a Half-Life fanfic by BondiBlue
with thanks to squirrelking, Osaka420 and TacticalF41L
Some things never change, John Freeman reflected.
For instance, even though mankind had been subjugated and enslaved by a sprawling interdimensional alien empire 20 years ago, here he was, in an office, typing on a computer.
Well, some things did change. For instance, John was, like several other Resistance generals, undercover as a Civil Protection officer on the Ground Crew, responding to calls of 'malcompliance' and 'social endangerment' to the Combine, in their capital of City 17. And what he was typing might also have surprised his past self; the forms that would disavow any involvement in the deaths of 3 other officers, which he would fill out with outright lies thanks to his murder of the officers in question. You didn't survive long in City 17 if you had any aversion to murder or high deceit.
John's drudgery was interrupted by a chime on his CP communicator. Not the standard 3-tone chime of a call coming in, but the four high beeps of a priority call from Black Mesa East - something important had happened. With a small noise of mixed surprise and content, he slinked off to some unregarded corner of the dispatch to take it.
As soon as John pressed the activation button, a deluge of noise sprung from the device. Grunts, screams, muffled explosions, all fought their way onto the line. John winced and turned the volume down, just before the noise was overpowered by a single, instantly recognizable voice. "John! Can you hear me? Oh, lord, is anyone even there?"
"Gordon?", John muttered, astounded. It was his brother, Gordon Freeman, taciturn Resistance symbol and theoretical physicist at large.
John had put Gordon out of his life years before the Combine invasion, back when Gordon got hired by the US government, and was shipped off to some secret location . He received the odd e-mail from Gordon from time to time, back when the world was still sane, but had no contact other than the stories that trickled down about Gordon from the people who knew him in the years since; Eli and Dr. Kleiner. There wasn't much anyone knew about his exploits after his defeat of the unknown force keeping the original portals to Earth from Xen open, but that had just added to his messianic mystique. The general consensus was that he was still out there, battling the Combine wherever he went.
Now, apparently, "wherever he went" was Black Mesa East.
John gathered his thoughts. "Gordon? What's happening?"
"John?" said Gordon, in a voice as staggered as John's. "Is that you?"
"You know it", John replied. "We can catch up later, what's wrong?"
"Okay..." Gordon panted a few times. "The Combine are shelling us. The whole place is caving in, and every alien and monster you can think of is in here. HELP US!"
Those last two words were spoken in such an imperative tone that John's signing off and walking out to the dispatch's lot to get a vehicle was almost involuntary. Gordon didn't talk much, but when he did, you definitely had to listen.
John always loved the compact motorcycles the Combine used for police transport. They could go faster than any two-wheeled vehicle Earth technology could make, and looked cool too. No one looked twice at a random officer taking a cycle, so John was easily able to get out of sight of the Dispatch building before he changed out of his Civil Protection uniform, into the comfier green and blue rebel outfit they had looted by the thousands from the Combine in the skirmish last summer.
As he mounted his cycle, John remembered the words of his far-off father, from a trivial childhood disappointment. "Never forget that you're a Freeman, John." his father had said. "And whatever happens you'll lead a full life, and live up to the family name."
The Freeman family name carried much more weight than it did then, John thought as he sped away, so he had quite a task ahead of them.
Out on the long, deserted roads by the old shipping canals that led to Eli's lab, John offered himself a moment to catch his breath. It was actually quite nice out here, on this cold November morning. The Combine hadn't bothered with these uninhabited areas, and the plant and animal inhabitants, their minds untouched by the Combine's suppression field, were thriving. It was a good day, reflected John. More the pity that Gordon was suffering.
John stopped as he saw a few headcrab zombies, wailing and clawing at each other. He wished he could finish off the poor souls, but he realized he had forgotten to carry any guns. After a mild obscenity or two, he continued on the way. He would just have to find something. There seemed to be guns and ammo everywhere these days, anyway.
A while later, John found an APC. at one of the river's chokepoints. It looked to have been damaged badly, but it was still lit up in patrol mode. He was surprised when he heard its intercom crackle to life with a "Citizen, stop right there."
John heard the door opening awkwardly, and heard echoing footsteps from within. With a jolt, John realized he had tripped the APC's radar gun -his vehicle, while official, was obviously going abnormally fast. He felt a smaller but worse jolt as he realized he had changed out of his Metrocop gear, a very stupid choice in hindsight.
John stared down at the ground as he heard the cop walk up to him, a bit unevenly. Then, the officer spoke.
"Hurrrrnunh gaaaaaaarrrrrrh." the officer said. John looked up and was surprised to see that the officer was in fact a high-ranking Combine Soldier, with a headcrab burrowed halfway through the soldier's helmet. John was surprised, the scramblers each Combine officers kept on their person were supposed to repel the creatures. For whatever reason, this soldier's had failed, and had retained enough motor functions to open a door.
"Greh naaaaaaahhhh!" the zombie burbled. It raised a lit grenade from its belt, and John had just enough time to run to the other side of the APC before a large explosion.
