Disclaimer: I don't own Half-Life.
Welcome to City 17
Chapter One: Point Insertion
The blackness surrounded him. Consumed him.
"Rise and shine, Mister Freeman… rise, and… shine…"
Gordon didn't feel his eyes open. And yet, there before him, the distorted image of the Man in the suit swirled into being around him, as though Gordon were inside his eye and slowly moving outwards.
As the Man spoke, his every syllable extended and twisted, an image permeated into being from the blackness behind him. The Anomalous Materials test chamber, the familiar whirring of the machinery as the barrel-shaped phase two emitters circled the sample area. Only two days ago…
"Not… that I wish to imply you have been sleeping on… the job. No-one is more deserving of a rest, and all the effort in the world would have gone to waste, until… well, let's just say that your hour has… come again."
The scene faded and shifted behind the Man, his face becoming transparent, shadowy. A metal canyon, walls on either side littered with coffin sized blue metal objects. Mechanical claws reached down from above, lifting and sorting the coffins to seemingly random locations with speed Gordon couldn't even follow. The Man's smile grew as the image faded and he floated further and further away from his 'employee'.
"The right… man in the wrong… place can make all the difference in the world. So… wake up, Mister Freeman… wake up and, smell the ashes…"
As he spoke, he became more tangible, more real, the pale blue of his suit, the purple of his tie, the dull green of his eyes… all of them, so real that Gordon could almost reach out and touch him. The surroundings changed again, swirling and coalescing into a train. He was on a train, and yet, still not, the image of the tram around him blurred and constantly shifting.
With one final smirk, the Man disappeared with a flash of white light, and Gordon did his best to squint. A train horn greeted him as the white light quickly faded, depositing him once again in the real world.
Wherever the hell in the real world he was. This sure didn't look like Black Mesa. But for a moment, it was Earth, and that was all that Gordon needed. He had just spent God knows how long in a world of aliens and portals. It would be nice to breath fresh air and speak to human beings again.
But, the fact that he didn't recognise anything concerned him at least a bit. And what had the Man been saying? 'The right man in the wrong place'? Was this the wrong place?
Gordon looked around the rusting tram as it loudly chugged along the rails. Small scribbles of graffiti marked the yellowing walls. The state of red cushions of the benches running down either side of the train reminded him of the Black Mesa trams. Looking through the thin windows, Gordon could see broken buildings passing them as they pulled into a city and towards a station.
Moss grew on the walls, and Gordon was surprised at how relieved he was to see Earth moss. Having been surrounded by luminescent fauna and fleshy trampolines in the ground for two days, it was refreshing to see good old greenery. The train bumped on something and Gordon reached out for the bar beside him, the peeling paint feeling rough beneath his fingers. Gordon looked at his hand in surprise. His fingers. Not the gloves of his HEV suit.
Looking down, Gordon took in what he was now wearing. Black lace-ups, denim pants and a denim shirt. On the left side of his chest he saw a thin, blank strip of white stitched to his chest. It looked just big enough to show a name. Or a serial number. He also found that every ache and pain was gone from his body. Rolling his fingers over his neck, he also found that the stubble he had grown over the past two days had since vanished. Almost as if he had… regenerated.
He looked down the tram. There were two other people waiting for the train to stop. One was waiting by the double doors, holding onto a bar beside him and clutching his worn suitcase like it was all he had. Another sat on a bench behind him and further down the tram, staring idly at the floor over the suitcase clutched on his lap. They were both wearing the same clothes as him. Almost like a… uniform. Shaking the observation away, Gordon went to the closest passenger first, a black man with greying stubble and evident bags under his eyes. As Gordon approached, he frowned.
"I didn't see you get on."
He didn't sound negative. He didn't even sound surprised. Just a sort of mild curiosity, as though he didn't really care. But Gordon didn't mind. He had questions racing through his mind faster than he could register. Was this near Black Mesa? Did this person even know what Black Mesa was? Did he know anyone he could contact to ask about Black Mesa?
The man just sighed and shook his head. "This is my third transfer this year," he muttered, a tone of a sarcastic 'can you believe it?' seeping through his voice.
Gordon's mouth formed a thin line. "What do you mean?"
The look he got back made Gordon think he had just grown another head.
"You've been drinking too much water."
Now that was just even more confusing. Water? What the hell did that mean? But that seemed to be the end of the conversation with the first passenger, who took to casting his irritated gaze out onto the passing scenery.
Adjusting his glasses (which, he noted, were now completely clean of battle and Xen related stains), Gordon walked past him and to the man sitting down. He leant against the bar above him, not wanting to sit down beside him for fear of alienating him as well. But this man did not look well. His hair indicated hasty buzz cuts, random patches of flesh glaring out from the short brown hair.
"Are… you all right?"
With bleary, tired eyes, the man looked up at him, his voice quiet and thoughtful.
"No matter how many times I get relocated, I can never… get used to it. You know?"
Gordon opened his mouth to reply, to question, to find out what the hell was going on. But instead, not wanting to elicit the same reaction from this passenger as he had the first, Gordon just nodded, a comforting smile on his lips.
With a wheeze, the brakes of the train started to kick in, and both Gordon and the passenger at the door swayed with the motion as the train ground to a slow, screeching halt at the train station.
"Well," the doorman groaned, straightening his back and spreading his shoulders, "end of the line."
With a quiet hiss, the doors opened, and the man stepped out onto the platform below. The man beside Gordon climbed to his feet and gently pushed his way past, only a single furtive glance shot at him by way of apology. His head firmly tucked down, the man stepped out of the train and out onto the platform.
