Hang your collar up inside
Hang your dollar on me
Listen to the water still
Listen to the cause where you are
Fed and educated,
Primitive and wild
Welcome to the occupation

Here we stand and here we fight
All your fallen heroes
Held and dyed and skinned alive
Listen to the Congress fire
Offering the educated
primitive and loyal
Welcome to the occupation

Welcome To The Occupation – R.E.M.

-Shephard's Epic-

-Pit Stop-

The old jeep bounced on the road beneath them, and Katya winced slightly, massaging her injury.

"So like I was saying." Allen continued. "This whole place used to be a forced labor camp back in the day. The actual mine is about half a klick away from the processing center. We took it over and garrisoned it…" Allen rubbed his chin in thought. "Last summer?" He chuckled slightly. "Not like it ever really gets warm around here. Doc Vance says the early days of the war threw so much shit into the atmosphere that the Earth's actually in a mini-ice age. Jesus, and to think they were all bitching about global warming."

"Anyways," He continued. "I'm glad you guys made it out of there in one piece." Allen turned around in the passenger seat of the jeep and winked at Shephard. "Looks like you're all the badass Dirk said you were. We need those RPGs, in a bad way. We're hurtin' out here for some real ordinance."

"Dirk said you've been fighting off these gorilla-sized animals." Allen grunted.

"You mean the hunters. Yeah, I guess they are about the size of a gorilla, not like I remember ever seein' one, save in old National Geographics." The jeep bumped along the dirt road, and Shephard felt Katya shudder in pain. "They're the Combine's search and destroy drones. When Striders are too big, and their Overwatch forces too spread out to cover an area, they send in the hunters. They've been takin' my supply convoys down piece-meal. Soon there wont be any left."

"Where are you running supplies out to?"

"White For…" He saw Allen stutter, and then change gears completely. "Our bases out in the forest. We've got a few scattered supply depots and recon teams, holed up in old cabins."

Shephard furrowed his brow, was Allen trying to hide something? Back in the Marines, he would have expected Allen to say something along the lines of "it's classified" or "it's above your pay grade, grunt". There was something he wasn't telling Adrian, he didn't seem to completely trust him yet. Looking ahead of them, Shephard could see their transport, loaded down with boxes of rocket launchers.

And Edgar sitting, dejected, on top of several.

"Put it in the back of the truck…with the rest of the shit."

Adrian looked Allen over. Why was he so angry towards Edgar? The Vortigaunts were their allies. Adrian, actually, had every right to hate Edgar. He shuddered at the thought of how many of Edgar's kin he struck down while climbing out of that hole in the desert. They hunted him down like an animal, but now they treated him with respect and dignity, a total one-eighty degree turn. Edgar had saved his life, saved Katya's, and for that he was eternally grateful.

Which was why seeing him treated like this was beginning to grate on his nerves.

"Dirk told me what you guys plan to do. It's a bold, gutsy move, following Freeman like that." Allen said. "But ever since the Combine hit Black Mesa East, and snagged Doctor Vance, Freeman's been on the war-path."

"Gods." Katya finally spoke. "They found the lab?" Allen turned to look at her in disbelief.

"You mean you haven't heard?" Katya and Shephard shook their heads. Why would they have heard? They've been on the run ever since their hide out had been tossed by Overwatch. Allen was incredulous. "They raided Doctor Vance's lab, and took doctor Mossman and him prisoner!"

"Christ, how the hell did they find it?" Shephard asked. Did his group have anything to do with it? Their escapade in Ravenholm may have tipped Overwatch off. They didn't exactly play it quiet.

"We're not sure yet. Vance's daughter, Alyx, thinks they were tipped off. Someone on the inside." He shook his head. "Two of the greatest minds of the Resistance are now in the hands of our bloody enemies."

I'm just trying to save my friend. He's being held in Nova Prospekt

The memory cut like a knife through his thoughts. Jesus, he thought, that's whom Freeman was talking about. Vance, the kindly old black scientist, the one who had found Adrian all too familiar a face.

Allen smiled. "It'll be alright, though. Freeman's going to storm Nova Prospekt, and get our people out of there." Shephard had to grimace. As if one man could do that.

