Disclaimer: See Part 1.
Gordon woke late (for him) the next morning, at about 8 o'clock. Alyx was already up, to judge by the cooling dent in the mattress and pillow next to him. He'd been up half the night planning and tinkering with the freeze weapon Samus suggested, which served to occupy his mind until his vision started to blur, making his handwriting illegible even to him. It was after midnight before he retired, climbing into bed with Alyx and pulling her close. She'd hugged him in her sleep.
Now, though, the probable fate of Barney's fiancée loomed large in his mind. He was not looking forward to finding out in the affirmative that he'd found Lauren… but he couldn't exactly avoid the possibility forever. The main problem was that Barney was Gordon's best friend. It naturally fell to him to deliver the news, and to offer what support he could while Barney mourned. Dammit, why did he have to be the stoic all the time?
He sighed. Crap. He would have to address this sometime. Avoiding it accomplished nothing.
He got up, went into the bathroom to urinate, and once there noted the smell of stomach acid coming from the toilet. Had Alyx gotten sick while he was asleep? He hoped she wasn't coming down with something. He would ask her when he saw her next… or once he was done with everything else. Argh. He took a leak and then got dressed, making sure the ring was safe in his pocket. He would have to return it to Barney sometime today, after he found out the identity of the one who'd been wearing it.
So many things to do, and to check on…
But he'd found the key to avoiding undue stress was a solid routine, so he headed for the front door headed outside. He'd already been fairly fit as a Black Mesa scientist; this was a requirement of employment due to the research facility's ties to the military, and the fitness regimen had been compared to that of the U.S. Marine Corps (Gordon had independently discovered this to be a bit of hyperbole). Add to this his Hazard training, which included not only firearms but also some hand to hand combat, and one was left with the sort of scientist that would make high school jocks and bullies think twice about stuffing that chemistry nerd in his locker.
Even after saving the world, the old Black Mesa morning routine stayed with him as a Resistance fighter (and served him well, at that). He just wasn't yet sure whether it would help him face this current challenge.
Well. A brisk run should help clear his head before he dove into his day. He made his way outside, stretched (it was brisk outside, but not too cold), and started to jog.
"Morning, Samus!" Barney called, leaning into the gunship's hatch.
Samus jerked awake with a surprised yelp, nearly falling out of the command chair.
"It appears you have an unexpected visitor," Adam said mildly from the console, "Would you like him expelled?"
Samus peered around the command chair. Barney grinned and waved. She sighed.
"No, let him in," she murmured to Adam, before turning to greet her visitor. "Barney! What are you doing in here?" she snapped, a bit put out by his casual violation of the sanctity of her ship.
"I didn't see you in the cantina this morning, so I thought I'd bring you some breakfast. Uh, you do know we have spare beds inside, right?"
She got up and stretched. "I've slept in my ship before. How did the sweep go?" Barney looked like he'd only gotten half a night's sleep.
"It was weird. It was like all the Metroids vanished after the rescue. No breaches in the perimeter wall, either."
Samus considered this. Of course they'd be gone once the defenders removed the last of the prey (no matter how small a morsel the infant was), but the lack of openings in the perimeter wall was problematic. In all likelihood, then, they'd come from underground – which was an even bigger pain in the ass. Until they found the entrance, there wouldn't even be any clues as to the location of the nest. "Did you find Kincaid?"
He made a face. "Yeah, around midnight. The creepy part was, he was still holding his radio. It scared the piss out of Marco. Here. Eat up." He offered her a warm cloth bundle. When she took it, she found that the bundle contained some sort of pastry. "Sasha makes them," Barney continued, "They're pretty popular, but I managed to snag a spare for you."
It was strange, being in a place where Samus' bounty hunter reputation didn't precede her. Most people treated her with respect, caution, or even fear. Maybe if Barney was about twenty years younger…
No. That wouldn't work out well. Those things never did. She'd lost too many loved ones over her lifetime to risk opening up to a virtual stranger.
"I see you got your gloves back," Barney said, glancing at her hands.
She nodded curtly and took a bite of the pastry. It was filled with egg and cheese. "I was a bit annoyed to find them missing. Apparently someone took them to a laboratory for reverse engineering while I was unconscious."
