Raising the bar Vignettes
This page includes all the RTB story Vignettes transcribed and in picture format.
- 1 Proposed opening/Length: 2 pages/Date: June 2nd 2000
- 2 The Slideshow Briefing/Length:2 pages/Date: Unknown
- 3 Alyx Vingtte/Length:2 pages/Date: Unknown
- 4 Now Arriving: City 17
- 5 Weather Control Vignette
- 6 Train to City 17 Introduction
- 7 In the Ant Lions Den
- 8 Old Friends
- 9 Scrapland
Proposed opening/Length: 2 pages/Date: June 2nd 2000
A proposed opening to Half-Life 2 by Marc Laidlaw. The intent being to show the 10 year timeskip between the first and second game. Famously used in most beta mods. The G-man and you sit on a green hill overlooking a meadow, as the game shifts and teleports you through time, turning the earth into the wasteland and then the rise of the citadel. At the end of the story you walk onto the train at the beginning of the game, and time places you into the current world.
TIMELAPSE OPENING [Proposed 6/2/00]
The basic idea is to convey the passage of time between HL1 and HL2 visually, using our new terrain ans shader effects and the teleport tricks we used in the original Test Chamber Disaster sequence. It should be a direct continuation of the end of HL: You are still in the G-Man's custody and control, still basically suspended outside normal spacetime, which makes it fairly easy to say that 10 years have passed in what for you is the blink of an eye.
EXT. WIDE GREEN MEADOWS
You fade in standing on a slight rise in the midst of beautiful rolling hills. The grass is green; at your feet is a small flowing brook; the hills are crowned with occasional willow. The sky is blue and fresh; birds are singing in the trees. In the distance, on the horizon, is a modern city. It's an idyllic scene. You can almost smell the fresh air. We show our terrain in all its splendor.
The G-MAN appears just behind you-or perhaps he has been standing there all along. You are still contained in his sphere of influence, meaning that you can turn and move in any direction, but only for a very short distance. You cannot leave the crown of the hill.
G-MAN: Hello again, Mr. Freeman. Sorry to keep you waiting. Not
that the passage of time has had any meaning for you, but
elsewhere it's a different story. I've been wondering how
to explain what the world has become in your absence. I
decided simply to show you.
There is an odd quickening, a sense of metamorphosis in the environment. The sky begins to darken ominously. The vivid green color begins to leach from the grass and leaves. The bird song is fading. The sound of wind begins to sweep up. The running water in the creek sinks into its bed.
G-MAN: Don't blink or you will miss it. Sometimes everything can
There is a sudden flash. Suddenly everything has changed. The earth is brown; the sky is gray The streambed is dry and black. The trees are twisted skeletons now. The sound of birds has been replaced by the distant cries of houndeyes and bullsquids. A crow crouches in the black willows, cawing. On the horizon, the city appears grey, no longer lively. A pall hangs over it. In the sky, streaks of deadly light, dark aircraft. Explosions bloom on the horizon. Louder, louder, the explosions come closer, closer. A Combine dropship screams overhead and there is another explosion, surrounding you.
Throughout all the changes, the G-Man continues to talk calmly.
G-MAN: Don't be nervous, Mr. Freeman. We're not really here...not
ANother flash engulfs you, and as it fades you find the land has changed again. The earth is utterly blasted. The streambed is choked with ashes. The trees are gone. There is a new sound in the wasteland where you stand, an ugly insect chirring. The city is a blackened ruin, its surviving towers tilted and about to fall. The sky is choked with smoke. From the center of the city, an alien spire begins to rise, towering over the damaged human structures, A light flares out from the spire, like a beacon.
G-MAN: Ten years is a long time for most people-a lifetime for
some. Long enough to heal the first scars of the whip.
Long enough to forget the little things, like the taste of
fresh air. But you remember, don't you, Mr. Freeman? It
was no time at all, for you.
As he talks, a strip of shining rail begins to extentd across the land in front of you, pointing toward the city. In the distance, you begin to hear the sounds of a train. It gets louder and louder as he speaks.
G-MAN: I think that covers just about everything. All that
remains is to put you in the picture.
The Wasteland Train appears, slicing into view like a rusted knife. It squeals to a halt directly in front of you, and sits there hissing and ticking as it cools. A door opens in the side of the rear car.
G-MAN: All aboard, Mr. Freeman. Time waits for one man.
You climb aboard the train. There are several passengers on the car, but they are frozen in their seats, caught in mid-motion, completely unaware of you.
The door hisses shut. A moment later the sounds of movement commence. The train begins to crawl forward. The G-Man slides out of sight on the blasted hill. And the other passengers slowly, then abruptly, lurch back into life.