Gordon, thoroughly frustrated at what his limited detective skills had been able to uncover, followed suit, only then realising how strange he must look stepping off the barren train with no luggage. It was obviously a long journey, judging by the equal irritation and desperation they showed at having been transferred.
A low beeping drew Gordon's attention upwards. Floating towards him, a metal device roughly the size of a trash can floated towards him. A single red iris in the centre was framed by four wings spreading out and back on either side. Behind it, a fairly lengthy metal tail extended out back. It basically looked like a huge mechanical eye.
As it floated over him, it suddenly seemed to acknowledge his presence and banked down like a fighter plane, hovering just in front of him and blocking his path. Gordon looked into the iris, and was promptly blinded by a flash of white light.
His voice echoed loudly around the train station, and as he opened his eyes and blinked the spots away, he realised just what a spectacle he was making of himself. His two ex-passengers had stopped to look back at him as though he had a plague. Gordon just smiled and gave them a small wave. The doorman rolled his eyes and continued on, while the other passenger stared at Gordon with a strange mix of fear and awe.
Gordon noticed that the device had floated up over his head and had taken to following along behind him as he walked. A light breeze blew a box usually reserved for Chinese food tumbling down the platform and past Gordon. Random papers of different colours floated along the ground with the silent wind, and Gordon wondered how any major city could have a train station so badly kept.
As he walked down the platform, clearing the two trains on either side of him, Gordon could either go left or right. To the right, a chain link fence with a closed door didn't seem to yield any hope. But something behind the fence caught Gordon's eye, and he slowly walked to the it, checking behind him to see if anyone was watching. Inside was one of the electricity aliens, a pale blue metal colour clamped around its' neck. And it was… sweeping. Sweeping up litter with a broom.
It stopped in its' work and looked up at him with sad, crimson eyes. A flash of recognition made its' head twitch, and it seemed to want to make a move towards him. But a quick glance behind him showed Gordon the reason why he didn't.
A man in a dark uniform, all dark navy and black, stood behind the alien. The white, ghoulish gasmask he wore gave Gordon flashbacks to the Black Mesa Facility just a few hours ago. Waiting to jump into the portal at the Lambda Core, that mysteriously helpful soldier not just letting him go, but defending him as he went.
But something told Gordon that this one would be nowhere near as helpful. As he stepped out of the darkness and into the light, striding towards him with a cockiness he had seen hundreds of times before in schoolyard bullies around the world, Gordon noticed for the first time the baton held in his shiny, long leather gloves.
"Move away," he commanded, his voice garbled almost beyond recognition by some kind of digital radio device.
Gordon was indecisive for a moment, and the man in the gasmask seemed to tighten his grip on the baton, his gloves creaking. And then a voice distracted Gordon from anything else. A voice he hadn't heard in weeks.
"Welcome. Welcome to City 17. You have chosen or been chosen to relocate to one of our finest remaining urban centres."
The oozing, smarmy voice echoed all around the station, and Gordon slowly turned to see a huge screen high above his head, hanging from the ceiling. On the screen, his old Administrator Dr Breen talked with a quite assurance and a far too white toothy smile. "I though so much of City 17 that I elected to establish my administration here, in the Citadel so thoughtfully provided by our benefactors. I've been proud to call City 17 my home. And so, whether you are here to stay or passing through on your way to parts unknown… welcome, to City 17. It's safer here."
And then the transmission was over, replaced by a yellow symbol that looked like two curved blades centred around a single yellow dot. Gordon was thoroughly out of his depth now. What was this? Was this a hallucination? More tricks from the Man?
Because if it wasn't… what did that mean? Xen aliens under the control of some kind of storm trooper, his old administrator seemingly in charge of an entire city… and some 'benefactors' who had provided a 'citadel'. And 'City 17?' What was that about? All of it added up in some way, Gordon was sure, but… right now, he was at an incredible loss to explain it.
At the opposite end of the platform, Gordon saw a large horizontal turnstile beside another chain link fence leading to an area beyond. He made his way towards it. Beside a nearby luggage cart, another man in a denim suit argued with a masked figure of authority. His arms were grasped over the suitcase on the top of the cart, gripping it so hard his knuckles were going white.
"Please, it's all I have left."
The gasmask man wordlessly gave him a hard shove to the ribs, sending him stumbling back with a grunt. Gordon instinctively took a quick step forward, but stopped himself when he found himself reaching for a crowbar that weren't there. Right now, he was just an ordinary man. If someone shot him or beat him, he would bleed, and he would die. And it scared him.
Glaring up at the gasmask and nestling his chest where he had been hit, his angry gaze fell to the baton held limply by the policeman's side.
"All right, I'm moving," he conceded, backing up a few paces before turning and going through the turnstiles.
Following suit, Gordon walked to the turnstile, becoming increasingly paranoid of the camera device beeping and whirring behind him as it followed. But, as he walked through the awkward rotating gate, it seemed to give up and float off in the opposite direction, floating up into the sky.
A small woman with mousy brown hair stood at the fence beside the turnstile, gripping it fiercely.
"Were you the only ones on that train?"
There was such fear in her eyes, Gordon didn't know what to say. It didn't seem to matter; the woman continued speaking regardless of his wordless reply, wringing her hands as she spoke.
"Overwatch stopped our train in the woods, and… took my husband for questioning. They said he'd be on the next train." Her brow creased as she stared at some invisible spot on the floor. "…I'm not sure when that was… they're…they… be nice though, letting me wait for him."
