The Half Life games and the characters within don't belong to me. No infringement is intended, no profit is to be made and I'm just not worth the hassle of suing anyway unless you want a share of the wages of an underpaid Civil Servant.

"You're making the wrong assumption that a Marine by himself is outnumbered." : General Peter Pace USMC, 2006

"This is not some theoretical physicist we are discussing. Adrian Shephard is a highly trained Special Forces soldier from an elite unit and I have good reason to believe that in the intervening years since the Black Mesa incident he has been in a state which precluded any deterioration in his skills." : Administrator Wallace Breen, 2029

The White Forest Inn - Eastern Europe – Earth under the Combine

Adrian Shephard pulled off his Kevlar helmet and wrenching off his respirator as he fell to his knees he promptly threw up on the wooden floor. Fortunately perhaps he hadn't eaten much more than the occasional candy bar for what must have been days, so the mess wasn't as bad as it could have been, but the painful retching against an empty stomach continued for far too long until the feeling of indescribable wrongnessfaded and his head stopped swimming.

When he was able to once again collect himself Shephard staggered back to his feet and half stumbled away from the pool of vomit, eventually finding some support in the form of a wall which he leaned against gratefully. 'Okay Marine, shake it off and take stock of the situation' he ordered himself aloud once his mind caught up with his digestive tract in terms of recovery.

'Where the hell are we and how did we get here?' Shephard now asked, spitting on the floor to try and get some of the bad taste from his mouth. 'No fucking idea' he replied to himself, spitting again before pushing himself clear of the wall and forcing himself to stop trembling like he had been. It looked like he was in a basement, or maybe a small wine cellar judging from the racks and the number of broken bottles scattered around, and there was a wooden staircase leading up in one direction and some stone steps heading up in another the daylight from that way lighting up the room.

'Alright shit-for-brains where were we before we were here?' the marine now asked himself as his head cleared a little more allowing greater clarity of thought. 'Black Mesa' he answered then his eyes widened as memories came flooding back. 'Weapon, need a weapon' he said frantically as a kaleidoscope of images of frenzied combat, horror, pain and fear flashed through his mind.

He was still wearing his Power Combat Vest but when he clutched at the holster hanging from the belt of the LC2 equipment harness he wore over it he found his Desert Eagle was missing. Similarly the shoulder holster rig under his left armpit which had once held his Berretta 92F was empty and even his combat knife was absent from its sheath. 'That fucking Fed took them off me' he suddenly recalled as his memories trawled up his last moments at Black Mesa, being hit by an expanding pulse of energy and then finding himself on what seemed to be a V-22 travelling through a changing void. Although unarmed he did find his canteen where it should be and taking it out unscrewed the top and rinsed his mouth out with water, spitting that too on the ground before swallowing his next mouthful.

Returning his canteen to its pouch Shephard concentrated on what the creepy government guy had said to him only moments ago. "Please don't think that I've been avoiding you, a great many matters require my attention in these... troubled times. I do hope you understand, and now I require a further indulgence on your part: I cannot close my report until every loose end has been tied up. The biggest embarrassment has been the Black Mesa facility, but I think that's finally taken care of itself."

'You nuked it you prick' Adrian Shephard snarled, interrupting his own memories as he remembered seeing the bastard reactivating the Mark IV warhead through a pane of thick bullet-proof glass. Shephard had only defused the thing scant minutes beforehand, eliminating the Black Ops who had first set the nuclear device counting down to detonation, and the enraged marine had pounded on the glass and screamed obscenities at the man undoing his good work.

"But there is still the lingering matter of witnesses. I admit I have a fascination with those who adapt and survive against all odds—they rather remind me of myself. If for no other reason, I have argued to preserve you for a time. While I believe a civil servant like yourself understands the importance of... discretion, my employers are not quite so trusting and rather than continually subject you to the irresistible human temptation of telling all, we have decided to... convey you somewhere where you can do no possible harm, and where no harm can come to you. I'm sure you can imagine that there are worse alternatives..."

That at least was true, Shephard had become verycreative when it came to imagining worse alternatives during the period between his heading out from Santego Base with the rest of the HECU and his eventually getting back out of Black Mesa alive somehow against all the odds.