"He'd need an army to take Nova Prospekt." He heard Katya mutter. Allen's smile faded.

"Doctor Freeman's been in worse straits before." God, this guy acted like he knew the man he so idolized. But before he could reply, Allen pulled a radio out from his belt and spoke into it. "Charlie, this is Allen, open the gates." Adrian looked ahead of them and saw the gate was really nothing more than sheetmetal welded together. Another winch powered by a rusty generator pulled it open ever so slowly, and the convoy moved through. "Welcome home, boys."

X X X

"Sandy, get Miss. Destovaya here down to the infirmary and have her leg looked at." The woman, dressed in gray fatuiges and sporting a red cross armband, nodded and offered Katya her arm for support, which she took. She looked at Shephard and nodded. See you soon?

Shephard returned the gesture. Turning to Allen, he saw him giving orders to the men off loading the truck. "I want half those down in storage room C, yesterday. And the rest leave in the loading dock, we'll have 'em shipped out later tonight." He turned to Shephard. "I really can't thank you enough for what you've done, these'll keep the bastards off our tail." Shephard saw Edgar jump off the back of the truck and amble their way. Allen sneered. "While your friend is getting herself patched up, we got plenty of food and hot showers. I've got to stay here and make sure these things get to where we need 'em, but my commanding officer'll want to see the both of you later tonight."

"The way I understood it. We need to make it to the train station by tomorrow night." Allen nodded. "It's not safe out there alone right now. The woods are crawling with hunters, and at night, you'll be easy targets. My men are running supplies tomorrow, it's safer to travel in numbers, and they can take you close enough to the station that you should be able to make it on your own."

"The Free Man will not dawdle, I suggest we leave as soon as we are able." Edgar interrupted. Allen narrowed his eyes.

"Fine. If you want to become bullsquid food, be my guest."

"The ones you call bullsquid are not partial to our flesh…" Edgar interrupted, yet again.

"Look, my CO gave me specific orders, to escort you safely to the wilderness barrier. I'm not about to disobey those orders." Allen looked to Shephard. "Now if you want to keep your pet on a leash, I suggest you grab some chow and a hot shower and meet me back here later tonight."

Shephard had had it by now. "Look Allen, I don't really think you need to speak to him like…"

Allen's cool was suddenly gone, and his voice took on a sharp, angry tone. "Like what? Like the ruddy piece of alien crap it is?"

"He's saved my…"

"It saved your life? How about the lives its kind took before they became our great allies? Huh?"

"We performed not of our own will, our consciousness was tainted…"

"You." He said pointing a accusing finger at Edgar. "You shut that disgusting excuse for a mouth, or so help me…" Shephard saw Allen reach for his sidearm.

"Don't do it." Adrian spoke, quietly but firmly. Allen's angry changed to surprise as his gaze moved from Edgar to Adrian.

"What did you say?"

"Take your hand away from the gun. I think this conversation is over."

Allen stared blankly at Adrian for a moment, wondering how serious he was.

Huffing Allen turned to the men who were off-loading the truck, who in turn were all staring back at the scene that was unfolding.

"What the fuck are you all standing around, gawking at? Get back to work!" The men immediately scurried back to work, unloading the plastic containers. Allen leaned close to Shephard. "You got a lot of nerve, you self-righteous bastard." His tone suddenly became quieter. "Let's hope it doesn't get you in trouble."

Adrian suddenly felt an icy cold hand take hold of his insides. "Is that a threat?"

Allen smirked. "Not against you." He casually eyed Edgar, who stood, passively watching.

Adrian quickly stood between Allen and Edgar. "Come on, Edgar. Let's get the hell out of here."

Edgar's eyes twitched quickly, focusing on Adrian, then on Allen. "Yessss, it would seem… appropriate."

Allen snorted. "You're goddamned right…" He turned and went back to berating his soldiers.

X X X

Adrian sat, weary hands rubbing equally weary eyes, in the empty mess hall, Edgar quietly squatting awkwardly in the seat next to him. Obviously Earthly designers hadn't taken into account their future allies' strange posture.