Gordon wasn't sure what he could say that was adequate. Wherever this place was, Gordon didn't want any part of it. Judging by the buildings he would have thought he was in some oppressed minority of a country, but the accents of the people, and Dr Breen broadcasting on giant monitors, and aliens enslaved as street-sweepers…
The woman had since forgotten he was there and taken to staring out through the fence once more, gazing at the recently arrived train for any new passengers that were never coming. Gordon reached out a hand to put on her shoulder, but then slowly withdrew it, pulling it back to his side and turning around. He went through a small archway and past some small, closed up shops. The metal coverings of the shop booths were rusting with age and non-use. They looked years old. A sign above one of the booths read 'Change', with some lettering beneath that looked vaguely European, or perhaps Russian. But the writing was so old, parts of the sign drooping and torn off… it still gave him no clue as to where he was.
As he walked into the train station proper, he noticed that it looked rather small for a train station lobby, the centre of the room taken by a closed tourist information booth, the metal covers closed and locked, although the padlocks had certainly seen better days. Benches were placed at regular intervals along both sides of the room. On the far wall opposite Gordon, a timetable listed trains from different numbered cities, all of them departing.
He made his way over to them when a desperate, weak grip clamped around his wrist. Gordon looked down to see an older middle age man, grey hair just beginning to nibble at his temples, his eyes frantic as he looked from side to side.
"Don't drink the water," he hurriedly muttered. "Th-they put something in it… to make you forget." He looked away and frowned, as though trying to recall something. Finally, he gave up, staring Gordon in the eye with his frantic gaze. "I don't even remember how I got here."
Gordon just nodded and gently used his other hand to release the man's grip on his wrist. Slowly and tiredly, he removed his hand, allowing Gordon to leave unmolested. He continued on to the timetable hanging from the ceiling, and almost bumped into another citizen, this one with short black hair and small eyes, his arms folded as he paced from one side of the room to the other. His mutterings faded in and out of Gordon's visual range as he walked.
"…and the ones that do arrive, th-they never leave, you never see them go, they're always full, no-one ever gets on, and they're always departing, b-but they never arrive…"
Gordon didn't even want to go there. And so, he turned around and walked past the closed, rotting tourist stand to see a corridor in front of him. A system of tall fences weaved its' way up and down the corridor, working like the red mazes the airports used to create those long, zigzagging queues. Except no-one was queuing in this one. Everyone was waiting on this side.
At the far end, the men in the masks stood, waiting for any citizens that might come their way to be checked. From five minutes here, Gordon didn't even want to think about what their 'checks' would involve. Only God knew what years of this would do to the people living in this city.
A citizen sat beside him wrung his dark hands, staring down the same corridor.
"I'm trying to work up the nerve to go on," he said, sounding slightly breathless. Obviously this wasn't a decision to be made lightly.
Gordon's denim clothes started to itch at the seams as he began to sweat. His two fellow train passengers stood just next to the entrance of the queue, looking on judgementally as Dr Breen's message repeated on a monitor suspended in the corner of the far end of the corridor.
"Dr Breen again? I was hoping I'd seen the last of him in City 14."
With a look of urgency, the tired, brown haired companion leaned over conspiratorially, shielding his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I wouldn't say that too loud. This is his base of operations."
Dr Breen had a base of operations? This was getting ridiculous. Too ridiculous for Gordon. With a deep breath, he tossed his head up and walked down the corridor, ignoring the stunned yet horrified looks of the other citizens as he wound up and down it a few times. Finally, he came out at the other end. One of the men blocked his path straight ahead, standing in front of some stairs with a door behind it. Dr Breen continued his sickly sweet ramblings as another police officer diverted him to the left, through a doorway in a fence and into a small area beyond that had been cordoned off.
Two fences on either side of him prevented escape. A closed door on his right would seem to be the only way out, since another of the policemen was standing in the doorway of the fence ahead of him, too. Behind him, in a station platform far bigger and advanced looking than the one Gordon had arrived in, two tall, shining black behemoths sat, waiting to depart.
In the corner of the holding area, a camera on an incredibly flexible arm took one look at him and beeped incessantly, a klaxon behind him sounding once. The camera flashed and clicked. Almost instantly, the door beside him flew open, revealing one of the policemen in silhouette.
"You, citizen, come with me!"
He turned and walked back down the thin, murky corridor, not expecting to have to ask again. Gordon glanced to the policeman on either side of him and walked inside, his eyes flitting down to the batons held at their sides as he walked inside. Someone closed the door behind him, and he was plunged into almost complete darkness, only the daintiest of light fixtures above giving him a yellowy look to everything.
There were two doors on the left hand wall, and the policeman had gone to the second. From the first, Gordon heard a scared, slightly indignant voice echoing out through the eye-level porthole.
"This must be a mistake! I got a standard relocation coupon, just like everybody else!"
A ghostly gas masked face appeared in front of him from behind and the door and slid the porthole shut from the other side. That had looked suspiciously like an interrogation room.
His escort wordlessly banged his fist back against the door beside him, and another dressed in the exact same uniform opened the thick metal door. Looking to Gordon, his policeman thrust an angry finger into the dark room.
Gordon silently did as he was told, and instantly started looking for weapons he could use once these doors were closed. He may not have his HEV suit or any kind of weapons, but he still had his instincts. All he found was a chair akin to one found in a dentist's surgery, dry and fresh blood splattered all around the checked tile floor. A rusting bucket sat beside the chair, and Gordon didn't even want to look inside. A metal table beside him had some thick books on top. There was a control panel taking up the entire right-hand wall, with a bright blue tall monitor in the middle, white text edging up it like a command prompt.
"Need any help with this one?"
He turned around at the noise, looking to the two conversing cops. Gordon's escort shook his head.
"Nah, I'm good."
