave, and dank, and Russell Butler was almost sure that the pervasive smell came from something that was probably prowling the mountainside right now with the intent of coming back soon. Nevertheless, it was shelter, and more of it than he and Jared were likely to find before the storm hit. A lean-to further down the slope might've been enough to fend off the snow and the wind, but not the critters that prowled these mountains. At least dug into the stone like this, they had a fair chance of plugging whatever beastie might try coming back to reclaim the place. Wouldn't be the first time they'd had to fight like hell just to keep what little they had.

No thanks to that bitch back in Rowlesburg. Jesus, was everybody on this side of the country soft in the head or something?

A clacking of stone on metal behind him caught Russell's ear; he turned a little, saw his older brother showering their bundle of tinder with sparks. As Jared tucked the flint away Russell said, "Are we good?"

"Yeah, we're good." Jared prodded another handful of dried grass up against the glowing places where the sparks had caught. "Am I or am I not the one who's started our last six fires on the first try?"

"I've got to hand it to you, Jared, you know your stuff." Russell scootched back out of his brother's way. "Think we got enough wood to wait out the storm?"

"Probably." Jared squinted towards the cave mouth, doing his best to eyeball the oncoming clouds. It wasn't easy. "These aren't the Rockies. Best I can do is guess, at least until we've been here a while longer."

Russell made a disgusted noise. "Don't even joke about that."

Jared fell silent, but the both of them were thinking the same thing. If it weren't for that damn half-breed Vance- if Freeman hadn't turned out to be the biggest race fraud this side of the Mississippi- if it weren't for that idiot Marine, if they hadn't had to pull a couple hundred Mexicans of all things out of the dead zone... well, if it weren't for all of that the question wouldn't ever have arisen. But the Resistance leadership'd been insane enough to pick up those wetbacks instead of saving good white Americans from the Combine processing plant and now they were stuck with 'em, and when it came down to living in the same handful of caverns as several hundred Mexicans and three leaders who were going to lead the remainder of the human race right down the path to ruin, there were just some things you could not do.

Better to take their chances with the winter weather, pack their supplies up, and make for one of the abandoned towns further along the river. They'd both learned to survive in the wild long ago. If they could hold out until spring they'd work out what had to be done to set things right on their own. For now, though, the snow was starting to fall and the fire was starting to catch in earnest. Russell held out his hands towards the flames and did his best to relax.

It didn't last long. A sound of scraping and stumbling brought him up- not to his feet, there wasn't room to stand straight in here, but at least he was on his knees and armed and facing the entrance alongside his brother. The dark shape that stooped down to peer in didn't resemble anything remotely Xen, though; Russell un-tensed a little. "Don't get excited," said the figure, its voice muffled. "I got me'n another human here, that's all. You got room in there for two more?"

Russell exchanged a glance with his brother. Jared nodded. "Come on in," he said. "Don't try straightening- oh..."

The first of the two newcomers scrambled into the cave on his belly like he was born knowing how, coming up and blinking at the Butlers from behind the lenses of a gas-mask strapped over two or three weeks' growth of beard. He looked familiar, but it was the second man to work his way in that dropped Jared to silence. Or, rather, the second man's armor suit and visible armaments, chiefly and most particularly the crowbar that chimed softly against the stone of the cave wall as he pulled in his feet.

There was a long, long silence in the moment following that ringing of metal on stone. Outside, the snow continued to fall.

Eventually, the masked man (the Marine, it had to be the Marine, there wasn't enough firelight to see his shoulder patches by but there wasn't anybody else it could possibly be) cleared his throat. "I dunno about you two," he said, his mountain twang muffled by the mask's filters, "but I ain't gonna start shit if you ain't."

Jared and Russell glanced at each other again. They had the strategic position in the cave if anything got started, and nobody had the advantage of numbers, and it was way too cramped in here to draw a weapon with any kind of speed. On the other hand, the both of them still got headaches from time to time, and if Russell remembered correctly the Marine hadn't even bothered to pick up so much as a ruler during the altercation at White Forest....

Jared said, surprisingly calmly in his brother's estimation, "We're willing to share the fire if you two are."

The Marine grunted, nodded, and settled back on his heels. Freeman didn't say anything. As a matter of fact, Freeman didn't say anything for the next sixteen hours, even when it was his turn to clear away accumulating snow from the cave mouth to keep them all from suffocating. He just sat, and watched.

Russell would remember that for a long, long time after the both of them left. Longer than whatever it was the Marine said about 'these are my mountains, bitches, so you best behave yourselves', anyway.