One of them, Samuel, looks up at you sharply.
SAMUEL: Hey, you startled me!
The Slideshow Briefing/Length:2 pages/Date: Unknown
A sequence in which Eli Maxwell subjects Gordon to a slideshow showing what has happened between HL1 and HL2. There's a gap in the middle - the first page cuts out mid-paragraph and the next available section doesn't continue the cut-off sentence.
- Eli powers up the slide projector. A white image flashes of his room, where he has hung up a white sheet.
ELI: Let's see mow...where does this start?
The following images appear as he speaks:
- Areal view of Black Mesa
- Inbound train
- Test Chamber'
ELI: Black Mesa. Lets not dwell on that. Nobody's blaming you. We all have to accept some responsibility...what matters is what we do next. I'll get to that. After the disaster, well...lets just say, the ripples kept spreading.
The next few scenes have the feel of Norman Rockwell in hell:
- Headcrabs leaping onto shoppers from supermarket shelves.
- Bullsquids chasing a family from a suburban house; pack of houndeyes roaming down Elm Street
- Gargantua overturning a tractor as a farmer flees across a Nebraska field
- Ichthyosaur materializing in a public pool, right under a nose-pinching kid who just jumped off the high-dive
ELI: The countryside, the suburbs all those hard-to-patrol places, got pretty much uninhabitable. People started crowding into cities for protection.
- People clustered at a cyclone fence topped with razor wire, city skyline rising behind; cops stand tensely on guard towers, blasting away at headcrab zombies outside the perimeter.
ELI: There was an illusion of safety, for a time. And then the Citadels appeared. It happened in a split second, all over the world. A chunk would disappear from the center of a city., to be replaced an instant later by one of these headquarters for the Combine. Invasion Central.
- City-center completely cored, buildings sheared off, an enormous pit appearing out of nowhere, and people falling into it.
- The same view, with a Citadel now towering at the center of all ---
ELI: Say hello to your new masters.
- Creamators, striders, Combine machines pouring out of the Citadel into the city. Combine dropships tearing through the air.
ELI: Oh, we resisted.
- Tanks, soldiers, human army advancing on the Citadel
- The same troops reuced to ashes, completely obliterated.
ELI: Earth put up a fight that lasted all of seven hours.
- A smoldering Pentagon-shaped pile of ashes
ELI: And then, one man who had seized about all the power a man can seize in a crisis, used that power to arrange our surrender.
- The Consul, at the foot of the Radio Tower, wearing a headset, hands raised high to the dropships as he proclaims Earth's surrender
ELI: The call him the Consul now. It worked out fine for him., He speaks for the Combine; he shares in their power. As for the rest of us....
- Views of City 17, citizens slouching
- Air Exchange belching black fumes
- Drained seabed with beached ships, whale bones
ELI: Well you've seen the state of things. They're replacing the air with something we can hardly breathe. They're draining the ocean. We don't know if they're preparing the planet for new residents, or just stripping it of every possible resource. All we do know is that we have to stop them. And that's where you come in Mr.Freeman. It's up to you to....
- The projector goes dark.
Alyx Vingtte/Length:2 pages/Date: Unknown
Gordon meets alyx
How long he had slept—how he had even managed to sleep—Gordon was unsure. The sound of the tracks clattering somewhere underneath the boxcar must have lulled him. And he had been moving nonstop for so long now; no wonder exhaustion had finally claimed him. But suddenly the pitch of things changed. must have been some hint of it, reaching into his dreamless sleep like a premonition, for he woke a moment before there was any overt reason to awake. He was still alone in the munitions car, hidden among the crates and canisters, all of it gently shuddering from side to side, the smell of machine oil and the stink of diesel filling the air He was hungry, with his meal at Eli's now many hours behind him, and it was cold, as if the suit's regulators were not functioning properly. He was beginning to develop a dread that the HEV suit might crap out at any moment, leaving him stranded, with its mnemoflex joints frozen into a rigid state, its autolocks dead. Here he would lie, awaiting the arrival of the guards like the rest of the cold unmoving crates in the car.
But the dread had little time to develop, as the explosion cut it short.
The train rolled sideways, flung from the track. The crates that had shielded him now flew away from him, and he curled into a ball to let the suit protect as much of him as possible from the heavy containers. Even several of the cases strapped to the walls or bolted to the floors tore loose in the moment, the Immense torque shearing steel bolts clean off. Gordon came to rest as an alarm whistle shrilled; he had managed to land on top of a cabinet the size of a refrigerator. He could hear shouts, gunfire, more explosions in the distance. He stood up on the cabinet, reaching for the side loading door which was now directly overhead; he could barely reach it, and knew there was little chance that it would budge, even with better purchase.
