Disclaimer: We don't own Half-Life.
Year Five by Super Chocolate Bear
Eli Vance tried to ignore the way his heart skipped a beat when Dog threw Alyx into the air. Kleiner's distressed 'oh my!' didn't particularly help. But the delighted squeals from Alyx put his mind to rest, at least a little.
"I must say, Eli, Dog is an impressive piece of workmanship."
He just smiled and nodded. The reason for the mechanical pet was mainly to keep Alyx save; God knew that Eli was useless to her in a protection capacity, and Kleiner, well, Eli loved him like a brother, but there wouldn't be much he could do if Combine soldiers came bursting into the base.
Combine soldiers. The very idea made him shudder. He had heard that people were going in willingly now. They were willing to get flesh and bone replaced by… synthetics.
Eli could only glance down at his missing leg with distaste. Truth was, he needed something to keep his mind off the pain. The kind of painkillers he would usually be prescribed were in pretty short supply nowadays. He and Kleiner had heard stories of people intentionally overdosing on the stuff to avoid being 'drafted'.
Speaking personally, he hadn't seen a Vicodin or Percocet pill for two years. Since then he just had the whims of God deciding exactly how much pain his leg would cause him each given day. Hopefully, now they had settled on a base that was sufficiently out of the Combine's way, someone with the sufficient know-how would be able to whip something up.
He shook his head at the thought. People were dying and being forcibly changed into inhuman… things, and all he could think about this new haven they had built was the fact that they could cook up some painkillers for him. His gaze travelled from where Dog now chased Alyx around the clearing in front of them to Kleiner, who looked decidedly uncomfortable on the rock he was now perched.
"So. When are you planning on leaving?"
The fragile scientist, whose hair had been whitening considerably in recent years, sighed. "I'm not too sure. First of all, our scouts have to be sure the place they have…" he cleared his throat, "…appropriated… is safe. I don't want to have my equipment painstakingly shipped over there only for Combine thugs to roll in whack it with their batons and so on."
"And, of course, you don't want them taking you away, either."
"Hm? Oh, I suppose not."
Eli grinned, though he wasn't sure Izzy noticed it. They watched Alyx and Dog, new best friends, playing in front of them in amiable silence for a few minutes. The pain in his leg was fading a little, but he tried not to concentrate on it. The moment he started thinking about it, it would flare up and cause him discomfort for the rest of the day.
"I heard another story yesterday," Izzy announced suddenly.
"Oh, really? Who from?"
"Someone transferring over from the… base near City 13."
City 13. What used to be San Francisco. Now it was something… very different. Even more so now that the rebel contingent there had been discovered and forced out. It was only due to a complex series of tunnels beneath the city that the majority of them managed to escape. That was about a month ago. It had taken them that long to trek across the wilderness and sneak onboard one of the few human boats that the Combine allowed them to use. Eli had seen pictures of the insides of those ships. It was like they were transporting cattle.
By the time the City 13 rebels had arrived at their doorstep, only half of them remained, some caught by Antlions and headcrabs, others claiming that they knew a shortcut. Some just disappeared after the boat ride, presumably shipped off to some Combine labour camp. Or something worse, like Nova Prospekt. Eli had only heard stories about the place from Vortigaunts. They used phrases like 'castrate' and 'inside out' far too often for Eli to even consider thinking about the place except when he really had to.
"Is it a good one?"
"I think so."
"Well, go ahead. I don't think Alyx is going to want to come in any time soon."
Said seven year old was riding Dog like a horse at the moment. Since the robot pet didn't seem to mind, Eli was content to let them get on with it.
"Well, the story goes like this. Gordon Freeman, the One Free Man-"
"Wait," Eli laughed, "the what?"
"The One Free Man."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It's just a title like any other, I suppose. It was quite witty, I thought. Although I've heard others calling him The Opener of the Way."
"Yes… I didn't think too much of that one. Supposedly it's because he's supposed to open a gateway that we will force the Combine through."
Eli wondered how far from the truth that would turn out to be. At first, Eli hadn't heard much about Gordon's exploits. As they were escaping Black Mesa, it was all they could do just to get a working teleporter rigged up; they didn't really have time to start listening to military radio chatter and see what their colleague was up to. It was only once they had emerged from the facility and been greeted by some surprisingly friendly Vortigaunts that they were given the slightest inkling that Gordon Freeman had performed miracles, and then vanished.