The Fall

The helicopter circled the site that had been White Forest three times before either its pilot or its passenger found it in him to so much as make a sound. Gordon didn't know what was going on in the front seat; he was too busy staring out his window at the twisted, smoking cratered mess below, struggling to stave off the urge to be violently sick. That much destruction, that quickly... there wouldn't have been any time for anyone to get away. The Combine'd burnt the base off the face of the planet along with everything for half a mile around. Nobody could've-

"O miserable of happy! Is this the end
Of this new glorious world, and me so late
The glory of that glory, who now become
Accursed, of blessed?"

The words were no more than whispers, barely forced out of an unwilling throat. Gordon realized with a jolt that it was the Marine speaking. He turned back to the still-smoking ruins below and tried to block the sound out, but the words had the tone of someone incapable of holding back a flood.

"Hide me from the face
Of God, whom to behold was then my highth
Of happiness!--Yet well, if here would end
The misery; I deserved it, and would bear
My own deservings; but this will not serve..."

There was a gulp, and then only a little louder, Shephard said, "'m takin' us down, Freeman. You best hold on tight."

The landing, in the middle of what might've once been the open space where Gordon and Alyx had first parked the car, was as smooth and even as any Gordon could remember. Shephard popped the cockpit open and down from the chopper the instant the rotors stopped moving. Remembering what had happened at Tim Hutchence's base, Gordon took his time about circling around to check on him, but Shephard was still on his hands and knees when Gordon got there anyway. "You okay?" he murmured.


Gordon didn't know what to say to that.

"Not again. Jesus, not again."

"Huh?" Gordon had turned away to survey the destruction, hoping for some sign of life; he turned back.

"Wasn't there when the Combine came the first time," said Shephard quietly, not lifting his eyes from the dirt in front of him. "Didn't do my duty then, either. Wasn't here for this, 'n look what happened this time."

For one brief moment Gordon almost, almost had words of comfort ready. Then he remembered just who it was who'd told him that all the effort in the world would've gone to waste, and hated himself for having thought of it. "Shephard," he began, and stopped without knowing what was going to come next.

The Marine looked up at him, both his hands still on the soil, fingertips digging into the dirt.

"I think.... I think somebody escaped," Gordon said, and with a shock realized he wasn't lying. He did think that. More than that, he knew.


"There was... something the Vortigaunts did," Gordon said carefully. "I don't know just how to describe it. But... before you reached here, the first time. Before either of us reached here. Alyx got run through by a Hunter..."

Shephard's expression didn't change, but he inclined his head fractionally. "Go on," he said.

"Well... she was dying," Gordon said. The thought was physically painful. "One of the Vortigaunts found us, and led us to several others down in the mines. They had a way of healing her. I don't know how to explain it, but... there was a point when they almost lost her. They said they needed a human to help. Something about weaving lives together, to strengthen her pattern so she wouldn't fall completely apart."

That merited two raised eyebrows.

"I don't understand what they did. Only that they did it, and that she was alive at the end of it," Gordon said. "And that ever since then, I've known that if anything happened to her- anything huge, anything fatal- I'd know. I'd feel it. Like half of me would be gone."

"Huh," said Shephard, and for a while he didn't say anything else. Neither did Gordon. Eventually, though, Shephard turned and looked at the wreckage of the base; then he looked back up at Gordon. "You're sure," he said.


"So you're sayin' you know she's alive somewheres."

Gordon nodded.

"Reckon anybody else made it out with her?" Shephard said slowly, as he started to let go of the soil beneath his hands.

"I couldn't tell you," Gordon was forced to admit. "But if a woman as pregnant as she was could get out of here alive and unharmed...."

"... then some of the folks who weren't so slow might've pulled it off too," finished Shephard. "Huh. All right."

"You seem to be taking this pretty easily," Gordon said with some surprise. "I didn't think you'd believe me."

"Freeman," said Shephard, coming to his feet, "I been workin' in the base kitchens with more Vortigaunts than I got fingers for weeks now. I've seen 'em in action, I know what they c'n do. I reckon there ain't a whole lot you could tell me 'bout the shit those green buggers pull that I wouldn't believe at this point. You tell me they made it so's you'd know if Ms. Vance died? I'll believe you. I'm okay with that." He wiped his hands ineffectually on his fatigues. "Don't suppose you got any kind of a GPS readout on her out of the deal? Got any kind of a bearing on her position?"

"Uh..." Gordon frowned and closed his eyes. "I'm not sure it works like-"

He stopped, realizing that actually, yes, it did work like that. At least, just for the moment. Gordon suddenly had a very real, very palpable sense of Alyx's presence- tired, hungry, and distant, but real enough. When he opened his eyes again, he was facing more or less southwest, and pointing. "That way," he said. "Hundreds of miles by now. I think."