"But hey, you have them back now, so no harm, no foul, right?" Barney shrugged, as casual as he was when they first met. She found his ability to switch between roles like that – between civilian and commander – to be… noteworthy. It was not always easy to separate different parts of one's life like that, not without one bleeding over into the other. Sending friends and loved ones into the heat of battle… Keeping the war from getting into your mind… It was difficult. Memories had a way of searing themselves into your retinas. "So, you still up for a tour of the place?" he asked with a grin that only slipped slightly when he added, "I think we got cut short with the attack on Southeast yesterday."
She took a few moments to consider his offer. Getting an idea of the layout of the place would be to her advantage – she would need a clear escape route if and when she managed to capture Gordon. She would have to find some way to ditch Barney at some point, though; even setting aside the fact that he seemed fond of her (though she wasn't sure why), witnesses to a bounty capture might make things a bit complicated. Whatever she had to do on that topic would have to be sudden – if he got a hint of this beforehand, he might fight her off. He was a skilled soldier and about twice her size; while he had ultimately failed to restrain her the first time, during their next encounter he might not be so concerned about hurting her.
On the bright side, he seemed to be sympathetic to her apparent shipwreck. She decided that she could bide her time until opportunity struck, and nothing would be lost by taking a tour and accepting the companionship of one of the locals. In the meantime, she could find out how much the Vortigaunts knew. She took his hand and stepped down from the ship.
"Sounds like fun," she said.
"Maybe later you can show me all the stuff that armor of yours can do," he said as they walked towards the main complex, "I know Gordon will be interested in figuring out how the arm cannon works."
Samus glanced at Barney but said nothing. Don't worry, she thought, He'll find out soon enough.
Gordon felt quite a bit better after his run and a hot shower (the hot water heaters, he recalled, were repaired and fine-tuned by Barney, using the handyman skills he'd gained at Black Mesa as part of his security training). He also now had a good idea in what order he was going to proceed in order to complete the tasks he needed to do today. He got dressed (again ensuring the safety of the ring) and headed for the medical complex.
His first stop was to the research lab, to which Bob had relocated the Hazard Suit for module retrofitting the previous evening. He murmured a greeting to the Vortigaunt before moving past him to the adjoining room, to make sure that what he had remembered writing in his notes last night was the same as what he found the next morning. Ah, yes. He hadn't dissolved into a fit of written babbling before he went to bed the previous night.
It was a variation of the potato gun he'd built in high school, except with no projectile ammunition, a shorter barrel for convenience, and the propellant replaced by a tank of compressed Freon. Hopefully it wouldn't completely fall apart during the first test. He ran a finger down the list of required components, smiling to himself at the irony of using a modified spud cannon on space aliens. Well, he'd used a crowbar on enough of them – he might as well trade up.
He would need to visit the supply house later that day to gather what he needed for the prototype. He stuffed the parts list in his pocket and headed out of the research lab, pausing to see how Bob was doing on the retrofit. Presently the Vortigaunt was working on a black and orange gauntlet similar to those that went with the Hazard Suit, but this one had a round crystal set in the back of the glove. It looked a lot like the control crystal in Samus' glove.
Bob glanced up, having apparently sensed Gordon's interest. "The Mark Six is not yet ready for calibration and testing," he said, "The Bob continues the fine-tuning." Bob's central eye gleamed. "The Free Man worries about the Alyx Vance." It wasn't a question.
Gordon grimaced; it did no good to gloss over the truth with things that could read your mind. "Yeah. I think she threw up this morning. I just hope she's not coming down with something." He paused. "I'll be stopping by the infirmary next to see if she's there."
Bob reached out and rested a leathery hand on Gordon's arm; it was a very human gesture, one of several that the Vortigaunts had picked up. "Life yet endures," Bob said, "Do you see?" Gordon nodded, though he wasn't sure what Bob meant. Bob nodded in return, and then withdrew his hand and returned to his task.
Gordon left the research lab, continuing down the hall towards the infirmary. As he reached the door, he saw Alyx leaving. Noticing him, she smiled.