Shaking the ringing from his ears, John looked at the exploded corpse of the soldier. "Looks like you were the one who stopped right there.", he muttered after taking some time out to come up with a pithy one-liner (he had come up with better ones, but this would
have to do). Then he hopped on his cycle and left, thinking of his brother.
After almost a half hour, John became worried he was on the wrong path. His fears were confirmed when he noticed a pitted brown road sign, reading "RAVENHOLM". He noticed someone had drawn a red skull on the sign, fitting for a town headcrab-shelled to oblivion less than a month ago. He was on the verge of turning back when he heard a scream from inside the town.
John knew that scream couldn't possibly be from Gordon, he knew that going around would be safer, he knew that Ravenholm was infested with headcrabs...
He opened the cycle's throttle as far as it could go. This was a brutally efficient Combine-made vehicle, and its top speed was rather high.
John tore through the little town, faintly and happily registering spurts of blood as he mowed down packs of the shambling undead in the middle of the street. This was going better than he had expected. He was zooming along with the wind on his face, the zombies were no trouble at all, and judging by the towers, he was almost at Eli's lab...
And then his cycle ran out of power and ground to a halt. John shook his head to ward off his dizziness, and stumbled out. It looked like he was almost there, but he was on a cobblestone square, in front of an apartment building with as many as a dozen dormant zombies roused by the noise, as they groaned and lurched to their feet...
The screams of the zombies were what got to him. They communicated, wordlessly, that there was something conscious and human in there, and that it was in horrible agony. Killing them was a relief and a service to all involved, and John was only too happy to provide.
Providence came as John spied a submachine gun in a nearby nook. After a magazine's worth of shots, there were (as John's friend Barney Calhoun liked to say) a few less horrors in the world.
John holstered his gun, breathed deeply, and smelled rotten eggs. A bit puzzled, he found a propane can tucked away behind a pillar, connected to a few, apparently operational wires. Without thinking, John turned a knob on the can, and then did a double take, as the entire square caught on fire.
Zombies started wailing from inside the house, and made an almost comical procession out the door and into the burning gas as John watched, transfixed. It was a grim spectacle, and, now that John thought about it, it was obviously set up by someone with a sick sense of humor. Who? John didn't want to find out.
John got up and started to run, as fast as he could. The devastated Ravenholm buildings reminded him too much of death, but the ground was stained bright green with the alien blood of the headcrabs. John, instead, fixated his eyes on the metal tower at Eli's lab that served as his pole star, and, after a few minutes, reached a ladder that led down into the tunnels.
Navigating around a few cave-ins, John followed the sound of gunfire and explosions to the old scrap yard, where Alyx's simian robot D0G lived. Instead of D0G, there was a huge, slug-like Gunship which was flying erratically and firing, and...
"Gordon! I'm here! John!" John shouted. Gordon was wearing a bright orange metal-plated suit, and holding a rocket launcher. He stopped, and noticed the source of the shout. "OVER HERE!" John rushed to Gordon's side, as Gordon fired off a rocket, guiding it in a corkscrew before missing the gunship by inches and hitting a huge cliff.
Gordon harrumphed. "You're late, John, but thank you...thank you for coming." He winced. "I need a medkit now!" he said, visibly angry.
"Sure thing, wait a second..." John said, and stopped.
From his experience with the Combine's various forces,John knew there was almost no protection in the eyes. If need be, John could probably take out an entire Civil protection team with a single small sharp object. Now that he remembered that, he also noticed the purplish-blue multifaceted bulges on either side of the gunship, which were rotating slightly as the Gunship strafed and charged its cannon. John grabbed his gun and aimed for the eyes, unwavering as the gunship wailed and spun out of control, crashing in the distance.
Gordon stumbled around to face John, dropping his launcher. "John..." he breathed. "Thank you. Thank you... so much. It's been too long..."
"Glad I could help. And, Gordon... It's good to see you."
Gordon chuckled. John did too, and soon they were both in a madly giggling feedback loop. That stopped after a few seconds, when Gordon's laughter turned into a hacking cough. Gordon really was hurt, John probably should have gotten that medkit.
Gordon looked up, and gasped. He cocked his head to one side, as if listening for something. Then his jaw dropped.
John ran. He ran as fast as his legs would allow. He ran to a denser-packed part of the scrap yard, and as he squeezed up against a shipping container, he looked back saw what Gordon had been listening for.
A fifty-foot, three-legged monster; a Strider. A strider that was now making an escalating whine as it charged up its space-warping secondary cannon, aimed squarely at Black Mesa East. John could only watch as Gordon ran across a catwalk, and leapt into the air.
And then there was sound, and light. A lot of sound and light.
And then there was Gordon, his metal suit turned black and evaporating around him as he lay still on the ground.
John ran to his brother's side, and leaned over his slight form. Gordon was motionless.
"NOOO!" John screamed. "GORDON! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!"
-To be continued-