Suddenly bootsteps clamored across the door. Paused. He imagined soldiers up above, swarming to protect their shipment. Something clanked down on the thick metal with a maddeningly familiar sound. Where had he heard it before?
The faint high-pitched whine of an activated detonator brought the memory into clear focus.
Gordon leapt for the farthest corner of the car, sheltered by the cases that had nearly killed him, hoping that now they would save his life. The blast came the instant he hit metal. Shrapnel seared the back of his head; there was an acrid tang that sent him up coughing. It was partially from the open air, partially from the explosive. He rose up involuntarily, wracked with fumes, and saw the night sky above him. The current ceiling (once wall) of the boxcar gaped inward like a scorched metal flower. There was a pair of legs dangling in past the sharpened petals. Legs sheathed in black, heavy boots swinging back and forth as if the wearer had just dropped down at the edge of a pond to fish. But instead of a fishing pole, there was a gun trained down on him, its laser sight picking him out in the smoldering dark. He shaded his eyes from the red beam, and heard a soft voice whisper something like, "Check him, Snitch."
Gordon gasped as a thing hopped down into the car and came toward him, hopping from crate to crate as it sniffed him out. It looked wet, permanently; the colors were of a toxic brilliance; he couldn't find the eyes, but it had far too many teeth. It crouched above him, flicked its tongue out for a taste, and he felt an acid welt begin to rise across his cheek.
"Don't move," said the person above him. "One bite and you'll be dead by your next breath."
Then he heard a thud, and the figure dropped in. He knew instantly—even with the heavy black gear, the belts of ammo, the goggles and the short-cropped hair—that it was a woman. She crept up until she was next to her pet. She made a click with her tongue, as if gentling a horse, and the thing wound around and flowed onto her shoulder, settling itself there like a glistening stole.
A light clicked on, blinding him. And she gasped.
"You!" she said. "What're you—"
At that moment they both heard footsteps outside—grinding through cinders, it sounded like. She switched off the light and he felt a gloved hand over his mouth. As if he needed silencing. The steps were coming closer, but there were no voices; they must have had a way of communicating silently. He had no doubt the car was being surrounded.
"All right" she whispered, "I'm going to trust you. I can use some help carrying stuff anyway. Take this, and come on up."
She unhooked something from her belt; Gordon felt a weapon pushed into his hand. He wasn't sure what it was, but he found a trigger, and that was enough to get started. She gave him her hand and he scrambled up onto the box as quietly as he could. She hooked her fingers over the edge of the blasted opening hauled herself up, knelt there in silhouette on the top of the car. As Gordon started up, she began yanking grenades from her belt and lobbing them down into the shadows around wherever the car had come to rest. The explosions were mixed with the sound of metal tearing and ragged screams. Gordon rose up beside her, firing down at the figures moving below. The faint light that pervaded the open tracts of wasteland gleamed on metal, but he couldn't be sure they weren't men as well. It was over in a few moments; she had an uncanny accuracy with the grenades that didn't seem to be entirely related to their advantage of height.
"More on the way," she said. "Big ones. Let's stock up and get out of here."
She ducked back into the boxcar. He heard a muffled explosion as she blasted open a container down below, then she started tossing smaller cases up to him. A moment later she was up again.
"Oh, I'm Alyx," she said, stuffing the cases into random pockets on her outfit. "l already know who you are. And I think I can probably guess where you're going."
She pointed out a mounded shape, just visible through the enveloping smog; it looked like the shell of a vast slumbering beetle; a streamlined mountain of corroded metal. From the density of the fumes, the stink in the air and the burning in his eyes, he suspected he had arrived at what Eli had called, "The Air Conditioner."
Alyx tensed and got to her feet, swinging her gun down into her hand. Something was coming. Out on the horizon, jaunting through the fog with a long-legged gait, more than one of them. He squinted, making out what looked like an enormous tripod, surmounted with a huge body, a faint sheen of lenses. He thought of Dog, briefly; one of Dog's cousins, at the height of its powers. There was a sullen flash deep in the eye of the distant thing, and suddenly he and Alyx were flung from the roof of the car. He came down hard in the cinders, lay there dazed for a moment, wondering where he was, until suddenly he felt tiny needles biting into his ear.
He came back to himself, pushing her little beast, Snitch, away from his head. The cub darted back, licking its jaws, baring the hypodermic teeth.
"She just gave you an adrenaline injection," Alyx said, holding out her arm as the thing climbed back up to her shoulder. "l didn't think you'd mind. Right now, we're going to need to run."
From the far side of the boxcar, the first of the tripods rose up and trained its eye upon them. The eye began to warm again, cycling up for another burst. Alyx had already scrambled away Gordon was on his feet and running an instant before the thought of flight crossed his mind.