"Hey, you," she said, before giving him a mock-severe look. "You owe me a relaxing evening, Freeman."
"Yeah," he admitted, "I just got caught up in things last night."
"You're always getting caught up in things, you big handsome nerd." She stepped forward and cupped his face in her hands. "I just want some time for us, is all." He put his arms around her, pulling her close, and neither of them said anything for a while. There were times when he was truly grateful he had her by his side – not just as a romantic partner but also for emotional support. Things had been better since the end of the Combine War, but now things were getting tougher again.
"What did you need in the infirmary?" he finally asked, to break the silence, "Are you feeling okay?"
"I might be getting the flu," she said, "I've been feeling a bit queasy, on and off."
"You seemed okay yesterday afternoon. In fact, you fought like a demon, as usual."
"You didn't see me hacking up my dinner early this morning."
Gordon decided it would be undiplomatic to remark on the vomit smell left behind in the bathroom.
"Did you happen to see Anton and Jun?" he asked instead.
"Still paralyzed," she replied, "But the docs say they're making progress flushing the venom out. Jun managed to move a finger this morning."
He stood there pensively, stroking her thick hair. She'd been letting it grow out since the Combine War ended, and it nearly reached her shoulders in a thick mass of tight curls that, as she sometimes joked, liked to eat combs. He wanted to share some of his concerns with her, especially his suspicion about Lauren – but he didn't want to leap to conclusions about that, and if it was true he wanted Barney to be the first to know.
"Unfortunately, I have a bunch of things to get done this morning," he said finally.
"So do I," Alyx replied, with equal reluctance, stepping back, "There are a couple of shock absorbers with Dog's name on them in the supply house."
"Hey, while you're there, could you pick these up for me?" He fished in his pocket for the parts list and handed it to her. "I'll let you try out the finished product this afternoon when it's done."
She scanned the list, and the contents clicked immediately. "A spud gun?"
"A freeze gun. To use against the Metroids."
"Nice. I look forward to trying it out. Catch you later." She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek before darting off. He watched her go until she disappeared around a corner.
Dammit. He was blushing again. The hero of the human race shouldn't still be shocked about having a hot girlfriend.
"So, what's it like on Zebes?" Barney asked as he and Samus headed for the hydroponics greenhouses.
"It's an asteroid belt now," Samus said, "It was destroyed when I was 17 years old."
"Oh. I'm sorry." He paused. "Did you live there with your family?"
"My parents worked in a mining colony there. They were killed by Space Pirates when I was three."
"Um, who raised you, then?" Barney was starting to look like he doubted his skills in Chat Fu right about now.
"The Chozo, one of the races native to Zebes. They found me at K2-L after my family was killed, and trained me as a warrior. They gave me my Power Suit."
"Oh. That's neat. Where—?"
"Gone. All that remain are ruins and artifacts. Nobody knows where, but some say the Space Pirates killed them off. They were the only family I really knew."
There was a long pause.
"Wow," Barney finally said, with an awkward chuckle, "I really suck at small-talk today."
Samus took pity on him. "Why don't you tell me about the Metroid infestations? I'd like to get some idea how widespread they are."
Barney gratefully seized the line she'd thrown him. "We're not sure where they came from, or how long they were around before they started picking off some of the farms outside Salvation."
"In what direction?" Samus asked, trying to get some idea where to start looking.
"From the southeast. Cattle started disappearing, only to be found later all shriveled up. Then the farmers got snatched."
"How long ago did it start?"
"A week or so ago. We set out live traps in case they were antlions or something else left over from the Combine. I mean, antlions we know how to handle – it's just a bitch to clean out their burrows one they get dug in, unless you have high explosives and don't care what's built on top. We weren't expecting those little floaty things, those Metroids. Of course, once they'd found a source of food they started nibbling their way in. We had to set armed guards for the farms – to protect the workers, you know; the Metroids didn't go for the fruits or vegetables." Barney paused thoughtfully. "Before long it got too dangerous even for that. We had to move food production inside the city proper, to the greenhouses. We thought we'd stopped them at the walls. You know, regular patrols, keeping a sharp eye out, while we're trying to figure out how to stop them. They're pretty persistent, though. We lost a couple men fighting them. We hadn't had any attacks for a couple days before the… the thing in Southeast. Thought we might have time to regroup – or at least drive them off." He paused again. "Kincaid was a good guy. He didn't need to go out like that."