Both Eli and Kleiner had assumed him dead when he hadn't returned for them after a few hours. And when the announcement system had declared it was now under military command, well, that tore it. They were getting the hell out of there.
It had taken Eli some time to actually accept that Gordon Freeman, the quiet scientist who barely spoke three words to him when they first met, had done such deeds. Although he wasn't sure which were actually true, and which were exaggerated over time. The only thing he knew for certain was that Gordon had killed the Nihilanth creature that had been holding the portal open; that much the Vortigaunts confirmed. Everything else, like diving into a tank full of Ichthyosaurs to rescue a falling baby or killing ten soldiers with a crowbar and some string… he wasn't so sure of.
"So how does the story go?"
"Well," Izzy said, smiling, "Gordon comes across a Gargantua in a rail system in Black Mesa, as well as some soldiers that are doing their best to hold back the beast. As soon as he makes himself known, the soldiers, naturally, flee for their lives."
"The Gargantua, however, having no such predilections about the One Free Man, decides to try his best to annihilate the small orange creature in front of it. But, just before it manages to roast him alive, Gordon jams his crowbar into one of the creature's firing apparatus, and climbs up on top of the beast."
"I'm with you so far."
"Ah, but this is where it gets interesting, Eli. Using rudimentary horse-taming skills he used while on vacation with his family in Texas - where, of course, he worked on a ranch-"
"-Gordon uses some rope to tame the creature, and promptly uses it to ride triumphantly through Black Mesa and destroy the Nihilanth."
Eli kept his eyes on Alyx and Dog, the former seemingly deciding to take a rest and start picking daises. Dog just watched with amazed curiosity.
"I think that's my favourite now," he said, nodding thoughtfully.
"I suppose. I rather enjoyed the story of Gordon and the five tanks. Imagine, using an experimental magnetic weapon to turn their weapons on each other at the exact moment they are about to fire, and doing it just as Xen ship drops a platoon of Xenian foot soldiers on top of him, incinerating them instantly. Amazing."
The two shared a smile, and Eli laughed. He didn't hear Izzy laugh too much, even before the Black Mesa Incident. The only instance that came to mind was when Gordon and Barney literally fell over each other on their way to the canteen. How they had managed it, Eli had never known, but somehow, Gordon had managed to pull off a sharp right turn in front of Barney that promptly sent them both tumbling head over heels down the corridor.
The thought about such times made Eli's heart ache, and quickly sent a sharp stab of pain into his leg. He couldn't withhold the hiss that emerged through his teeth, and he tried not to clutch at the offending limb.
"Are you all right, Eli?"
That managed to grab Alyx's attention, who quickly ran over with Dog following along behind. The metallic pet wasn't really any bigger than Alyx at this point, but the girl had a keen mind. She would be free to add whatever modifications she thought were necessary to keep her safe.
He smiled. "I'm fine, honey. Just your dad being overdramatic. As always."
"Are you sure you don't want something, Eli?"
"It's fine," he said, trying to lean back and be casual even though his leg was screaming at him. "I'm fine. Really."
Unconvinced, Alyx and Izzy traded glances in what Eli was sure would become an increasing occurrence as his daughter got older and became less willing to indulge his crap. A cold shiver ran down his spine as he thought about Alyx getting older.
Because he wasn't sure if she would. He kept on trying to forget, to push the way in which Alyx survived Black Mesa and her mother didn't out of his mind. But it never helped. It always came back, haunting him. He supposed that he should be more worried about her being shot in a battle or being stripped of her humanity and being forced into service of the Combine or any number of other hazards that now existed in his world.
"Come on," he grunted, getting to his feet and waving off Izzy's attempts to help. "Let's get inside."
Without waiting for their agreement, he slowly started limping for the entrance to the base.
But rather than worry about anything this world could dish out, his concerns were of a different nature, every single time. Because he had been done a favour five years ago.
And he was always worried about when the time to collect would come around. 'Unforeseen Consequences' indeed.
(A/N: The fact that Gordon was a living legend by the time Half-Life 2 rolled around always intrigued me, and I thought there was tremendous potential for humour there. There were so many Freeman stories I didn't use, but a lot of them ended up in 'Welcome to City 17'.
Anyway, as always, keep up the reviews everyone!)