Shephard grunted. "Y'sure about that?" he said.

"I haven't exactly done this kind of thing before," Gordon felt obliged to point out. "This is as much a guess as anything else."

"No it ain't. You don't guess shit, Freeman, I seen you in action," said Shephard. "I don't have to like you to believe you. You say she's a couple hunnert miles away? I reckon that means that fuckin'-ass boat got herself the fuck back here, 'cause we sure as shit didn't have nothin' at the base could move nowhere near that fast once you'n me took the chopper."

Gordon exhaled, shoulders slumping. "Okay," he said. "So we get back in the-"

"No we do not," said Shephard. "We are not takin' that bird nowhere Ms. Vance might be. Combine already killed everyfuckingthing here tryin' to git at the lot of us. I reckon they ain't figured out where the boat went or they'd be there by now. We go up in that bird-"

"-and they've got an airborne signal flare leading them straight to her location," Gordon finished. "Damn."

"Too right," said Shephard. "We're gon' have to see 'bout findin' any supplies didn't get blown straight to shit, 'n then we got to scuttle that hunk of junk 'fore we head on out. Hope you like walkin', Freeman."

Shephard seemed suspiciously cheerful at the prospect, but Gordon supposed it was better than the alternative.

False Dawn

Even in the days when he was applying to colleges, Gordon had never been to Pittsburgh. At most, he'd seen the city's sprawling bulk briefly from above, looking much the same as any other industrial city. There wasn't much of anything to look at or remark upon. It was just... it was a city. Nothing to see. From what he'd been told, Tim Hutchence and his band of Resistance fighters had made it even less of anything to see. Apparently there wasn't anything left standing of the Combine industrial complexes there much taller than a parking meter by the time they were done. At least that was what Ten Boom had told him, and Shephard had corroborated the story.

Which meant, when he thought about it, that Hutchence's folk had to have been pretty damned impressive. Pittsburgh had been a city before becoming the Scab. You had to go to a lot of trouble to take all of that down, even if you managed to turn the enemy's own strength and fighting forces against it. You had to seriously know what you were doing.

Which meant, now, that that smoke ahead on the horizon couldn't mean anything good.

Nor could the complete and utter silence coming over the helicopter's radio when Shephard tried to contact the base.

Or, for that matter, the utterly blackened and slagged metal fragments that were all that remained of the base when Shephard finally found a patch of flat ground big enough to put the helicopter down. That... yeah. That couldn't mean

( And this time we won't last seven minutes )


( If you come at the king, you best not miss )


"Shephard," said Gordon to the retching Marine, "finish what you're doing and help me find a fuel tank. There's no one left here."

And they had places to be. Now.

Outbound Transit

"Jesus fuck, Freeman, how much ordnance were you carrying?" Shephard yelled as the physicist brought the helicopter's canopy down with a slam. "You shitting daisycutters now or something?"

Gordon sagged back into the hunter-chopper's seat and closed his eyes. "Just used what came to hand," he muttered, reaching up to undo his helmet's catches. It smelled in there. "Not my fault Combine field generators explode like that."

"Well, fuck-a-doodle-doo." Shephard shook his head, took a deep breath, and started the helicopter's ascent. "Too bad y'couldn't take that APC you stole back with us..."

The Marine fell silent after that. The early stages of a flight were always tricky, even without God knew what kind of pursuit the Combine might set on his tail. Of course, by his standards, the middle stages of a flight were tricky too, and the endings didn't bear thinking about. But right now it was the beginning that worried him, and he needed to concentrate.

Gordon didn't mind. He'd just infiltrated yet another damned Combine perimeter, slipped past the newly established guard patrols, found where the Combine were storing what remained of the Gene Worm, and stolen enough of it to satisfy any request the alien scientist at Milliways might ever come up with. He'd had to leave a swath of Combine corpses behind him large enough to drive a tank through, but he'd done it. And eluded the pursuers, though only barely. If he and Shephard were very, very lucky, they'd have enough of a head start to make it back to where they'd left the Borealis that they could portal back to White Forest before anything caught up with them.

It was not a thought he liked to think. Gordon knew he was not a lucky man. Basing anything at all on the idea meant nothing more and nothing less than tempting fate. Still, at this point there wasn't much he could do. Shephard was at the controls. Unless something came after them that needed gunning down, all he could do was sit and wait.

