The first thing that registered was a pounding headache. He tried to gripe, but all he could manage was a quiet groan. The next thing that registered was that he was on the cold hard floor. How had he gotten there? His memory was fuzzy. He tried to move but he was too disoriented. He opened his eyes, but his vision was blurry. There wasn't much to see, but there was a bleary pink and white shape in the light from his rifle.
Where was his rifle? Somewhere on the ground, he realized. Why was it on the ground? He had fallen. How had he fallen? The memory wouldn't come.
The pain in his head was more than an ache. It was a splitting pain and he tried to scream but it hurt to move his jaw.
The pink and white shape moved. That was when he noticed the noise.
It was gibberish.
Maybe it was just too quiet, or too fast. It sounded confused.
The confused mumbling pitched into an anguished scream and faded into sobs.
"What?" Finally he felt the strength to utter something, even if it wasn't quite what he wanted to say.
The sobbing stopped, and the pink-white blob shifted again, only now it was more focused, and clearly more white than pink. There was a significant amount of red in the mix.
"You're alive," the voice said. It sounded more shocked than pleased. "You're alive!" The second time around it sounded a bit happier, but there was still something else there. Wariness?
"What happened?" The question became rhetorical almost as soon as he said it. The pilot's mind finally out of its haze, he remembered the room with the paintings and the weight smashing against his head. "You hit me!" He scrambled frantically for his weapon for a moment before the pain drove him to a standstill. His hand, inches from his gun, flew to his head where the pain was centered. He expected a killing blow.
He was surprised when, rather than another bash to the head, he felt a hand on his shoulder then under his arm helping him to his feet. Had he been in a state to resist he would have been too shocked to do anything. He was surprised again when he found his rifle thrust into his hands, and the urge to take control finally reached his mind. He shoved away the helping hands and found himself sprawled on the floor opposite his white coated attacker-turned-helper.
Shining the light on his face, the pilot saw just what a mess the man was. His hair hadn't seen so much as a comb in some time. Dark circles outlined his bloodshot eyes, and something was off about his pupils; one eye seemed bigger than the other. There were several tears in his coat where the white was stained red. The dark red patches on the white fabric were clearly blood, though whether it was his or someone else's he couldn't be sure. A laminated ID clinging to his pocket labeled him as Doug Rattman. This guy was a survivor. The pilot could understand that. It didn't excuse the attempt on his life, though.
"We- I didn't know!" The man screamed. "I thought you were one of them." His eyes darted from the large cube beside him to the gun to the wall to his right. "You aren't one of them. Are you?"
"Who?" the pilot asked, glancing to the wall. Yellow eyes stared back at him.
"She woke me up. She needed help. I tried. Not enough. Too many. What could I do? I had to run. I had to live!" He broke off into whimpers.
"What the hell happened here?" The pilot was getting fed up with all of the communication problems. First the mute, then the cryptic, and now some crazy rambling psycho. He wanted answers, not puzzles and riddles.
Rather than answering, Doug screamed and scrambled to his feet. The pilot brought up his rifle, but before he could fire a hand on his shoulder caused him to turn. He stared into yellow eyes, just like the painting, except the picture hadn't captured the stench or the way the haggard body seemed to sag under its own weight or the way the lifeless yellow orbs seemed to focus on him with an unearthly hunger. He tried to move but a sickly hand batted away his weapon and another swung for his chest, claw-like fingers seeking flesh.
They did not find their mark. A white blur with a dash of pink struck the warped creature's head, knocking it off its feet with a spurt of red that joined the paint on the wall. The pilot found himself jerked around by the shoulder once more as Doug handed him his rifle. The scientist made sure that the pilot had a firm grip on his weapon, then made his way over to the box and the corpse. With a single violent lift and slam, he made certain that the thing would never walk again.
The pilot could not process the situation. Missiles, falling elevators, more missiles, mad men, and now… what? He wanted to ask even as part of his brain told him he would get no answer, but his internal debate was cut short by a strangled sob from Doug.
"If one knows, they all know. They could be here any second. Quickly!" The pilot could only follow as Doug made his way to the circular protrusion from the ceiling. Doug whispered apologetically to the box, set it down and stood on it. He reached up, flipped open a small panel, and fiddled with something the pilot couldn't make out. The circle opened like the shutter of a camera. "A pneumatic system bridges the whole facility," Doug told him. "The power's dead." He struggled with the last word.
Not willing to resign totally to someone else's direction, the pilot gestured up. "Lead the way."
Doug nodded. He paused a moment to listen. The pilot heard it, too, and he knew it from his own entrance to the gallery: the sound of shifting debris. Someone was trying to get through the barricade. He tossed the cube up first, an odd but apparently effective weapon, and then pulled himself up. He offered the pilot a hand, but he refused, hoisting himself up on his own. Doug reached out of the circular vent at an odd angle and tapped at the same spot, maybe a keypad. When he was done he flipped the panel back into place and pulled his hand back as the vent closed.
Darkness surrounded them but for the light from the pilot's rifle. The duct was round like the opening, and the pilot could imagine them travelling all throughout the underground facility like some gigantic hamster habitat. The thought of being a lab rat didn't help the situation.
"Override codes," the scientist explained. "The suction is off, but the vents still work." The pilot ignored him.
"What was that?" he asked, trying to hide the fear from his voice. His agitation was obvious, though. The new confines didn't help. The ventilation system was smaller than it had looked, and the pilot found himself on his knees. The agitation crept into his voice. "What happened here?"
Doug whimpered again. "They want… she made… I can't…" He broke down into sobs.