The landscape was coated in a poisonous residue, cinnabar and sulfur and whatever other precipitates came sifting down from the Combine's atmospheric reprocessor. Caustic particles drifted in a steady snow. Gordon clambered up a slope that crumbled into greenish powder under his gloves. Alyx was firing at something from the top of the ridge, then she leapt down into a culvert holding a thin stream of acid. Gordon splashed in after her, thinking he saw silhouetted figures on the far side—wondering if they had seen him. Alyx moved quietly up the gulley, but as Gordon followed he heard movement behind them. Tall shapes, gleaming armor, bristling with weapons, appeared on the edge of the ravine. So much for the advantage of height. Alyx noticed them at the same time he did.
"Shit," she whispered. "Combine Elite."
They looked like metal, but their movements were muffled, almost silent Gordon never heard the squad that had dropped into the culvert ahead of them. All he knew was that suddenly they were surrounded....
Now Arriving: City 17
Phosphenes flare across his eyelids. Hisssss of decompression. And then a sudden chill.
Chill...at least it is a sensation. He has felt nothing for...how long now? Has he been sleeping? Even in sleep one imagines sensations: sights, sounds, tastes. But for Gordon Freeman, for so long, there has been nothing. Not even sleep. Something deeper. Darker. Something so numbing that this brush of icelike vapor feels like the warmth of dawn.
Brighter now. Something moving out there. Someone. More sensations joining in the mix. Pain flooding back into his limbs. He would rub his hands, rub the feeling back into them, but he cannot be sure of their location. It's not completely reassuring to know he has a body into which this pain can creep. Less reassuring is the voice that crawls inside him, stealthy as the hiss of icy steam:
"Rise and shine, Gordon Freeman. I do believe I've kept you waiting long enough."
That voice...and somewhere, a blurred shape emerging from the darkness. A withered face, narrow eyes, a visage that seems simultaneously paralyzed and possessed by erratic tics that hint at extreme senility or neural damage. It floats in the vapor, blurred at the edges, seeming insubstantial. He has heard the voice somewhere before...somewhen....
"Ten years, Mr. Freeman. It won't seem that way to you, of course. But 10 years is a long time. Long enough for humanity to swallow its pride and begin to accept its common fate. Long enough for your fellow man to develop callouses against the master's collar. Long enough for the first scars of whiplash to begin to heal. Long enough to forget how things used to be."
There was a ticking sound now, a low drumming clatter. The voice was beginning to fade, the face receding. Sensation solidified into substance.
"But you won't have forgotten, Mr. Freeman. You still remember how the air used to taste. You remember how freedom felt. You remember...the sky."
And it was gone. A hard surface beneath him. The clattering sound sprang loud in his ears and he knew it as the sound of a train jammering over tracks.
He opened his eyes. A face—not the strangely familiar one seen through mist, but a stranger bending over him. He sat bolt upright, startling the other man, his fellow passenger. Swinging around in his seat, casting wildly around him. It was a train car, and for a moment it overlapped in his memory with another train, in another time. Had any time passed? How had he come here?
"Mister, you can't ride around like that," the man was saying, watching him with concern. His voice was an urgent whisper. "Where's your mask? Take one step outside without it, you'll be coughing up bloody foam. It can kill you that fast. Here, look, I've got a spare. Can't be too careful. I had one fail on me once, and I've carried an extra ever since. Took some real damage that time. I hope I don't get in trouble for this, but you need it more than I do. Come on...train'll be coming into City 17 any minute now. Get this on."
He found he could hardly raise his hands. Life was slow in returning to them. As he tried to get his bearings, the stranger slipped a mask over his face, let the straps fall tight behind his head. A taste of stale carbon, and a moment that felt like suffocation. Then he began to calm down...reminded himself to think, study, plan his moves. Gordon peered out through the slightly rounded goggles at the dilapidated car.
Torn seat cushions; dingy light fixtures, half of them burned out; the floor strewn with cinders and sawdust and crushed cigarette butts; brushed aluminum panels showing marks of peeled-off advertisements. Here and there were posters of a solemn face, owl-eyed, watching over the passengers. Always the same expression. Always some variant of the same brief message: THE CONSUL SAYS...RELAX. THE CONSUL SAYS...REPORT.
"There you go."
The stranger fell back in the opposite seat, across the car, looking relieved and smiling slightly. Beyond him, the windows opened onto a blasted landscape. Wrack and ruin, desolation, shattered shards of a half-known landscape that only partly resembled anything he had seen before. It was as if the world he had known, the former world, had been lifted up entire and dropped from a great height. Crushed buildings; teetering spikes with frayed wires dangling from them. Fat, bloated trees that seemed to snatch and sniff at the train, as if sculling dusty plankton from the slipstream.