"I don't understand him, he seems like a good man, but the way he treated…"

"Not all of your kind has accepted us as readily as the Eli Vance." Edgar offered. "He explained to us, after we were set free of our shackles, that humanity's consciousness was not united, as ours is. You form your own conclusions in the scope of your own experiences. We understand the hostility, though we do not appreciate it…"

"United, what do you mean? You all think the same?" The tufts of flesh that on a human being would have been the spot where the ears sat, puffed audibly, a Vortigaunt version of a sigh.

"We share our thoughts with each individual physical entity. Experiences, information, actions, all float within the Vortessence like a…" The alien closed its large red eye. "Like a sea of information, from which each Vortigaunt may gather and share alike."

"So you see and experience what each other is feeling?"

"The Shephard is quick to understand." Shephard saw several Resistance members mill about the mess hall, several picked at their plates in a depressing manner.

"Is it like this everywhere?" Adrian asked.

The Vortigaunt laughably imitated a human shrug. "We experience places where it is more favorable, yet many others where conditions are far worse. But this particular part of your planet is ripe…" The alien hesitated with the word. "Ripe with hope."

Shephard hesitated. "So… if you can experience the memories of any of your kind… Do you know what happened to the soldiers who were at Black Mesa? The Hazardous…"

"…Environmental Combat Unit." The alien finished for him, albeit slightly slower, as if the words were new to his foreign tongue. "Some of ours have shared experiences with them, they are…"

"Hey you, hope I didn't miss anything too exciting." Adrian turned and saw Katya hobble into the cafeteria; gauss wrapped about her leg, but otherwise no worse for the wear. She maneuvered herself into a seat across from Shephard and smiled at Edgar. "So the scuttle is that you an Allen got into it after I left."

Adrian smiled awkwardly. "Oh, we just had a little… disagreement." Katya gave him a knowing look and turned to Edgar.

"Not everyone is as receptive to our new friends as some…"

"It is of limited importance." Edgar interrupted. "Not all consciousness can be as one. It is a uniqueness of your kind." He turned to Katya. "What is of importance, is following the Free Man. We cannot wait for the morrow, by then he may have given the Combine time to marshal their forces."

"But Allen said it's dangerous out there, the hunters…"

"The Shu'ulathoi have created many forms of danger that roam these forests, we are as vulnerable with or without escort." Adrian could hear the insistence in their companion's voice. "Besides, the Shephard has proved himself as deft a warrior as the Free Man."

Katya grimaced, seeing the red creep over Adrian's face. She was about to retort when the loud speaker went off.

"Attention, will Adrian Shephard and his party please report to the CO's office immediately." The announcement was repeated twice more before it cut off.

"Well, I guess now is as good a time as any to tell 'em we're jumping ship early." Shephard said.

Katya groaned. "Yeah, out of the frying pan…"

X X X

Adrian should have expected it, shouldn't have been as surprised as he was, but he couldn't help it. The Commanding Officer for the Resistance outpost was a middle aged woman. Her hair was the color of burnt coals, her face weary, and not without war-scars. She looked a little like Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager, and Adrian wondered if she was old enough to have seen it.

Her name was Sharon Templeton. She took their hands in strong, confident handshakes, looking each one of them in the eye. "I want to thank you for the supplies, I hear you got yourselves into a spot of trouble doing it." Her eyes were fierce looking, and Adrian wondered if she hadn't seen more war and devastation than he had. She motioned to Katya's leg.

"I hope the medic was able to patch that up without too much trouble." Katya smiled and told her there hadn't been any. Templeton turned to Adrian.

"I see you're all the soldier they've been talking about."

"They?" Adrian asked.

Sharon smiled. "Oh you know, the men. Sure, there's a lot of talk about Freeman, but when I look at you, I think of my father. He was in the Army. I wanted to meet you, before you ran off after Dr. Freeman."

"We wanted to ask you," Katya cut in. "Would it be possible to leave earlier? We were told you weren't running a convoy out until the morning, but Edgar here thinks that won't be enough time." Templeton looked to the Vortigaunt, raising an eyebrow.

"Allen told me about our Vortigaunt guest." Her tone was slightly more sympathetic. "I apologize on his behalf." She said, frowning.