A frown creased Gordon's already troubled brow. That didn't sound at all like the rest of them. With a silent nod, the second policeman left the room, closing the door behind him. The remaining cop looked to Gordon, who tensed.
"Back up," he commanded, walking past Gordon and around the table. For the moment, Gordon did as he was told, being careful not to fall into the chair and leave himself vulnerable. The policeman started tapping away on the control panel.
"Yeah, I'm gonna need me some privacy for this."
Gordon's frown deepened. That wasn't just different from how the others spoke. That was familiar. He knew someone who spoke like that. Two cameras that Gordon hadn't even noticed on either side of the control panel quickly folded up into small domes in the ceiling. Gordon, however, was simply studying the policeman as he turned around to face him.
It couldn't be.
It was impossible.
The policeman removed his ghoulish helmet, revealing a face Gordon had never expected to see again.
Barney Calhoun grinned. "… about that beer I owed ya." He waited for a moment, taking in Gordon's astonishment for a moment. "It's me, Gordon; Barney from Black Mesa!"
Well, no shit.
Gordon just gaped uncontrollably. The security guard's smile faded and he sighed.
"Hey, sorry for the scare, I had to put on a show for the cameras," he said, gesturing to the now hidden devices in the ceiling. He turned around and started tapping furiously away on the keyboard in front of him. As he spoke further, Gordon walked up beside him and took in the face of his old friend. The back of his headgear was still in place, so he couldn't see all of his hair, but from what little he could see it certainly looked more grey. A long since healed scar was on his left cheek below his eye, and one that hadn't been there two days ago.
"I've been workin' undercover with Civil Protection. I can't take too long or they'll get suspicious, I'm… way behind on my beating quota," he said, smiling and shrugging at Gordon.
The blue text disappeared from the screen, revealing a run down wall and a window at the top. And then another voice echoed out that Gordon had never thought would grace his ears again. With irritable vigour, Dr Kleiner bounced onto screen, looking as annoyed as he sounded.
"Yes, Barney, what is it? I'm in the middle of a critical test!"
Barney just grinned and stepped back, allowing Gordon to step forward. "Sorry doc, but… looks who's here!"
The elderly scientists' expression instantly morphed into astonishment. "Great Scott! Gordon Freeman! I… expected more warning."
"Yeah, you and me both, doc. He was about to board the train to Nova Prospekt." At that, Barney looked over at Gordon admonishingly, as though he should somehow know better.
Kleiner just nodded. "Well, Barney, what do you intend?"
His hand instantly went to the back of his head, rubbing it as he always did when under pressure to think of something. "I'm thinkin', I'm thinkin'!"
An idea seemed to pop into Kleiner's head, because he hopped a little on his toes before he spoke. "Alyx is around here! Somewhere…" he trailed off, looking a little unsure. He continued. "…she might have a better idea of how to get him here."
Barney didn't seem convinced. "Well… as long as he stays away from checkpoints, we should be okay," he looked to Gordon, nodding in a way that seemed to suggest he knew what the hell they were talking about. His expression hardened, and he looked back up to the monitor. "Listen, I gotta go doc, we're takin' enough chances as it is."
Taken aback by the sudden change of mood, Dr Kleiner blustered a little as he spoke. "…Very well. And, uh… Gordon?" He smiled. "Good to see you."
And with that, he was gone, replaced by the white text scrolling up the blue monitor. Barney looked to Gordon with renewed vigour.
"Okay Gordon. You're gonna have to make your own way to Dr Kleiner's lab-"
A sudden, resounding banging from the door made Gordon jump and Barney scowl.
"Ah, man, that's what I was afraid of." He walked past Gordon and roughly shoved open a door behind in. Barney jabbed a quick finger inside. "Get in here, Gordon, before you blow my cover!"
Once again, Gordon did as he was told, bustling quickly into the dark back room. Wooden crates, opened parcels and paper were strewn across the floor. Light seeped in through the windows above and behind Gordon, reachable via a ladder leading up to a small deck there. Barney put a hand on his shoulder.
"Pile up some stuff to get through that window and keeping goin' 'til you're in the plaza. I'll meet up with you later."
Gordon nodded and walked to the ladder. As he grasped the first rung, he looked to Barney, so many things on his mind that he wanted to ask, that he wanted to say.
At first, he didn't respond. Then he just smiled and shook his head. "Damn, I missed ya, Gordon." His smile vanished. "Now get!"
Without a word more, he slammed the door shut. The pressurising knocking continued from inside the interrogation room, and Gordon climbed the ladder. Some wooden crates were easily piled up for him to reach the long ago smashed window, and Gordon clambered out on the ledge. Looking down, he saw that he was at least two storeys up, with only a single crate precisely placed beneath the window to break his fall. Did Barney do this often for citizens? Because if he did, he needed to work on a better escape route.
Holding his breath and his glasses, Gordon leapt off the ledge and quickly rushed down to the bottom, the crate loudly cracking beneath his feet and sending him toppling back onto his rear. A cloud of dust billowed up past him, making Gordon's nose twitch. He slowly got himself to his feet, rubbing his backside as he did so.
So that was what jumping several storeys without a HEV suit felt like.
A tall, worn wall on his left was obviously not the way to go, but the building to his right held a slightly ajar, rotting white door. With a sore behind, Gordon slowly made his way over to it and went inside. A padlocked fence inside the room on the left blocked the way to a darkened section of the room, but it didn't look like it had anything valuable inside anyway. Just discarded boxes and stacks of paper strewn everywhere haphazardly.