"Of course once the cat is long out of the bag there is no longer any need to worry about cover-ups or secrets, and in any case a valuable resource never used is ultimately a valuable resource wasted."

Shephard frowned, he couldn't recall the guy saying that to him before.

"And as I already told someone else earlier today, who I had also extracted from the maelstrom of Black Mesa, I am not one to squander my investments."

He's in my head, Shephard realised with a start as his memories of the man talking had merged seamlessly with new words being spoken to him directly. 'Who are you?' the Marine said out loud, 'Where am I?'

"Your hour has come again Corporal Shephard, the wrong man in the right place can make all the difference in the world. I am certain you will not disappoint. In order to aid you in the task which fate and I have set for you I have returned a few items of government property that you will find invaluable I'm sure, and as a gesture of good will a bonus too. What use is a shepherd without the companionship and assistance of his dog after all?"

'Answer me!' Shephard bellowed but no reply came as his cry echoed off the walls. He waited for a short while then muttering dark thoughts and oaths aloud about what he was going to do to that skinny runt when he got hold of him the marine retrieved his helmet and respirator. 'Nowhere to go from here but up I guess' he said to himself resignedly, putting his helmet back on but not his gas mask which he instead secured to a velco loop hanging off his belt so it hung by his side.

Cautiously climbing the slightly rickety looking wooden stairs Shephard found himself in what appeared to be the dilapidated lobby of what might once have been a rather small and quaint but perhaps classy hotel. The furniture, fixtures and fittings were gone, places on the walls which likely once held paintings were bare, and the overall impression was of a building that hadn't just seen better days, it had seen muchbetter days.

The myriad bullet holes that peppered the place were of far more concern to Shephard however, especially as they looked all too recent, much like the equally concerning blood splatters on the floor. The windows and the double doors leading outside looked like they could have only been smashed in within the last few days and there were more than a few shiny brass cartridge cases scattered around to be seen outside as well.

Hairs standing up on the back of his neck as Black Mesa induced paranoia kicked-in Shephard bent down and picked up one of the casings to examine it. '4.6 millimetre' he noted before flicking it away again. That was a fairly unusual calibre he knew, basically a scaled down assault-rifle round designed for high-velocity and maximum penetration at the cost of stopping power against targets that weren't wearing body armour. 'Black Ops?' he wondered. Those guys and girls got to play with all sorts of interesting toys and his recent encounters with them had placed the bastards high up on his shit-list.

Looking outside briefly had confirmed that at least he wasn't in any part of the Black Mesa facility, or anywhere near it for that matter. Trees, clear blue skies and a few more buildings were the only things around and it was extremely quiet despite more indications of recent fighting in the form of blood trails and smeared pools of blood where Shephard surmised casualties had lain before recovery.

Before scouting the area surrounding it Shephard decided to properly investigate the building he was in. The lobby led to other rooms on the ground floor that showed similar signs of battle but what immediately grabbed his undivided attention on turning a corner into what that might have once been the dining room was what he found laid out neatly on a large grimy rug there. He checked around for a moment to make sure this wasn't just bait for a possible ambush before gratefully starting to collect his weapons and ammunition that had been left their for him to recover.

They weren't allthere though Shephard noted. The G-Man, or whatever he was, hadn't returned all of the hardware he had taken him but it was still more than enough firepower to cause his morale to go up considerably and help calm his nerves. The HECU Marine quickly retrieved his trusty Desert Eagle, checking it was loaded and verifying the laser-sight still functioned before returning it to his holster with satisfaction. His backup pistol, a USMC issue Beretta M9A1, was then slid smoothly into the shoulder-holster under his left arm, he had obtained both items from a dead officer and he was somehow more comfortable handling the Corps pistol than he was one of the Glocks the Black Mesa Security Guards had carried.

Sidearms secured the two bandoliers of buckshot Shephard now picked up and looped crosswise over his chest were unfortunately half empty, only holding less than sixty shotgun shells between them. The SPAS 12 they were there to supply however was itself still fully loaded, holding another eight rounds, and he was happy enough with that for now. It was unlikely that many possible foes would be able to ignore even a single discharge of 12-gauge buckshot to the face after all, indeed hostile alien interlopers of many species had come off very much the worse on meeting the pump-action.