Edgar held up a hand, brushing the comment aside. Sharon turned to the group, her frown still there. "I don't think I can authorize any vehicles out tonight. To be quite honest, I don't think you'd make it out of there. The last time we sent out a nighttime recon unit, no one came back. I can't sacrifice the hardware."

"You don't understand." Katya stepped forward, fishing into her pockets and pulling out the thumb drive. "We've got time-sensitive intel. We need to make it to Nova Prospekt while they're still busy looking for Freeman."

Sharon stared at the small electronic, and bit her lip. "I heard he planned to storm Nova, but I don't know if…" She hung her head. "It's just a lot for one man."

Shephard remembered Freeman's voice, the pure strength of will.

"He'll do it." Adrian said. Templeton looked up, shooting him a queer look. "He can do it. He's going to have the Combine falling over themselves trying to catch him, and it's going to give us the diversion we need." Katya looked at him in shock, surprised at his confidence in a man he had until now hated with a passion.

Sharon looked slightly defeated. "Well, let me see what I can do. In the mean time…"

A sharp series of beeps interrupted her, and Sharon hurried behind her desk, tapping an old-style intercom. "What is it, central?" The voice on the other line was frantic.

"Lieutenant, I think…I think something's wrong. Over in the mine!" Sharon's face lost color. She tapped the send button again.

"It's not…"

"I'll patch you through!" There was a silence, Adrian watched while she stared intently at the intercom, a sheen of sweat forming on her brow.

"…B and D are caved in, and C wont be able to take the stress much longer!" A voice yelled into the intercom.

"Soldier, Soldier!" Templeton yelled.

"This the CO?!" The voice yelled over the putterings of small-arms fire in the background. "We're in it deep, here. Eggers and Ross were in Tunnel B when the goddamn Antlions caved it in! They're coming in from every single tunnel, swarming the place. We've fallen back to the loading silo, but they just keep coming!"

Templeton looked up at Adrian, her face a mix of stress and understanding. "They've been digging their goddamn colony inland from the coast. I didn't think they'd be under us this quickly."

The voice on the intercom was impatient, to say the least. "We've lost five guys already, I need some reinforcements or we'll lose the mines! I just got word that the Myrmidont's have trashed D tunnel, we can handle the drones and the squirters, but if one of those big mama's gets through, it's all over!"

Sharon's eyes closed momentarily. "Shit." She fingered the talk button, her eyes locking with Shephard's. "I'm sending help, son."

There was a long silence on the other line. "…Freeman?" Sharon sighed.

"No… someone better."

X X X

"No, absolutely not, Adrian." Katya pleaded with him. "We don't owe these people shit. They weren't going to help us, why should we help them?"

"Because it's the right thing to do." Adrian and Katya stood outside the CO's office. Katya had her arms crossed over her chest in a disapproving manner.

"Cut the chivalrous bullshit, Adrian, these are our lives we're talking about. Let them fight their own war, we need to get this," he said holding the thumbdrive in his face. "…to my uncle!"

"Their own war? You're starting to sound like your father." Katya became silent, and Adrian immediately felt terrible. "…I'm sorry."

Katya didn't have time to reply as Shephard saw Allen round the corner, flanked by two heavily armed men. They each had Kalashnikovs strapped to their chests, extra clips tied to their belts.

Allen was quiet for a moment, rubbing the back of his head in an awkward way. "Look, Adrian, I spoke to Templeton. We're short of men as it is, and word is you're a good soldier. She's agreed to give you a truck and supplies enough to reach Nova if you help us out."

Adrian looked to Katya, who looked away with a frown on her face. It wasn't that she didn't feel like she owed these people anything, she knew that in her condition Adrian wouldn't let her follow him into the mines, and she worried for his safety if she wasn't with him, even if she couldn't admit it to herself.

"Alright." Shephard replied. "Where do I suit up?"

X X X

Shephard sat on the apple box in the middle of the warehouse, loading his M4 and watching the men around him stare. Templeton was right, there'd been rumors about him. His garb was different, from a different time. He saw the men whisper to each other, catching several broken sentences.