Ahead of him some rusted mauve stairs led up to another door. They groaned ominously as he stepped on them, and he increased his pace until he swung the door open unconsciously fast. It slammed loudly against the wall on the other side, and Gordon ducked his head, looking around the room beyond in paranoia.
Fortunately, no-one was around to hear it. At least no-one in the immediate vicinity. To his right the corridor was blocked off, closed shut by the kind of extendable fences usually reserved for shop windows and doors. On the left he would see a passageway leading to a room beyond, a person sized gap in the extendable fence offering a way out. Something at the far side of the room caught Gordon's attention, however. A blue vending machine, a picture of a drop of water falling into a lake, and…
The words 'Dr Breen's Private Reserve' plastered above the image. He looked the machine up and down, taking in the glowing buttons on the side. All of the selections were the same.
"Don't drink the water…" he muttered to himself, running his hand down the front of the machine.
Heavy booted footsteps behind him drew Gordon's attention around. Stood in the only gap allowing Gordon safe passage to the room beyond, one of the Civil Protection officers stood, staring at him through blank white lenses. Beside him stood a green trashcan, a blue can of Dr Breen's water balancing precariously on the rim. Lifting his baton, the officer nudged it off and onto the floor.
"Pick up that can."
Gordon just stared at him. The officer flicked a switch on his baton, and the tip suddenly sparked, the tip fizzling a brilliant blue.
"Pick up the can."
He did as he was told, and, keeping his eyes firmly on the officer, knelt and picked up the can.
"Now. Put it in the trash can."
Gaze still locked on the officer, Gordon moved his arm robotically over the receptacle and dropped the can. For the longest time, the officer just stared at him.
"All right. You can go."
With a garbled chuckle, the officer flicked off his baton and turned, walking back into the foyer of the building behind him. It was only then that Gordon realised his throat was completely dry. Maybe some of that water wasn't a bad idea right now. But then he thought about the frenzied look in that man's eyes at the train station.
Gordon walked through the darkened passageway in front of him, being careful not to overtake the officer as he walked out into the larger chamber beyond. This looked like it had been a bank at some point. All along the right hand wall, boarded up booths that were no doubt once filled with bank tellers and eager-to-please employees were replaced by a singular device in the middle. Several citizens stood in front of it, the front in line waiting patiently for whatever was going to come out of the bottom slot.
The officer in front of him turned and took up a position beside the passageway, and Gordon could feel his eyes boring into him as he continued to walk on. With an affirmative ping, the machine in front of the queue revealed some flat packed folded garments. Even though his instinct was to keep moving as fast as he could, Gordon couldn't help but wait and watch as the citizen walked back around and towards the exit on the left-hand side of the room, passing him as he did so.
Gordon recognised the uniform instantly. It was the same one Barney was wearing. He took a breath to speak as the woman with the uniform passed him.
"Word to the wise?" she muttered, never once looking at him. "Keep it to yourself."
So Gordon did. Instead, he simply took to following her out of what he now knew was a recruitment station. As he walked out through the archway and into another corridor heading off to the left, the enormous screen suspended over the main foyer silently flicked back on, and Dr Breen's voice sounded once again.
"Let me read a letter I recently received: 'Dear Dr Breen. Why has the… 'Combine' seen fit to suppress our reproductive cycle? Sincerely, A Concerned Citizen.'"
The woman ahead of him opened two large wooden doors, and sunlight from outside cast a long shadow behind her. She stepped out, but Gordon paused for a moment, his attention on the broadcast echoing out behind him. They had what? Suppressed the reproductive cycle? What did that mean?
Dr Breen continued on. "Thank you for writing, 'Concerned'. Of course, your question touches on one of the basic biological impulses, with all it's associated hopes and fears for the future of the species. I also detect some unspoken questions. 'Do our benefactors really know what's best for us?' 'What gives them the right to make this kind of decision for mankind?' 'Will they ever deactivate the suppression field and let us breed again?'"
Gordon shook his head and followed the woman out. The courtyard spread out before him was no doubt once quite a sight. As it was, Gordon's eyes were not drawn to the massive stone spire that served as a centrepiece of the area, framed by a circle of now dead flowers. What held his attention was the skyscraper that stood high above any of the other buildings Gordon could see from the top of the stairs on which he stood. So high that it disappeared into the heavens.
He swallowed loudly. That would be the Citadel, then.
It was the same dark blue as the trains Gordon had spied in the station earlier, and appeared incredibly thin, almost flat, from the distance he stood at. He tried to pull his eyes from it as Dr Breen continued talking, his face on another monitor suspended high above the ground on a spire.But Gordon really wasn't interested in anymore of the drivel he was no doubt going to spout. Looking around, he saw that three or two storey buildings ran all around the courtyard area, the old bank he had emerged from being the largest, and the grandest.
The rest looked like something one would see in a rustic town, while the building behind him looked… well, like something completely different. A wide set of stone steps leading up past a row of thick white pillars that suspended the ceiling above him. The road that circled around the pillar led off to the right, so Gordon started walking that way. More of the camera devices slowly floated their way through the sky, obviously finding nothing out of the ordinary about him now that he had been photographed and catalogued. Hopefully that wouldn't change anytime in the near future.
All of the buildings on the left were adjoined, no alleyways between allowing Gordon an easy escape if this did come down to a chase. Not that he wanted it to, but he knew his own luck by now. Through some double doors on the building on his left, Gordon could only just see through the slightest of gaps the end result of what he assumed was a raid by the 'authorities'. Inside, two citizens were spread eagle against the wall, and another curled up on the floor. Several Civil Protection officers stood inside, as well as on either side of the doors. When Gordon tried to get a better look, one of the officers wordlessly walked to the gap, blocking his view.