"Name's Samuel, by the way. Samuel G- 11789RF, if you want to be formal. Came through here, saw you laid out like that on the bench, I thought you'd already bought it. Don't know how they'd let you on the Express without a mask anyway. You must've been working in a dome, right? Out in the Waste? We were wondering why they 'd stop the Express out in the middle of nowhere like that— never seen that before. Are you from City 17 originally? I got my Notice a couple days ago: Shift to 17. Same old game. Shuffle the population, keep 'em confused. Spent my last trimester in 49. I've never been in the same zone more than six months. 17's supposed to be nice enough. I hear the Consul 's been stationed there for the time being. Might even get a look at him in person. Some people still hate him. but I say...how can you hold it against him? It was strike a deal or lose everything, right? We owe him big-time, the way I see it. I'd sure like to see him in person. Hey...there it is. 17."
Gordon shifted, looking out the window behind him. Something immense sprawled on the horizon, a shadow glimpsed through shifting gases like smoke perpetually rising from the ruins, as if they harbored a fire that could never be extinguished.
Layered towers paled into distance, located somewhere beyond the tangled sprawl of debris that made a menace of the landscape. Tiers of buildings of uncertain age and architecture rose in ranks, starlike—a self-contained metropolis, sketched in acid mist. Beyond those, harder to see, an immense irregular spire with its tip lost in the fumes that hid the heavens.
Samuel said, "I've gotta say...it looks a lot like 49. And 40 before that. They all look pretty much alike from this distance. Only when you get into them can you start to get an idea of how the place looked before...you know. Just before."
Gordon didn't see the tunnel coming. For a moment he thought the smoke had thickened so suddenly it had put out all light; but the sound of the train closed in around them, trapping them in a tube of darkness. Not long after that, a few dim lights flickered past, casting their wan glow on a gray amalgam of broken rock and cinderblock crammed together with bits of scrap metal. He thought he saw a human femur jutting from the wall; a rounded socket that could have been part of a skull. They passed through a portal of sharpened steel, razor-edged doors retracting for the train, and the walls become smooth, dark, regular. And then the wheels were screaming. The train seemed to sway on the track as it started to brake. Lights flared ahead, space opened around them, and they floated into the station.
"Now arriving," said the train. "City 17."
Weather Control Vignette
The first they knew of the Combine's arrival was a distant roar. Gordon looked to the sky, clearer now than it had been since his arrival, the thready strands of greenish vapor finally receding, actual sunlight beginning to strike through. The canyons of ice through which they steered the battered Bradleys threatened the first faint glimmerings of glare; he'd need sunglasses soon if it kept on like this.
But with the heart-lifting glimpse of the sky came the reminder of death—more of a promise than a reminder.
Slicing through the mists, so high that at first he thought them birds, came a swarm of ships. Light, swift aircraft passed across his vision long seconds before he heard the shock of their passage. The clouds swallowed them up. For a moment all was still. The Bradleys rumbled on, but the soldiers, Vance's men, grew silent and shifted their grips on their weapons.
A second later, they were engulfed in an explosion of ice. A canyon wall blew into glittering shards. Gordon saw the Bradley nearest to the wall hurled spinning across their path; it sank head-on into the opposite wall. Another explosion, this one somewhere behind, deafened him.
He could see the soldiers shouting, but heard nothing but the ringing. He knelt instinctively, trying to find some protection, and as he did he saw another of the Combine airships sweep low over the canyon, directly overhead. Something hit the ice in front of them. The men who noticed hurled themselves out of the back of the Bradley, as if the vehicle itself might offer cover. Gordon flung himself to the snow, and then was flung by the force of the blast.
When he regained his senses, he saw the other men struggling to free themselves from the mounded snow. A few did not move. Up ahead, a grayish figure covered in ice made a bold gesture, beckoning them forward. The soldiers staggered forward, as the surviving Bradleys continued to rumble up the canyon toward their destination. He caught a glimpse of Alyx's face in the back of the rearmost Bradley, and was surprised by the sense of relief that touched him then.
Tensed against further strikes from above, Gordon scrambled toward the ice-covered soldier. As he drew closer, he saw it was Vance himself, rallying the men, shouting orders he could barely hear. But the squad seemed to know what to do. Spread out across the width of the canyon, they hurried on, skidding and sliding on the ice. The canyon opened out, and around the next bend Gordon got his first sight of the Weather Station.
It was a low dome, jutting with antennae and radar dishes, tiny red lights blinking above them. Around the dome were more structures, built low and painted white, almost indistinguishable from their surroundings. The whole thing was sprinkled with snow, like powdered sugar, but it was hardly a pristine image. There had already been fighting here. Smoke rose from a crack in the dome. The soldiers stationed inside the station had massed against the Combine operators as the news of the uprising spread; the fighting had torn it apart from within.