Samus nodded, understanding the sentiment. She'd lost a number of close comrades to the Metroids as well. "Have any other settlements been attacked?"
Barney shook his head. "Don't know, really. We haven't heard anything from Haven in a while, though. That's south of here, about half a day's travel if you hoof it. Usually we try to keep in touch with new developments like this, but the radio guy here says he's got nothing on that end. No calls, and they're not picking up. And… here we are at the greenhouses." He seemed relieved at the change in topic; the stress in his face eased in the familiar surroundings, far more benign than the battlefield. "Let me sign us in first."
He took a clipboard from its hook beside the door to the nearest greenhouse and scribbled "B. Calhoun + Guest, 6-3-2032" at the bottom of the column of names and dates.
Samus frowned slightly as Barney hung the clipboard back up and opened the door for her. 2032… if they used the same calendar as the Galactic Federation, then two very bad things were going on.
First, she had managed to travel back in time – which was possible in theory, but the possible dangers far outweighed the benefits of serious research into the field. Whoever had hired her had managed to orchestrate this with, it seemed, very little effort on his part. He had access to resources that she couldn't even begin to comprehend.
Secondly, to judge by Adam's history files, there would only be three years before Earth was overrun by Metroids. If one was decently optimistic, Haven was the only other settlement that had been attacked. And there she was with a busted jump drive.
Both possibilities gave her a chill.
Gordon entered the morgue, currently manned not by Dr. Kleiner but by Gabriel (Gordon made a mental note to find out the man's last name sometime), who glanced up from a stack of printouts and a cup of coffee so strong that Gordon could smell it from the doorway (and wondered idly how it was managing to not eat the coffee mug).
"Good morning, sir," Gabriel greeted Gordon, with caffeinated cheer. "Dr. Kleiner's in his office. You're supposed to see him as soon as you can. Oh, and I got that blood sample from Miss Aran last night. I should be able to manufacture a testable sample in a couple days."
"All right," Gordon said, "Keep me posted." He paused on his way to Kleiner's office, and turned back to Gabriel, "What's your impression of Samus?"
Gabriel frowned in thought. "A bit abrupt at times, I guess," he said, "She looked like she'd never seen a phlebotomy catheter before, either. I had to tell her that a lot of people around here didn't like the injector guns she suggested I use, since the Combine officers sometimes used those to keep their human recruits docile before they were augmented. And as far as the Combine goes, she's either really from another planet or she's been living under a rock for the past twenty-five years, because she didn't get that look when I mentioned them."
Gordon knew that look Gabriel meant – that flicker of fear or hatred that the survivors got in their eyes even now, that instinctive aversion to the Combine that wasn't quite PTSD (though Gordon had seen that in a number of civilians), but more of a Pavlovian response to unpleasant memories. But that didn't quite account for the slightly off feeling Gordon had about her, like there was more to her ship crash than chance. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he got the impression that there was more to her than met the eye. She was a bounty hunter, yes – she had admitted that freely – but beyond that, who was she, really? Gah. If he kept on this way, he could easily make himself paranoid.
"She asked me a bunch of questions about the Combine," Gabriel continued, "But the only ones I've dealt with were the cadavers. I told her to talk to Barney about them, and she perked up a bit."
"She does seem to get along well with Barney," Gordon remarked, considering that Barney might be able to learn more about her than Gordon himself would.
"Everyone gets along with Barney," Gabriel returned, "The only things I know of that didn't were the Combine and Lamarr."
Gordon chuckled at the mention of Kleiner's de-beaked pet headcrab Lamarr, who had vanished a couple of years ago under unknown circumstances. Kleiner was inconsolable for weeks.
"You better go see Dr. Kleiner," Gabriel said, "I'll update you on the serum later."
Gordon nodded and headed past Gabriel to the windowed office door. Beyond it, Dr. Kleiner was reviewing a few files from the previous night's work. Around him, other file folders were stacked, like he was in the middle of making a fort out of paperwork. He looked like he hadn't been up for long himself, but still offered Gordon a cheery smile.