Trying to look as inconspicuous as he could while still attempting to move quickly, Gordon just bowed his head and moved on. The road took him forward and off to the left. On the right, a rare alleyway led up to a fire escape platform above, which, in turn, would be able to take him over the tall fence blocking it. Gordon looked down the road ahead.
A frightening mix between a car and a tank sat parked before a tall metal barrier, several Civil Protection officers stood around it. But something else was truly grabbing Gordon's attention. Slowly walking past and down the road behind the barrier, the tallest creature Gordon had ever seen trudged past, each footstep thumping loudly against the ground, vibrating through to his feet. Even the green tentacle things hadn't been that big.
Three incredibly thin legs extended up to a oblong-ish head, the white shell on top covering the black underbelly. Something that looked like a cannon - a theory Gordon had no wish to test - sat beneath the head, dangling idly from side to side as the creature lumbered out of sight.
The two officers stood beside the van were starting to stare at him, so Gordon turned and headed back to the alleyway. Grass and weeds sprouted from between the concrete slabs, crunching beneath Gordon's black shoes as he stepped on them. A closed dumpster gave him a stepping stone up to the ladder for the fire escape, and Gordon was up and over in no time.
The alleyway led out to another road between buildings. On the left, another barrier with yet more officers looked even less inviting. Several citizens were splayed randomly across the floor and along the wall, one with its' arms and legs tied together while he lay on his belly. Gordon turned and went the other way, his hand itching to hold a crowbar and do something about everything he was seeing.
The road led to a corner going off to the left, and Gordon made his way around. Buildings surrounded him on either side, ended by a large building at the far end where two Civil Protection officers stood on either side of some closed doors. Beside him, stood outside another building, two citizens watched the proceedings with folded arms, one looking far more annoyed than the other.
The latter, stood on the right, noticed Gordon immediately as he approached.
"This is how it always starts. First a building, then the whole block."
His companion looked over to him, frowning. "They have no reason to come to our place," he mumbled, and his friend just rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry, they'll find one."
Gordon looked around the area ahead of him. Ahead of him on the right, some swing sets hung idly. He only then realised that he had seen no children since he arrived. No-one even below their late twenties. Breen's word echoed in the back of his mind. Suppressing our reproductive cycle.
How long had they been here? He sure as hell didn't remember any kind of movement like this brewing a few days ago. Surely he would have read something in the paper or seen it on the news if some foreign city was going through this kind of turmoil. The only other explanation was that he had been away for at least two decades. And it had only felt like a few seconds to him.
Suddenly, his throat was dry again, and he even felt a little dizzy.
He blinked and looked over at the two men stood beside him.
"I…" He shook his head. "Yes. Sorry."
The man looked back to his companion. "That's what happens when you drink too much of the water."
His friend just offered the barest hint of a smile before turning back to the guarded door at the other end of the courtyard.
Gordon took a breath and continued forward, trying to ignore how the whining of the rusted swing chains sounded like children laughing. As he approached the two doors, one of the officers moved in front of it, and Gordon stopped. He looked around, searching for some other route. Off to the left, an open entrance to the building welcomed him inside, the stale yellow light from inside offering at least some way forward.
With one more glance at the officers, both of whom stared at him intently, Gordon walked into the building. Inside, he found himself at the bottom of a winding stairwell, a metal fence of an elevator shift in the middle. Judging from the rust and decay that had spread across it, this thing hadn't seen use in some time. Gordon walked up the creaking stairs to the next floor, bringing him to a cramped white corridor stretching out ahead of him. The stairs finished there, but at the other end of the corridor Gordon could see some more stairs of a similar design going up further.
Unfortunately, at least half a dozen Civil Protection officers stood in his way. Thankfully they weren't interested in him, all of their attention on a door on the left-hand side of the corridor. One thumped loudly against the thin wood, the banging echoing down the corridor as Gordon cautiously made his way forward.
When there was no reply, the officer just backed up a step and plunged a foot into the door, cracking the locked door open. The squad flooded inside, and Gordon tried his best not to think about the noises coming from inside. One of the officers remained in the corridor, blocking his path ahead. He sparked on his baton when Gordon approached, raising it behind him in preparation for a swing. Some double doors on the right-hand side of the corridor gave Gordon an option out of this evidently one way confrontation, and he went inside. The officer didn't follow.
He was in the kitchen of an apartment. Long disused pots and pans were strewn across the sink, which looked like it had seen equally little use. Beyond the counter, a citizen sat hunched over a small round table, and as Gordon walked to him, it became obvious he was more than a little drunk from the empty bottles of whisky toppled over on its' surface.
"Was that you knocking?" he slurred, his bloodshot eyes blinking out of sequence. "I didn't know we still had a door…"
With that, he returned to his alcohol induced slumber on the table. Gordon looked around the apartment, and out the windows beside him. They offered a view down onto the empty street below. It was incredibly odd to see no-one travelling down it, either on foot or by car. That was something else Gordon hadn't seen, outside of those utilised by the local law enforcement. No vehicles.
An open doorway to the next room yielded two more citizens, both of them looking out of the window at the street. An old television droned out Dr Breen's message about the reproductive cycle, and went ignored by both of them. Two double doors like the ones he had used to enter the room stood on the far wall, giving Gordon his exit. The first of the citizens, an older black man with a slight paunch about the belly area, looked over at him in alarm. When he took in the man before him, his shoulders visibly relaxed.
"Oh… I thought you were a cop."
The citizen behind him, a diminutive woman with brown hair, smiled and shook her head. "He's one of us."