Vance caught sight of Gordon, grabbed him by the arm, and thrust his craggy face close to Gordon's ear: "There's a cargo plane coming for you, Freeman, but god only knows how long it'll take to get here—if it makes it through at all. Once we get you aboard, you can take those chips back to City 17. But we've got to last that long. We'll hold off the Combine as long as we can from out here, then well fall back into the Weather Station. I'm not anxious to get holed up in there, sitting targets, but we're awfully damn exposed out here."
As if to underline his words, a shadow fell over them. Gordon looked up to see an enormous ship crest the edge of the canyon, so close that it seemed to be crawling across the ice.
"Jesus, that's a mech carrier," Vance said. "I didn't think they'd be here this soon. Get moving!"
To Gordon's horror, the carrier drifted to a spot between him and the Weather Station. He expected it to settle on the ice, blocking their route completely. Instead, a hatch gaped in its belly, and a huge metallic parcel was lowered to the snow. As the carrier lifted, the package opened itself, metal unfolding into a nightmare that by now had grown familiar. It was a mech, one of the same that had chased him across the wasteland and harried him and Alyx. It was a cousin to Eli's robot, Dog, but apparently new-minted, and still without blemish; there was nothing awkward or hesitant about its first steps.
Gordon stared at the thing in something like awe, but the soldiers shared none of his wonder. They had seen the mechs many times, perhaps even fought alongside them; but never before had they fought against one. Still, they didn't hesitate. As if they had rehearsed exactly such an encounter, they moved into defensive positions. Each man seemed to know his role. Gordon began firing at the metal shell of the thing, but without much sense of its weaknesses—if it had any. But the soldiers were more methodical. The mech began targeting them, neatly pruning men from the unit, but for every soldier it killed, another one seemed to advance further in the unit's plan.
Gordon's pulse quickened when he spotted Alyx down there, in the fray. She had leapt from one of the Bradleys while the others sped on toward the Weather Station, and she was coming up on the mech from behind. She had a grenade out, primed, ready to throw. Vance shouted something and ran straight for her, and his cry must have distracted her—for the grenade went wide, exploding in mid-air to one side of the mech's "head."
The thing stopped, judging this explosive more of a threat than anything the soldiers carried, and began to pivot its heavy head to bear on Alyx. Gordon might have shouted something himself, but he was aware of nothing but Alyx standing there, looking suddenly so small, so alone, the brightest possible target in all that ice. He was running, firing helplessly at the shining carapace, running like Vance toward his daughter.
The mech's head did something, it pulsed with a faint glow as if powering up for a particularly lethal strike. One of the gun barrels swung toward Alyx, who backed away in atypical shock, as if she couldn't believe her throw had gone so wrong.
The mech began to fire, but in that instant its entire upper carapace exploded.
Gordon saw smoke rising from the direction of the Weather Station, trailing from the barrel of a huge gun located on the field below the dome. The blast had thrown sheets of accumulated ice from an installation of antiaircraft weapons. And now other guns began to spit fire and missiles as the men from the Bradleys leapt into the bunkers and began to take on the airships.
Alyx had fallen, but by the time Gordon reached her she had regained her feet, with Captain Vance helping her up. She gave them both a brief flicker of a smile, then shrugged toward the guns. "They're going to need our help up there." She started running. She was still running when the next wave of shadows swept over the canyon, and the Combine forces—not merely advance guard—arrived in earnest.
Train to City 17 Introduction
Brief: As in HL1, the trainride must showcase all the promises we’re making about our new games and technology. From a storytelling perspective, the trainride must unwind in such a way that it helps tell the story of event in Gordon’s absence. Starting with familiar elements, the landscape will get stranger and more ravaged as we approach City 17. Train announcements, posters on the train, overheard conversations among other passengers will also serve to clue the player to the new world.
You are in the Wild Train, speeding across the ominous landscape of the Wild.
TRAIN PA [tbd] Train announcements play continually, in ironic counterpoint to the vistas seen from the windows. They prepare the passengers (and by extension the player) for arrival in City 17, giving them some idea of the paperwork and processing they must submit when they arrive.
Nonliteral transition effects: Each time you pass through the darkness of a tunnel, the population of the car changes to give the impression that you are still in the G-Man’s influence, that the passage of time and distance is being blurred. Distinctive sound and visual artifacts will help to give these moments the G-Man’s stamp, and they will be used in later parts of the game, at moments of transition and fugue, when we again wish to bridge the passage of time and show the G-Man’s influence. The style of the G-Man "shock-out" should be prototyped based on the experimental Hazard Course map.