"Ah, Gordon!" Kleiner said brightly, "Good morning!"
"Morning, sir," Gordon said, "Are the results back yet?"
Kleiner's smile slipped slightly. "Ah… yes." He searched through the stacks of files before surfacing with one of them. "This should be… yes. #SE-F525. This is yours." He soberly handed the file to Gordon, who took it. "Come with me. I'll show you the relevant ones for reference."
He led Gordon back to the main section of the morgue. The two bodies in question had been delicately separated; he saw that the female's death-grip on the knife had also been coaxed free, though a couple of fingers had to be broken to release her other hand from the male's wrist. Her arm still stuck out stiffly at a thirty-degree angle. Both corpses had been stripped of their clothing, including the steel wedding bands they wore, and now looked like Ice Age mummies ready for study. They were both covered to the shoulders with white sheets, for the sake of decency.
Well. There would be no delaying it any longer. Gordon opened the file folder and scanned the summary page at the top of the slender document.
His stomach dropped.
"Subject identified as Lauren Jensen, nee McKenzie," it read, "married by civil ceremony to Mark Jensen, 9-12-2031. Living relatives: Unknown." He frowned at this last part.
"No living relatives?" he asked Dr. Kleiner.
"No matches from our database, no," Kleiner replied.
"Then the baby…"
"Is related by blood to Mark Jensen," he said, indicating the male corpse, "Not to her. I checked. He doesn't appear to have any other living relatives either."
Gordon considered this. It was possible that both of them had reasons for entering into a civil union. Jensen may have wanted a mother figure for his child. And Lauren… after she and Barney became separated, she might have needed the security of a family. Maybe. The timing was odd, though. Nine months ago? The infant would have been only a few months old then, at most. If the baby's mother was dead, it was likely that Jensen was still reeling from the loss.
He read on: The three of them were registered as a family on the census rolls of Salvation, under the name of Jensen, their arrival from Haven dated about a week ago – three days after the issues started with the Metroids. That had just been bad timing.
It wouldn't make the news any easier to break to Barney, though. The knowledge of Lauren's death alone would break his heart. Learning that she'd married another man in his absence, even after nine years, could kill him. Gordon closed his eyes.
"It never gets any easier, does it, Gordon?" Kleiner asked.
Gordon sighed. "No, it doesn't."
"I could tell him, if you like," Kleiner offered.
Gordon shook his head. "No. He's my best friend. This is on me." He paused. "Thanks for offering, though." He sighed. "I'll be back in a bit. Get the death mask ready for her." Kleiner nodded; the death mask was a computer-generated reconstruction of a corpse's face, used in situations like this, where the underlying bone structure was intact but the face otherwise deformed or destroyed. It had proved useful in offering closure to the families of those who had died violently under Combine rule, though of course the Combine had not allowed such mercies to humans.
Gordon left the morgue in search of Barney.
Samus glanced around at the rows and tiers of basins, each with a line of plants suspended with their roots in the nutrient solution within. Machinery kept the solution circulating, and every so often flying robots about the size of a man's head would whirr by the monitor the crops.
"See those?" Barney said, pointing to one of the monitor robots, "Those used to be Combine manhacks, used by the bad guys to find human fugitives. Alyx figured out a way to reprogram them after the Combine war, so now they work for us. Hell, I think she even used one for Dog's head during one of the rebuilds. Let me show you around."
He led her further into the greenhouse. Samus had to admit that she was (mildly) impressed at the machine-like efficiency here. Most things were automated, with certain crucial systems monitored by both machine and human gardeners – who appeared to be from the science team, the better to repair or debug things that broke or malfunctioned. She watched the monitor robots, the "manhacks", flying between the rows, occasionally moving in for a closer inspection or spraying one plant or another with various mixtures. Compared to what she saw in the infirmary, the greenhouses were at almost familiar tech levels – a bit rustic, but not archaic. She hadn't seen so much green in one place for a long time, not even in the subterranean jungles of Brinstar (whose plants had tended more towards purples and blues).