The man shook his head, looking at the street below. "Look at 'em down there…"
Gordon followed his gaze, and saw one of the vans pull up outside. Civil Protection officers poured out of every exit possible in the vehicle. An alarm sounded that seemed to come from somewhere in the distance, echoing down the street. That was an awful lot of officers. He started backing out of the room, heading for the doors. In the distance, the calm voice of a woman echoed out through the streets and in through the windows, saying something about an unauthorised something or other. The two at the window listened attentively before they spoke again.
"I told you they'd be coming for us next," the woman said with a strange amount of certainty.
Her companion's mouth formed a thin line, his gaze still locked on the officers as they filed into the building. "Just this once I hope you're wrong."
He looked up to speak to Gordon, but he was already turning the door handle and backing out of the room. He came back out into the dingy corridor on the other side of the officer that had dissuaded him before. His blank gaze settled on Gordon. Neither of them moved.
Slowly, Gordon started backing away, and gradually turned when he was a few paces from the officer. He risked a glance over his shoulder, and saw that the officer was following him. Gordon's pace increased. He reached the stairs and took them three steps at a time. As he rounded up the flight of stairs, he got a peek down the corridor. Behind the single officer, half a dozen more thundered down the corridor behind him from the stairs, the wooden floorboards groaning in protest as they charged towards him.
Gordon gave up the pretence and started running, taking him up to the next floor. The stairwell was blocked by a barricade of broken sofas, chairs and tables. An urgent voice hissed behind him.
Gordon whipped his head around to the corridor behind him. A skinny, brown haired citizen beckoned him over to the room he now poked his head out of.
Without pause, Gordon rushed inside.
"Head for the roof. There's no time to lose!"
A desperate voice from down below yelled 'CPs!', and the man roughly grabbed Gordon by the arm, almost tossing him across the room and towards the doorway into the next. Gordon looked back unsurely as he heard the heavy marching approach.
Gordon turned and started running again, sprinting through a bare room with only a worn, unoccupied sofa in the corner. Through another corridor ahead of him, he could see more stairs. Several loud cracks and thumping noises came from behind him, the screams and yells coming shortly after. He headed for the stairs. From down below, even more CPs ascended the stairs, flicking on their batons when they saw him.
Gordon headed up, the breath quickly burning in his lungs as he raced to the next floor, which turned about to be the top one. Another citizen in the corridor beyond so very much mirroring the one below beckoned him inside.
Civil Protection was practically on his heels by now. Gordon charged through the door, weaving past the man in the doorway and into the small room beyond. A wooden staircase led up somewhere above. Behind him, the man slammed the door shut and propped his body up against it, gripping the doorknob for dear life.
"Keep moving, head for the roof!"
He turned and started climbing. One of the steps gave way as he stepped onto it, and Gordon ignored the way the broken wood scraped against his leg through the denim as he clambered up into the attic area above. Sunlight seeped through the broken wooden roof, and a large hole at the far end allowed Gordon a way out onto the rooftops beyond. He heard the door down below collapse, and he started running yet again, his shirt sticking to his back from the sweat.
He dropped out of the hole and onto the concrete roof below him. A wooden ramp took him up to the next roof, the tiles of this one making it difficult for Gordon to get a grip. He tried not to look down as he scaled the roof, making his way to the only exit he could see; an incredibly thin ledge running along the building in front of him. The familiar deep whipping noise of a helicopter assaulted his ears, and Gordon looked up to see something like a cross between a larval insect, a helicopter, and a fighter jet. The gleaming white armour atop the larval shape of the creature led to a wider, circular section at the back where a rotor kept the thing aloft. Two small flipper like protrusions hung off either side of the creature at the mid section. Much like the tall monstrosity Gordon had seen roaming the street earlier, this had a singular cannon shape poking out the front. Fortunately, it and its partner - the latter of which appeared a few seconds after the former - were headed somewhere else.
The wind from the vehicles (creatures?) made him slip, and Gordon soon found himself skidding headfirst towards the ledge and most likely off onto the pavement well over four storeys below. As he reached the ledge he grasped out at some of the tiles beneath him. His fingers finally found purchase, and he stopped himself just as his head jutted out of the edge. He looked down at the ground below him. It was strange how, even after he had scaled a canyon hundreds of times higher, falling off a four storey building still frightened him.
Two wooden planks beside him formed a bridge over to the small rim of the building that would be his way forward. As he slowly crawled his way across them, he saw CPs gathering below, pulling out handguns he hadn't seen them wielding previously. Behind him, he saw more CPs hopping out of the hole in the building he had just escaped from. Tightening his jaw, Gordon got to his feet and started shimmying his way across the wall, hoping the CPs were more squeamish about heights than he was.
The officers below started firing, the bullets chipping off bits of cement around him as he edged along. One bullet hit the wall just behind his ear, and Gordon gasped loudly, almost falling from the shock of the pain. He quickly slammed his back into the wall, and kept on going. As he reached the next ledge, something sharp and painful hit his left shoulder, and Gordon immediately clutched his arm. He looked down at the blood seeping through the cheap denim, soaking it.
So that was what if felt like to be shot without an HEV suit.
It wasn't nice.
He hissed, gritting his teeth and continuing on down the now metal ledge of an entirely different building. This one brought him to two long since broken windows leading into another attic area. Gordon almost fell forward into it, struggling to get to his feet while he clutched his arm. A long, rectangular gap in the floor indicated some stairs, and Gordon headed for them. Two steps down and they collapsed beneath him. Gordon instantly tumbled the rest of the way, slamming right shoulder first into the ground, hitting his head against the pale blue wall.