He glanced at the sample bag between his knees. The Combine had set up some kind of field facility ringed with small generators not far from the original Gene Worm complex. Most of it had been pretty unrecognizable, but there'd been a room with huge metal doors on all the walls, and when he'd thrown one open there'd been frozen chunks of Gene Worm flesh inside. You didn't forget a substance like that once you saw it raining down all around you, so he'd stolen what he could and run- and blown every generator he could find on the way out. Whatever they were doing with the dead Synth's flesh couldn't be anything good. At least with this stuff, they'd have a chance of killing the rest of that monster's kindred....

His eyes rose a moment to the console in front of him. The Combine had stripped most instrumentation out of the original helicopter's cockpit, apparently routing most of the displays and gauges through their pilots' helmets instead. Now and again something lit up- but there was no label, no indicator. It could have been radar. It could have been GPS. It could have been the fuel and pulse cannon charge gauges for all he knew. The only thing of which he could be certain was that mostly he was just dealing with black glass, a silent pilot, and a whole lot of-

"Does she walk? Does she talk?
Does she come complete?
My homeroom homeroom angel
Always pulled me from my seat-"

Gordon shook his head rapidly and looked up. Either there was a radio in the cockpit picking up on some very odd human transmission, or-

"Years go by I'm lookin' through a girly magazine
And there's my homeroom angel on the pages in-between-"

Or Shephard was singing. Huh.

Gordon settled back to listen, and said nothing.

Some time later- Gordon wasn't sure exactly when- the quiet tunes from the front of the cockpit stopped. "Freeman?" came Shephard's voice at full volume.


"You, uh- you remember where we parked the boat?"


"The boat, Freeman. The fuckin' Borealis. Where'd we park it?"

Gordon's stomach twisted uncomfortably. "I- There were coordinates, weren't there?"

"Yup," said Shephard's voice dryly. "And we are at those coordinates. And the boat. Ain't. Here."

Gordon did his best to press his face against the nearest window, but it didn't help much. Not at this angle. And not with Shephard's voice saying, "Ain't no wreckage, either, 'n no burn marks or nothin'. That boat ain't here and it ain't been blown up, neither. It's just fuckin' gone."

"You're positive."

"Fuck yeah I'm positive! In case you ain't noticed I been goin' up and down the same piece of riverfront properly the past ten minutes makin' absofuckinlutely positive!"

Gordon ran a hand over his face and gritted his teeth. Aloud he said, "No signs of the Combine having put down a landing force?"

"I can't tell for certain without puttin' this bird down 'n getting out," said Shephard, "but it don't look that way."

"So the boat just up and left? Is that what you're saying?"

"Looks like. God dammit, 'n here I thought I got that crazy-ass hunk of junk listenin' to me before we left White Forest. Guess Pi freaked out on me after all." Shephard shook his head. "Good thing we fueled the fuck up 'fore we came out here. We want to reach White Forest, we're gonna have to fly all the way back to the Scab first."

"Great," said Gordon under his breath.
This is how things stand at the moment: a dead gene worm at the middle of a heavily damaged facility in North Dakota, a living gene worm on every other inhabited continent, and no real way of getting dirty bombs into the throats of any of the rest. There is a scientist at Milliways willing to assist in the destruction of the remaining five horrors. But science requires a foundation to work from, and that foundation, right now, is not in the Resistance's hands. If those other atmosphere-transforming, world-destroying synths are going to be stopped, they need to get a tissue sample. Either from a living worm, or from the remains of the dead.

Every war contains a certain number of gambles. The gamble the Resistance is embarking upon today is multifold: that the Combine haven't cleared the dead gene worm's remains away entirely, that the dirty bombs used to blow the thing sky high didn't irreparably damage the DNA the alien scientist needs, and that the Combine's attention will be focused somewhere that isn't about a hundred and fifty miles away from the gene worm's last living location. Because that's where PIaDOS is going to drop off two rad-suited fighters, one helicopter, and a whoooole lot of sample collection jars.

Not, of course, until the departure checklist is completed. But soon. Very soon.

Jun. 6th, 2010

Ever since the Aperture data started coming free from its encryption, there've been scientists at White Forest working on it like mad things. One of them, to his own surprise, was Gordon Freeman. He'd just about gotten used to the idea that everyone else was twenty years ahead of him and he might as well just stick with the combat, and then it turned out that twenty years of surreptitious study and development by people with a modicum of sanity didn't really count for very much in the face of the stuff Aperture turned out long ago. Even someone who'd been out of touch with the latest developments could make a serious contribution. Gordon signed up almost before his brain knew what his writing hand was doing.