"Hey, check this out," Barney said, leading her to the next section, "Can you believe Dr. Magnussen never thought we'd get apple trees to grow in Yugoslavia? Have a taste." He picked a ripe red fruit from a nearby tree and tossed it to her. She caught it reflexively and took an experimental bite. She wasn't familiar with apples, but it was sweet and juicy and firm; she decided to give it a pass.
"Is Dr. Freeman responsible for all this as well?" she asked, wiping juice from her chin.
Barney laughed. "Nah. The man's got a brown thumb. The miracle workers who arranged this would be Dr. Arnold and Dr Majors – our botanical experts."
Samus saw a small metal sign in front of the apple trees. It read: "In Loving Memory of Elijah Vance: Brave Freedom Fighter, Intergalactic Diplomat, and Wise Father." Below this someone had written, "I hope you gave that Advisor the shits, Eli!"
"Alyx's dad," Barney said, noting her interest, "He was the one who first established peaceful relations with the Vortigaunts." He sighed. "Another casualty of the War." He snapped off a crisp, military salute at the memorial.
Ah. A war hero. Evidently, in addition to diplomacy he had gone toe to toe with the mysterious Combine, only to be killed by… no, to judge by the graffito, he was eaten by a creature called an Advisor, whatever that was.
"Was he a soldier, like you?" Samus asked.
"He was a physicist at Black Mesa," Barney said, "He worked in the same department Gordon did. I don't think he was much older than Gordon himself when the whole thing went down… maybe in his thirties."
Black Mesa again. Everything seemed to trace back there. "Tell me more about Black Mesa," she said.
It took Gordon half an hour to locate Barney. In the cantina Sasha (from whom he also received one of her egg pastries) indicated that he had already eaten and was taking some breakfast to "his girlfriend, the alien" in her ship. At the ship, the two guards told him that Barney had taken Samus in the direction of the greenhouses.
Finally, at the hydroponics greenhouses, one of the gardeners pointed him in the direction of Barney and "that cute blond girl he had with him", over in the grove of fruit trees. Gordon nodded, thanked him, and headed in the indicated direction.
When he finally spotted them, he saw an expression on Barney's face that he hadn't seen in some time: contentment, untainted by bitter memories or vain hopes. Samus stood by his side while Barney appeared to be in storyteller mode, though the topic of the tale was unclear. Barney had friends already, to be sure – Gordon was one of them – and the other refugees from the Combine War were like family, but this was different. Gordon had seen that expression on Barney's face previously, but only when he'd been talking about Lauren.
Ah, crap. This was gonna suck worse than a black hole.
He took a deep breath and approached the pair. Samus spotted him first, but Barney soon noticed him and waved.
"Hey Gordo!" he called, "What's up? Looks like you got about as much sleep as I did last night."
Gordon greeted both of them with a nod. "Barney, I need to talk to you." Gordon glanced at Samus. "Privately, please."
Barney glanced at Samus, confused. "Uh, sure. Samus, go ahead and look around for a bit. We'll finish the tour later, okay?"
Samus could tell that something serious was about to transpire – Gordon appeared to be bracing for an impact. She nodded. "Sure. I'll catch up with you later." She watched as Gordon led Barney away by the elbow.
The two men left the greenhouse. Gordon took a deep breath; it was now or never.
"Barney, I found this recently." He fished in his pocket for the ring and pulled it out. "I think it's yours."
He handed it to Barney, who examined it curiously. It took only a few moments for him to spot the inscription, and his face lit up as he recognized it.
"Holy shit – that's the ring I gave Lauren – you found it! That must mean… Lauren's here? You found Lauren? Tell me you found Lauren!" He had grabbed Gordon by the shoulders, and by his expression he was hoping beyond hope that it was true.
Gordon nodded. "We found her, yes," he said gravely.
Barney's smile slipped at Gordon's tone. "What is it? What's wrong? Is she hurt? Where is she, the infirmary? Come on, I want to see her!" He started pulling Gordon towards the medical complex.
"Barney!" Gordon dug in his heels and pulled back. Barney looked at him, now confused. Gordon took a deep breath. "She's not in the infirmary."
"Then… where is she?"