"…he broke out of C-17 Overwatch nexus all by himself…"

"…took on a whole town of Zombies and came out without a scratch…"

"…could crush a man's head with his left hand…"

"…heard him and Freeman duked it out, left the guy with a real shiner…"

Adrian chuckled at the last one. Soldiers would be soldiers, no matter what year it was; they always liked to trade gossip. Not much better than a sewing circle, Shephard grinned. He slapped the mag in and pulled the action back, loading the first round. Picking a bandolier of shells off of the concrete floor, he threw them over his shoulder and slung his partner Stella, the antique SPAS-12 shotgun, behind his back.

The call to load the trucks came and the dozen or so men hustled across the small loading bay to the flatbed truck. Adrian saw Edgar, along with Sharon Templeton slip into the warehouse and follow the men to the truck.

"Come on, ladies, get movin'! We don't got all day!" Allen shouted at his men as he looked at Shephard, pointing to the truck. Sharon, though, pulled him aside.

"Adrian… I want to thank you."

"As long as you fulfill your end of the bargain…"

"I want you to take Edgar, the Vortigaunts have a history with the Antlions, he may be useful." Edgar nodded.

"Our kind had long domesticated the Antlions, used them as you do livestock."

"They don't sound like any cows I've ever seen." Adrian mumbled.

"They have been violently transported into a new environment, they are only trying to adapt." The Vortigaunt offered logically.

Sharon interrupted, seeing Allen tapping his foot anxiously. "It took some negotiating to get Allen to accept the idea, but you're to stay with Edgar at all times, okay?"

Adrian nodded and turned towards the truck. "Oh, and Adrian?" He turned. "I think someone wants to say goodbye…"

Shephard saw her, standing at the door, her arms still folded across her chest. For a moment she let the disapproval leave her face, replaced by worry, but slowly, she nodded. Shephard winked and shot her a thumbs-up.

Edgar climbed into the truck before Shephard. Allen stopped him and leaned closer. "Sharon's my CO, I don't screw with the chain of command, and so the alien slimeball gets to tag along." He pressed a finger hard into Adrian's vest. "But he's your goddamn problem, not mine. You play babysitter."

X X X

The truck bounced along the old dirt road, Allen said the entrance to the mines wasn't far.

"Sheckley." Adrian heard the rebel sitting next to him say. Beardless and, more to the point, grayless, the man was one of the younger Resistance members Adrian had seen. Couldn't have been more than 18 or 20 when the Combine took over.

"What?" A slightly older man, his hair starting to go salt-and-pepper, especially around his beard, muttered, almost inaudibly.

"Sheckley?" His friend must not have heard him.

"What?!" Sheckley yelled, looking up from his weapon.

"Jeez! Don't get so mad, I just wanted to ask you a question!" His friend whined.

"Jesus Griggs, what is it?" Griggs sighed.

"Well maybe now I don't want to ask you, with an attitude like that." Sheckley shrugged and went back to studying his weapon, a compact MP7.

"Suits me just fine." He muttered.

"Okay fine." Griggs said, exasperated. "Have you ever fought Antlions before?"

Shephard saw Sheckley tense, staring straight forward.

"So… have you?" Griggs asked, impatiently.

"Yes." Sheckley said, quietly.

"…How'd it go?"

"…Not good." Sheckley must have shaken the bad memory off, and went back to checking the action on his submachine gun.

Griggs sighed and looked over to Adrian. "What about you? I hear you've got a history of getting yourself outta trouble."

Shephard smiled. "Yeah something like that."

"So you fought these things before?" Griggs seemed to be the talkative one of the group, Adrian decided.

Shrugging, he replied. "Not a lot, just recently."

Griggs nodded. "Oh, you musta been that group that got attacked at the gates to the base. Heard your lady friend got hurt."

"She's okay-"

"Cause I saw her hobblin' around…"

"The doctors patched her up-"

"Why ain't she here then?"

"Damnit Griggs, will you shut up?" Sheckley shouted. The rest of the men in the truck traded smiles while Griggs folded his hands over his chest and leaned back.

"Just tryin' to be friendly, Sheck', didn't mean nothin' by it…" Shephard offered an apologetic smile. These two reminded him of Elvis and Costello.