It's been interesting, getting back into the swing of things this way. It's also been interesting dealing with Magnusson again. In that same way that chewing on tinfoil is an interesting experience, anyway. When the dinner bell finally sounds Gordon is only too glad to step away from the lab and go in search of the mess hall; what he needs right now is twenty minutes of quality time with whatever the KP volunteers have figured out how to do with the Xen wildlife and late-sprouting seed crops today.

The Narrow Way

It's time.

The dead zone's not getting any smaller, the gene worm's not going to die on its own, and the Combine certainly aren't going to admit their mistake and just release their civilian prisoners. The planning is done. Munitions are made and accounted for, gear is tuned and ready- it's time.

Gordon would like, very much, to wake up and discover that he's having yet another overwrought dream, but he's pretty sure that's not going to happen. The ship dropped him off at a safe distance some time ago and promptly left to deploy the rest of the rebels. Everything's down to where it was in the beginning: one scientist, one suit, one crowbar, and a few doodads all on their way into the bowels of Hell together.

'Course, the doodads are a lot more dangerous this time around. That's something.
"My name is Gordon Freeman. You know who I am.

"Before all of this started, I wasn't anything. In the late, unlamented Dr. Breen's words, I wasn't a saboteur or a trained agent. I was a theoretical physicist who'd barely earned the distinction of his Ph.D. I had some practice hours on the target range at Black Mesa, but that was it. No one in their right mind would ever have called me a warrior.

"Then the Incident happened.

"When the Xen forces invaded, all I wanted was to get out of Black Mesa alive- to find help for the other scientists who'd been hurt and couldn't escape themselves. I fought back, not because I was some kind of hero, but because I didn't want to die. I was running blind. I was running scared. I had no idea what was coming next, just that I had to make it through somehow, even though everything was trying to kill me.

"I'm saying this to you now because I want you to know. Because you need to know. Because one terrified scientist who just wants to make it from one moment to the next can become something incredible when he's got enough motivation. I found out, as I fought my way out of Black Mesa, that there was a chance at locking down the rifts opening up across the planet. That if I could make it to Xen and bring down the enemy in his lair, my brother's little girl might have a future. That was what kept me going- knowing there was more than just the next moment, but only if I gave it everything I had.

"I wasn't the only one, either. Every Black Mesa survivor knows what I've just told you. The scientists and workers who escaped with their lives, the security guards who fought their way through hell they never signed up for, the Marine who raised his hand in defense of the survivors when the rest turned on their own people- they all know it. What kept them going was the hope of survival- the chance of having a future. Even the Vortigaunts know it. They became our allies because they knew what Eli Vance said was true: that together, we and they had a chance at overcoming the Combine and making it to freedom.

"For the past sixteen years the Combine have tried to kill that hope. They've done everything they can to break humanity's back. They've turned our defenders against us, tortured and mutilated our advocates, broken our reproductive cycle. They've forced us to eat only the food they gave us, drink only the water they provided. They stole our past just as surely as they stole our future. As far as they were concerned, they'd stolen it forever.

"They were wrong.

"There are survivors yet who've never bowed to Combine rule. I've spoken to some of them. There are those of you who've survived these past sixteen years, not because you accepted your slavery, but because you were holding out for a moment when the chance of escape would be worth taking. I've spoken to them, too. And there are those of you who survived just because you had to make it from one moment to the next, even if you didn't know what else there might be. I'm speaking to you now. All of you.

"There. Is. A. Future.

"We've broken the prison where they made human soldiers into Overwatch slaves. We've destroyed their central Citadel. We've taken down the Suppression Field. And we've begun providing for the future. Around the world, on every continent, the governments and farmers of the world before Black Mesa set aside cuttings and seeds of every kind of crop the future might ever need to start human agriculture over again in the event of a planet-wide disaster. We've uncovered the first one and reclaimed its contents already. The first test seeds are sprouting as we speak. There'll be more, in time, but we've already begun.

"The Combine tried to break our backs and steal our future. They've already failed. Their plans are blowing up in their faces. Their rule over this planet and its people is already dead; the corpse just hasn't stopped moving. That's why I'm speaking to you now. As one of you, as someone who knows what it means to be afraid and have to go on anyway, I am asking you now to join us and strike back at everything the Combine Empire has tried to do to us. Not because you have nothing to lose, but because you have everything to gain.

"There is a future for Earth. For the humans. For the Vortigaunts. For all of us. And we're going to take it back from the Combine together."
Gordon is not really looking forward to the discussion ahead. It involves responsibilities he never wanted in the first place, and impressions people have of him that they really shouldn't. And it involves other things as well. But not looking forward to something has never made that something go away, for him. Better to rip the bandage off now and be done with it.

He knocks on the door of room 287 and calls, "Alyx? It's me."