For the next several minutes, we pass through representative zones of the Wild, each sector telling a bit of the story of the last 10 years. We move from remove wild into successively more fortified and urban areas until we are in the heart of City 17. The changes are gradual, covering a spectrum. Meanwhile, we play out a scene with your fellow passenger, including the incidents described below; we run announcements from the Wildland Train’s PA system; we allow the player to move and look around freely, providing enough events that they can play this opening sequence several times and continue to notice and discover new details. The views are always of things the train is leaving behind, providing a novel and disorienting twist of previous train rides.
The train car itself is a decrepit passenger car, ugly, weird and functional rather than comfortable. The windows are protected by shutters that raise and lower at the engineer’s will, some are webbed with impact cracks. Peeling propaganda posters show the face of Dr. Breen as well as views of the CITADEL. The other passengers sit huddled in their seats. The one at the rear of the car is known as SAMUAL G-11789RF; he is the one character who will interact with you. The others will only grunt, shake their heads, and mutter "Leave me alone." if you try to interact with them (using +use).
As the ride begins (in motion), the train speeds through a nightmarish landscape, with wide panoramic views of a mutilated countryside. Distant ruined objects are silhouettes on the horizon. There are twisted shapes of what used to be trees, tangled forests of dead wood. An occasional crumbled chimney and marks of building foundations. Broken roads with overturned hulks of cars, trucks, buses, tractors. And in the midst of everything, glimpses of movement; Alien fauna. Grimy shapes that might be massive bullsquid; packs of houndeyes that hunger has turned into fierce, voracious predators; and new things, never seen before.
Off to one side, you see another train hurtling through the dusk. It gives you some sense of the train you are riding. The nose of the engine car is protected by a huge deadly variant on a cow-catcher, a sharpened steel plow designed to shear through herds of whatever creatures might stray across the tracks or try to take the train head-on. Something that resembles the old Gargantua looms up from a fissure, lunging at the parallel train, and the engine slices right through the thing, leaving it in gory pieces on the track.
The wild gradually gives way to a more suburban variety of ruins. Now we see broken buildings, choked streets, and fewer monsters. On the horizon, in the distance, we see huge bipodal shapes, enormous mortar-mechs, marching in silhouette against the marbled strip of reddish sky. Machines have replaced beasts as the biggest threat. We will encounter these creatures, and all these areas, later in the game, on foot.
Something hurls itself against the train, smashing part of a wind. Noxious gas trickles into the car. The thing, whatever it is, clings to the roof of the car. You can hear it scrabbling about up there, but all you see is one grasping, sucker lined appendage or tentacle which continues to flail at the broken window. The passengers take little notice of it. The passenger sitting at the broken window merely gets up and moves to the other side of the car. When the train is struck, the car shudders and several suitcases slide from the overhead racks and crash down onto the floor. They are all empty.
The train tracks, closer to City 17, begin to run through a protective barrier of electrified wire fences. Caught in the wires are the skeletal and charred remains of monsters that have killed themselves trying to get at the most reliable source of food in the wild. Beyond the wires, other creatures watch hungrily as you pass. Occasionally, something huge makes a rush at the fence and dies there in an explosion of sparks.
Closer to the city, the train passes through mountains of debris. It’s as if bulldozers have pushed all the remains of the old world out here forming a huge barrier that surrounds City 17. You look down into ravines full of poisonous liquid, monsters foraging and burrowing into the scraps. The broken carapace of one of the mortar-mechs lies near the train, if you happen to know what you’re looking at.
The train slows for no obvious reason. At the rear, you become aware of a pack of wild monsters that have someone gotten inside the track barrier. They are galloping up on the train from behind. As they come closer, the train pulls slowly through a huge set of gates. The monsters are gaining on the train – just about to leap through the gates when a pair of auto turrets mounted on either gate open fire on the pack, tearing the beasts to shreds as the gates slam shut.
The train moves at reduced speed through a security area. CREMATORS are at work in the train yard, hosing the yard with fire - catching headcrabs and perhaps a bullsquid that have managed to get into the perimeter, and incinerating them.
The next area is a former switching yard. You can see other trains coming into City 17 through other gates. Metropolice patrol the yard. Stalkers move about busily, in the dim light it’s difficult to see them clearly. One of the stalkers is crushed beneath the rails of a train, but no one seems to notice.
Beyond the switching yard, the train passes out into the Old City on an elevated track. The ground drops away, and we thread slowly between old brick buildings, lopped-off freeway ramps, deserted streets. Fires burn down in the crumbled buildings; there might be people in there but it’s hard to be sure. In a street below, a man runs out of an alley and rushes down the street, parallel with the train. Behind him, a squad of Metropolice step from the alley and open fire. The man falls. The scene passes from view as the train moves in, into a tunnel.