Dizzy, breathless and bleeding, Gordon had to scrape his shoulder along the wall to pull himself to his feet and stumble into the corridor beyond. It led off to the left and the right, both ways blocked by closed doors. Gordon headed for the right first. Before he could even reach the handle, the door flew open, three CPs waiting for him. Gordon turned and limped to the other door, only for the same thing to happen there as well.
The CP in front of him sparked his baton alight and swung it at his head. Gordon ducked, but couldn't avoid the baton of the CP behind him, and it struck him in the side of the head, banging his head back against the wall. He saw the officers converging on him as he started to drift out of consciousness.
Gordon's eyes flickered open upon hearing the charged female voice echo from somewhere behind the CPs. They looked around and charged towards someone at the left hand door.
"No you don't!"
As he drifted away, Gordon heard the CPs grunting as something solid seemed to hit them over and over again. Thumping and cracking noises were randomly interspersed, quickly followed by the grunts of the officers as they tumbled to the floor. The last thing he felt before he lost consciousness completely was a gentle grip on his shoulders.
When he opened his eyes, Gordon was staring up at the ceiling. He looked around hazily.
And then a face Gordon had never seen before drifted into view, knelt over him and smiled a wonderful smile.
"Gordon Freeman, I presume."
The same mechanically calm female voice rang out through the windows, and the woman looked up intently. Gordon still couldn't hear too well, his ears ringing from the gunshot near his head and the beating he had just sustained. Also, the woman before him was more than a little distracting. She seemed like such an oddity. She was mixed race, certainly, her medium length black hair clipped back and held there by a thick brown hair band that ran from behind her ears and over the top of her head. The smallest sliver of red ran up the middle of her hairline. She got to her feet, dusting off her pale, worn jeans. Her tight jeans, at that.
Gordon shook his head at the thought, and clambered to his feet.
"We'd better hurry," she said, looking out of the windows behind them as Gordon took in the wreckage around him. They were standing in the room beyond the right-hand doorway of the corridor. Civil Protection officers lay all over the room, splayed in positions both painful and ridiculous.
The young woman continued on, oblivious. "The Combine can be slow to wake, but once they're up, you don't want to get in their way." She turned and walked to an open elevator door that he hadn't noticed until now. "Dr Kleiner said you'd be coming this way." A small chuckle croaked from her lips as she stepped inside. "I don't think it occurred to him that you might not have a map."
Gordon, dazed and more than slightly confused, stepped inside the elevator beside her. Nodding, she pressed a button beside the open entrance of the elevator, and the chain linked gate slid shut in front of them. The elevator started its' creaky descent. Unsure of what to say, Gordon looked down at his arm and realised that it wasn't driving him mad with the pain anymore.
Instead, the torn sleeve of his denim shirt revealed a neat bandage wrapped around the arm beneath. He looked to the woman in surprise.
She smiled. "Field dressing. You spend enough time with medics, that's what you get. It's not great, but it should do until you…" She shrugged. "Well, it should do."
Gordon just nodded, not sure how to reply to that. Instead, he managed the only other thing he had said to anyone today that seemed to be of importance.
A puzzled eyebrow rose on her face, but she quickly covered it with a charming smile. "I'm Alyx Vance. My father worked with you back at Black Mesa?"
Gordon's face could have pretty much dropped off his head at that point. She was… who?
Still smiling, she self-consciously tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "I'm sure you don't remember me, though."
She was sure he didn't remember her? How could he forget? He only saw her two days ago. And she was baby! Alyx Vance was a baby! She was two years old, for Christ's sake. And now she was… she was…
Well, she was certainly not two years old.
Alyx smiled and folded her arms in front of the undersized Black Mesa hooded sweatshirt she wore beneath her worn leather jacket. "Man of few words, aren't you?"
The elevator came to a clanging halt, and the gate loudly opened for them, folding into the wall. Alyx left a speechless Gordon stood in the elevator, walking out into the dingy excuse for a basement and around the corner.
For a few moments, Gordon wondered if she was just a figment of his imagination, something that his blood-deprived brain had come up with to make the idea of being beaten to death by a corrupt police officers more palatable. But then she popped her head back around the corner, nodding in the direction she had disappeared in, and Gordon was forced to confront the concept that… maybe, just maybe… this was Alyx Vance. This… woman was the two year old baby he had awkwardly tried to look after for five minutes while waiting for Eli And Azian to finish cooking in the kitchen.
Gordon swallowed heavily and followed her around the corner. On the wall there, a yellow picture of a tyrannical Dr Breen overseeing what Gordon assumed was City 17 was plastered onto the badly painted white wall.
"Remember him from Black Mesa?" Alyx asked, pointing a thumb at the picture. Gordon noticed that she was wearing fingerless gloves, like those body builders wore. Not that she looked at all like a body builder. "Your old administrator." She laughed again, shaking her head. "Don't get my dad started on Dr Breen."
She reached for a small power box beside the picture, and tugged down on a pipe leading out below it and into the ground. With a clang, something released and opened up the thin strip of wall that the picture of Breen occupied. Behind it, a dark, barely visibly corridor led to another door at the far end. Alyx nodded down the corridor.
She led the way, checking over her shoulder when she was halfway to check that he was coming. Gordon watched her go before he slowly started following in her footsteps, trying not to stare as his brain still caught up with this miracle that was standing before him. So the Man had sent him to the future.
And while there was a lot Gordon didn't like about it…
It was certainly going to be interesting.
(A/N: I was originally going to wait until I wrote the whole thing before I started posting this, but then I figured that most of the people who frequent the Half-Life section would have grown old and had babies by the time I started releasing it that way. So here it is.
Reviews welcome, as always!)