The rest of the ride was made in silence until Adrian saw them close in on another a small grouping of buildings. Cyrillic lettering atop them suggested this area might have once been part of a company of some sorts. The truck slowed to a crawl as they passed a rusted gate, and entered a small trainyard. Derelict trains sat, and several looked to be recently cleaned out. The rebels must be working to scrounge together any iron ore they can get their hands on. This mine would be a valuable asset. The truck slowed to a halt but no one got out. Adrian saw Allen poke his head out of the covered truck bed and listen.

Silence.

"Okay, lets get moving. We got work to do." Allen said, as the men began to file out of the truck. Adrian hopped out, followed closely by Edgar, Griggs and Sheckley bringing up the rear.

"Too quiet." He heard Griggs mutter. Almost immediately he heard Sheckley elbow him, trying to silence the over-talkative rebel.

The men converged on Allen, who pulled a small map out of his vest and studied it. "The entrance to the tunnel is nearby…" The men followed him as he navigated between several tall ore distribution buildings, until them finally came upon a small elevator. The large freight lift looked sturdy enough, and Adrian put his worries aside when he saw each man step on it without a moment's hesitation.

The ride down was smooth and uneventful, not to mention quiet. Save for the creaking of the old gear shafts, not a sound was heard, the men all stood silent, looking from one man to the next.

They're scared shitless. Adrian thought, he'd seen soldier's act like this before, mainly on their first combat mission.

Finally the freight elevator came to a halt, the doors sliding open to reveal a large chamber. Finally he realized why the men hadn't spoke. They had been listening for the sounds of a fight. But looking at the scene of devastation before them, it looked as though they'd missed it.

Finally Allen spoke. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph…"

"Looks like we missed the party, huh?" Griggs quipped. The room was empty, the barricades to the three tunnels that went off like the spokes on a bicycle all smashed. Adrian saw several mechanical devices overturned or ripped to shreds. The men poked through the wreckage of the battlefield, looking for any sign of where their compatriots might have gone.

"No… no bodies." One of the men muttered. "Where the hell are all the bodies?" There was blood, sure, plenty of it. But the bodies that the blood had spewed from were nowhere to be seen.

"Cut the chatter." Allen spat. "Spread out, cover those barricades. Millard, check those turrets, see if we can salvage any of them." One of the rebels, an Asian woman, nodded and jogged off toward the overturned machines.

The rebels quietly and quickly spread out, in groups of two, covering each barricade. Adrian followed Sheckley, training their weapons into the darkness of the leftmost cavern. Shephard craned his neck, trying to listen down the tunnel for anything sounding remotely like the skittering of talons on hard, rocky Earth.

"What do you think coulda done this, huh?" Sheckley jumped, startled by the seemingly instant appearance of Griggs, his trademark smile plastered across his face.

"Shut up!" Sheckley whispered. "You scared the shit out of me."

"…cause it sure looks like it woulda taken a lotta of those things to take down six turrets!" Griggs went on, completely oblivious. Shephard saw the heads of the other rebels turn towards them, worried lines eched above their frowns.

"Griggs, I don't think you should…" Shephard said, trying to stop the rebel from inciting any more fear.

"…maybe it was a guard-" But Sheckley had his hand around Griggs' neck before he could finish his sentence. His man struggled against Sheckley's tight grip, but Adrian could tell the damage had been done. He saw the other rebels turn to eachother, whispering quickly. It spread like wild fire, until he saw Allen turn in their direction, his hands crinkling around an old map.

"Shut. Up." Sheckley whispered.

"Ack. Agh. Come…Come'n Sheck, I was…just sayin'." Sheckley released his grip, and Griggs leaned forward, hands on his knees, breathing sharply.

"Sheckley," Shephard whispered. "What was he talking about?" Sheckley sighed, and turned away from his companion, still in the middle of a coughing fit. He leaned close to Adrian.

"A guard." He sniffed and looked down the tunnel behind them. "Matriarchs or somethin', Vorts call them Myrmadonts. Big… bigger than the antlions. Supposed to be one for every hive. I saw one knock a dropship into a building once, I'll never forget it."

Adrian breathed in sharply, what the hell kind of creature could do that?

"Sheckley." The men turned and saw Allen pointing in their direction. Nodding, Sheckley took off.