The pilot groaned. "For the love of God, just tell me what I need to know!"
Doug jumped at the outburst and threw his arms around the cube. The pilot leveled his rifle, but lowered it when he realized the cube wouldn't do any good in such cramped quarters. The scientist breathed heavily and murmured something as he stared at one of the hearts on the cube. After a minute or so, just as the pilot was losing patience with the mad man, he turned and spoke.
"We don't know where they came from. All we know is what she wanted."
Suddenly the stale air in the vents was alive with a static hum. It was the same noise the pilot had heard in the elevator room and the upstairs offices, except rather than a burst of static it was softer and sustained. Doug started shivering. Then she spoke.
"Aperture Science Log mmddyyyy: Another breakthrough. Test Subjects exposed to ununpentium infused neurotoxin are more durable than control test subjects. They are also more susceptible to weapons infused with ununpentium. The weapons found with the original sample will be replicated. The Sentry Turrets scheduled for redemption have been called back from the Redemption Line for further testing. The ununpentium will be tested on other Aperture products for potential enhancements. Today, Thermal Discouragement Beams and Rocket Turrets are being tested for ununpentium effects. Tomorrow, the ununpentium will be incorporated into the Excursion Funnel, the Handheld Portal Device, and the Hard Light Bridge tests. Exceptionally dangerous results are predicted as results from future testing on the already unstable mobility gels. Still, Science requires that I ignore the risk."The white noise buzzed in their ears for a few seconds after she stopped talking. Once that faded the two were left in silence. The pilot thought about what he'd heard. Some tests on a strange element, test subjects, and hadn't she mentioned reanimation earlier? There was a time when he would have laughed at the idea, but that was before Aperture, before Black Mesa. He wasn't sure what was possible anymore. Maybe the shivering man before him had a right to be insane. Maybe it was insane to be sane after what he'd been through. Regardless, he needed to be sure. He hesitated before speaking. "Are we dealing with…" he felt ridiculous saying it, "zombies here?"
"Dead are rising," he said to the cube. "Am I? But I can't be. No. No, she brought me back. Back from stasis. Not from death. I'm alive." He looked to the pilot. "I'm alive."
He gave the cube a shove and crawled after it on hands and knees. He looked back to the pilot expectantly.
The pilot grunted. 'Dead are rising.' It wasn't the direct answer he was looking for. Hell, it wasn't even directed at him, but it was something. At least he was getting somewhere.
Crawling along after Doug, the pilot thought back to the… zombie that attacked him, and the painting; there were so many. He wondered how many more there could actually be. He nearly asked Rattman, but quickly decided against putting his guide into another panic attack. He wondered how many the man had faced, not even considering asking him. With all these unanswerable questions taunting him, he could feel his temper returning. The pilot knew he needed to learn something or he'd lose his cool.
"Where the hell are we going, anyway?"
Rattman paused. He turned to the pilot with a question of his own. "Why are you here?"
The pilot felt irritation wash over his thoughts. This guy was really bad at answering questions. "I asked my question first."
Doug didn't seem to care. "But what are you doing here?" he asked. "How did you even get here? The quarantine pro-"
"Just answer the damn question!" The pilot said, adding emphasis with his weapon.
"We have a few hideouts!" Doug said nervously. "Places where they can't reach, where it's safe to keep paint and food. Nonperishable. I haven't eaten in a while. I thought you might need some food, too."
The pilot lowered his weapon. Doug seemed to gain some courage from the gesture, enough at least to ask again.
"But why are you here?"
The pilot shrugged. He didn't see any harm in telling a person he was supposed to be helping. "Distress call. We were sent with orders to rescue any personnel and recover any useful tech."
"There are others?" Doug seemed hopeful, yet apprehensive.
The pilot pushed away the screams, the booming voice, the crash. "Only a few of us made it in. We were separated after that."
Doug seemed to ponder this information. He mumbled to himself, then fell silent as if expecting an answer. Finally he looked back at the pilot. "We have to find them. We'll stand a better chance as a group."
The pilot rolled his eyes. "Last time I saw them, one was at least three stories up and the other two were in a falling elevator. Even if they survived that and the… there's still no way we could just find them. I mean, how big is this place?"
"It's built on an old salt mine. It goes on for miles, but it's all linked by elevators and Pneumatic Diversity Vents. I can navigate the whole facility. The vents are our best bet since they can't get in here with the power out."
The pilot didn't share Doug's optimism, but the man was thinking. He had a plan. That was better than wandering around in the dark.
"Alright then," the pilot said. "Where do we start?"
Doug went to speak, but stopped. He sat frozen for a moment before asking, "Do you hear that?"
The pilot listened and heard it too. It was a subtle hissing at first, but it grew gradually in volume. A gentle breeze passed over him, less gentle as the noise grew louder.
"Oh no. How?" Was all Doug could say before an artificial gale blew away his mumbling. His lab coat and hair whipped spastically around him.
"What's going on?" The pilot shouted over the wind. He felt his feet lose traction, fell forward, and suddenly the unnatural wind was carrying him. He could see Rattman in front of him, and, despite the wind, caught some of what Doug said.
"I don't know how it reactivated- don't know where it's taking us!"
The pilot was hurtling through the ventilation system. He had no idea where he was going and no idea if he would survive the journey. To him the only significant difference between this and the elevator was a change of vertical to horizontal. Then, his stomach churned as the vent curved downward.
Hope you don't mind Rattman's unintelligible selfmusing. He's schizophrenic. The man can't help it. Oh yeah! If Rattman's character seems wrong, don't hold back. Advice will be appreciated.