'I like to keep this handy for close encounters' Sheppard joked to himself, still grinning at the line as he secured the SPAS 12 to his assault pack and picked up his combat knife. Finding it still carrying some unnatural yellow blood on the blade he wiped it clean as best he could on the rug then returned the knife to the sheath for it hanging from his belt on the opposite side as the Eagle. He recalled the relief he had felt when he had found the knife conveniently buried in the back of one of the first dead aliens he had came across. 'So much easier to handle than that damn wrench' he muttered, now looking disdainfully at the unwieldy great thing lying on the rug and wondering what kind of sense of humour had caused the G-Man to return the pipe-wrench but not his goddamn sniper rifle. 'The motto is "Every Marine a Rifleman" not every marine a fucking plumber' he complained, deciding to leave it there unlike the last of the realweapons left on the rug.

Firing the same ammunition as the Beretta the modified MP5 sub-machinegun the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit equipped its men with was, unlike the wrench, something that Shephard had been more than happy to see again. Taking it up and hanging the weapon by its strap over his shoulder he made a mental note to remember to properly field strip and clean the thing after making sure the area was secure. Unfortunately despite a reasonable quantity of 9mm for the MP5 which he stuffed into his ammunition pouches he found he only had the one round left for the custom model MP5's integral grenade launcher and would have to be careful not to waste it.

'Okay, so no hand-grenades, no sniper-rifle, no SAW, no rocket-launcher, no explosives and none of the weird-ass shit either' Sheppard noted to himself sadly then shrugged. 'On the plus side I nearly killed myself hauling all that crap up and down ladders and trying to run carrying it' he remembered, putting a more positive spin on the situation.

Now reassuringly armed he was about to check upstairs when a sudden noise, muffled but seemingly close-by, caused him to instantly draw his Desert Eagle and bring it up ready to fire.

The noise continued and increased in frequency as Shephard determined it was coming from the old refrigerator in the kitchen across from the dining room. 'If you're something that is planning to try and jump on my head then think again' he addressed whatever it was inside there as he reached for the handle latch with his free hand, .357 magnum automatic held steadily in the other.

A combination of quick reactions, finely honed skills and hard training had kept Shephard alive through the total clusterfuck of the Black Mesa mission, but if he hadn't also been possessed of a near-suicidal sense of curiosity he would never have found his way out. In a more superstitious age observers might have concluded that the sheer amount of luck indicated by his habit of sticking his nose into places that someone more rational wouldn't, but nonetheless always seeming to come out ahead somehow, was proof that the gods of fortune were watching over him. Putting the possibility of divine intervention aside by the standards of any era he was undoubtedly a freakishly lucky bastard at times and proved you could go a long way if fuelled by a combination of good fortune, serendipity and plenty of ammunition.

Opening the refrigerator door a tiny crack and looking inside cautiously Shephard had barely enough time to get a glimpse of the occupant before the door was pushed open suddenly from inside and he cried out in alarm as something that should have been on another world launched itself at him.

Note from the Author:

Well this is what happens if I play Half Life 2: Episode 2 just after a quick bash at Half Life: Opposing Force. I couldn't shake off the notion of dropping Corporal Adrian Shephard into the Combine occupied Earth that exists twenty years into his future.

For the benefit of the unfamiliar (or forgetful) Shephard was a member of the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit that Gordon Freeman struggled against in Half Life. He successfully fought his way through Black Mesa fighting against Black Ops soldiers trying to cover up the situation, the same aliens that Freeman was fighting elsewhere in Black Mesa plus an entirely different group of hostile aliens known as "Race X" that were also trying to invade Earth via Xen.

Shephard wasn't blessed with a HEV Suit to help keep him alive like Freeman had but he had his Powered Combat Vest, a respirator (with built-in night-vision goggles) and a helmet at least. His myriad weapons were taken from him by the G-Man at the end of Opposing Force but now he's been taken out of storage again the G-Man has seen fit to give him a few choice items back.

The White Forest Inn is a location in Half Life 2: Episode 2 where Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance were ambushed by a large contingent of Combine Overwatch supported by Hunters. The G-Man has dropped Shephard off there a few days later after the place has been cleared up a little (or cleared out).

Wake up Corporal Shephard. Wake up and smell the ashes.