"I'll…I'll be fine." Shephard turned, seeing Griggs still bent, hands on his knees. "Sheck…such a, such a kidder..."

X X X

"I just got off the horn with the CO. From what we can gather with the seismographs, they've hollowed out tunnels intersecting here," he said circling a junction of tunnels with a red marker. "at junction C/D, and here, at B/C. We've got word that C and D are completely or partially caved in, and B's probably on her last legs." He stood back from the table with the map of the tunnel grid on it and addressed the small group of rebels he'd called over. Adrian, Sheckley, and two other men, a tall black man everyone referred to as "Bull" and a short, stout Caucasian man named Charley.

"Long of the short of it is, commander wants these tunnels sealed, yesterday." He turned back to the table and grabbed a small knapsack, and tossed it to Bull. "Take this C4, use it sparingly, I don't want the whole goddamn tunnel system falling down around us." The man nodded and slipped the pack over his shoulder. "Now as for the rest of you…"

"Wait! I… I'm here, it's okay." Everyone turned and saw Griggs jogging towards the group, hands in the air, attempting to grab their attention. Allen groaned and rolled his eyes.

"Griggs, who invited you?" Charley scowled. "Get back to watch duty, and try not to get us all killed."

Griggs honestly looked hurt, his eyes falling to the floor. "Allen said he wanted volunteers. I'm volunteering."

"You don't know the barrel of your gun from your freaking nose. You'll shoot yourself in the foot, or worse, my foot." Bull cracked, Charley chuckled and nodded emphatically.

"Shut the fuck up." Sheckley growled at the two men.

"Men! Cut the chatter." Allen spat. "Fine, sure Griggs you're in."

Griggs smile returned and he winked at Charley and Bull, who both rolled their eyes in annoyance. "So you were sayin', Allen, blowing up tunnels… and C4, and stuff."

Allen sighed and turned back to the map. "The first charge needs to be placed at the junction of C and D. That's not far from here, but since the rest of C tunnel is caved in, you'll need to take the service lift up a level and circle back around to get to the intersection of C and B. Now the seismic detectors haven't picked up anything besides the usual, low frequency ticks of workers and warriors." He narrowed his eyes at Griggs. "So you shouldn't be encountering any Guards."

"Is the power still flowing in that section, since the tunnel caved in?" Sheckley asked.

"We don't know, we wont know till you get closer. Keep in contact, if the juice ain't flowin' we'll send a team topside to work on the lift from above."

"Sir, if I may." Sheckley interrupted. "Shephard's Vortigaunt friend Edgar could be helpful if we find the section without power." Bull and Charley shot glares in his direction, they knew what Allen would say.

"No." Allen said, looking Sheckley right in the eyes.

"But sir, having a Vortigaunt in potentially infested territory could prove invaluable. Their ability to channel electricity…"

"I'm not stupid, Sheckley. I realize that. My answer still stands."

"Allen…" Adrian began. "Why send another team to the surface, risking their lives, if you could simply send the Vortigaunt on a mission with, what seems like anyways, a high probably of fatality." Griggs frowned at Adrian.

"Hey that's not nice…"

"Okay." Allen turned and glared at Adrian. "The slimy maggot goes with you. With any luck, he'll get eaten alive."

"Allen," Adrian growled. "Watch yourself." Allen whipped around and almost made to hit Adrian, but thought better of it when he saw the men staring at him.

"Or what?" He sneered. "That thing ain't any different from the scum crawling around down there. You've got a mission soldier. I suggest you hop to it." Adrian and him traded heated stares for a moment, before Sheckley finally mumbled something about getting ready.

Almost blowing smoke out his nose, Adrian turned to leave. He nearly turned and decked Allen when he felt his hand on his shoulder.

"No hero shit, okay? I want my men back alive, or don't bother coming back at all." Adrian shrugged the hand off his shoulder and turned to join the rest of the men.

A/N: I'm going to assume at least some of you have been wondering where I am! Well to be honest I had a major case of writers block, I had no idea how to go from my last chapter to another plot point I have already outlined, but I have it now! After several revisions, I'm here to stay. You can all thank Super Chocolate Bear, though, for his allusions to my work in his, and his kind words.