"She's in the morgue. I'm so sorry, man."
Barney looked stunned for a few moments, before finally absorbing what Gordon had just told him. He went white, and started to shake. A hand slowly drifted up to rest on his brow, as though trying to shield him from the news. He shook his head, slowly as first, then more vigorously.
"Oh, no way! No way, Gordon! Are you trying to tell me she's dead? That's bullshit, man! That's bullshit! She can't be dead! She just… can't be!" Barney raked the fingers of both hands through his hair, giving him a wild, disheveled appearance. "No, no, no, no… god dammit, no…" His eyes squeezed shut, as though he was trying to deny the tragic reality. "No… no… it wasn't supposed to end like this… no way…" He looked at Gordon. "I want to see her."
Gordon grimaced. "A Metroid killed her. I don't think—"
"I want to see my fiancée now!" Barney exploded, grabbing Gordon by the front of his shirt and jerking him forward so the two were almost nose to nose. He swallowed hard, adding more quietly, "Please. I want to see her. I need to see her."
Gordon closed his eyes and nodded soberly. Barney released him, and Gordon led him inside.
Samus watched the discussion unfold from inside the greenhouse; though she couldn't make out the content to their discussion, her attention had been attracted by the anguish in Barney's voice. Clearly Gordon had bad news for him, but she couldn't hear the details. Well, Gordon and Barney, as opposite as they were, seemed to be close friends. It would make sense that Gordon would be the one to tell him such things, and would be likely to tell him plainly, rather than dancing around the harsh reality. She watched the two walk off.
A few moments later, she realized that she had effectively managed to ditch Barney completely by happenstance. Somehow, she felt less relieved than she thought she might.
Dr. Kleiner immediately noticed Barney's stricken expression when the two men entered the morgue. He glanced at Gordon, who nodded. Kleiner went to one of the printers and started sorting through the contents of the output tray, while Gordon led Barney to the gurney that held Lauren.
The corpse was still as it had been, its half-clenched fist visible above the top edge of the sheet. Gordon could almost imagine he could hear her death scream as the Metroid drained her.
"Here she is," Gordon said quietly. He waited as Barney approached the gurney.
Barney reached out with a trembling hand and touched the corpse's ash-blond hair.
"No…" Barney whispered, "This can't be… this can't be her… she… she said… I promised…" He stopped as Dr. Kleiner approached and wordlessly placed the printout on the gurney, the computer reconstruction of what her face would have looked like in life.
Even in her late forties, Lauren was a beautiful woman. Barney took up the printout, looking at it with an expression that Gordon would best describe as shattered. Barney traced the contours of the face on the printout, and Gordon could only watch as Barney's last barriers of denial crumbled.
"F5," he said finally, his voice hollow, "That's where we found the kid, right?"
"Yeah," Gordon said.
Gordon and Kleiner exchanged a glance; they both knew the truth, but the infant needed a caregiver. And Barney loved kids – he'd helped raise Alyx and had become a surrogate uncle to her over the years. He would love the baby as though he'd sired her.
"In every way that matters, yes," Gordon said.
Barney knelt beside the gurney and clasped the twisted, bony hand. Dry flesh flaked away, but he didn't seem to mind; this was the woman that he had loved – loved with all his might. And he'd never given up looking for her, even when others would have given up hope.
"I n…need a minute alone," Barney said, his voice thick, "Just a minute alone w… with my fiancée… all right?"
Gordon nodded, giving Barney's shoulder a squeeze before leaving the morgue.
He had only gone fifteen feet down the hallway before he heard an inarticulate scream behind him, a hoarse, ragged sound of pure emotional anguish. He stopped, closing his eyes as it dissolved into sobs.
He wanted to go back and comfort Barney, but he wasn't sure how. He hesitated, turned back towards the morgue, but stopped after only a couple of steps. No. Barney would have to work through this. It had been ten years, and the wound was still raw – but now that he knew, even if it was bad news, he would be able to get past it. To move on. It would take time, like healing generally did. Barney was strong. He would make it.
Even so, Gordon still felt like shit. He clenched his fists and forced himself to turn away from the morgue, to give Barney the privacy he needed.
End Part 6.