When the train emerges, it is winding through a section of the New City. Grey, fortress-like buildings, cold and inhospitable. The train slides slowly past an apartment building that looks like a prison gun-tower. You get a glimpse into one of the apartments; it is uninviting, sparsely furnished. A TV glares from the wall, and on the screen you have your first glimpse of the living Dr. Breen, making one of his interminable broadcast speeches. There is a family gathered around the TV. All of them are wearing their rubber suits and masks. Beyond the building, in an open square, a giant monitor looks down on the avenue below. The same Dr. Breen broadcast is projected here. You see pedestrians and buses moving below. Things are too orderly. Regimented.
Above the buildings, for the first time, you get a view of the Citadel, an ominous alien spire that looms at the center of City 17. It’s a brief glimpse, for now.
The train now screeches into Station 17, braking. The Station is elevated above street level, beyond the security checkpoints, stairs and ramps and escalators run down to the street, or arch off to some of the buildings. You pass into a tunnel, the station proper, and the train comes to a halt at the security gate.
TRAIN PA Now arriving, City 17.
In the Ant Lions Den
The dust cloud swirled away, erasing Father Grigori 's footprints. The ruinous shadows of Ravenholm swallowed up any further trace of the priest.
Gordon turned from the field of scurry-mines and loped toward a ridge of rocks where some previous traveler had piled a cairn of stones on the ridge and thrust a stake with a fluttering rag in the midst of them as an additional marker.
A trail, Father Grigori had said. There is a trail of sorts to Eli's camp. But few survived the journey. Which is why so many chose to remain here with me...despite the promise of greater security that Eli offered. There are things out there. I've seen them at the edge of town. They don't come close. For which I thank God.
The view from the ridge was one of stillness and desolation. The landscape was scattered with tangled metal, as if the contents of an enormous junkyard had been strewn here from a great height. There would be cover from air patrols, but the shadows underneath the huge scraps of metal held their own promise of horror.
Far off he heard a strange keening sound he had not heard since Black Mesa, and thought he saw a distant yellow flash.
An isolated houndeye was no great concern.
But if he were to run into a pack....
He raised his binoculars and scanned the dark valley below. Another small heaped shape marked the next trail marker. Before leaving, he glanced down at the cairn beside him. Closer study showed that one of the rocks was scratched with a faint weathered symbol—the same lambda sign that had marked secret caches in the sewers of City 17. Seeing a faint glimmer from within the pile, he loosened one of the rocks and uncovered a small medical kit. He didn't need it yet. since Father Grigori had patched his wounds, but he was thankful to have it.
Gordon scrambled down the slope and leapt from an overhang that brought him down hard on the earth of the sprawling junkyard. Some rocks, unsettled by his descent, continued rolling past him and bounced across the hardpan, banging against scrap metal, stirring up noises he wished had not been stirred. More worrying was the soft hissing that came like an echo, or an answer.
What was it?
As he watched, the last of the tumbling stones rolled across the rusted curve of an old aircraft fuselage and settled on the sand. But it did not stop there. It continued sinking until it vanished. The sandy hissing continued for a moment after that. Then all fell still again.
Gordon studied his surroundings with a more critical eye. The stone cairn up ahead looked more like an island now, set with great deliberation on solid ground. But around it, between the metal scraps, the earth looked as if it had been freshly turned, or pushed up from below. What exactly could he expect if he set foot on the plentiful sandy patches? It began to remind him uneasily of the fine sand around the edge of an ant lion's funnel...but without the clear border of the ant lion's trap, that would have made it so easy for him to avoid.
A sand-blasted cola bottle lay half-buried, choked with dried mud, on the ground near his feet. He picked it up and gingerly lobbed it onto a patch of sand just beyond where the rock had vanished.
Within seconds, the bottle too was gone, leaving only a puff of dust that quickly settled. Gordon crept across the fuselage fragment as if it were a raft bearing him across a sea of dust. The silt was a fine powder, almost a liquid. Something had converted ordinary soil into this. Some Combine process? Where was the sense in that? Perhaps a creature. Yes. A creature like an earthworm. Swallowing up the earth and transforming it into this silty medium, so much easier to travel through for things that might swim beneath the soil.
Earthworms were harmless, he told himself. And so was this creature, most likely. But the quicksand itself was another matter. He had no idea how deep it might be: and scrambling out of it, once caught, might be impossible. His HEV suit was hardly meant to help him swim through sand.
He must study the terrain, looking for solid earth, looking for stepping stones. Obviously the sheets of metal scrap rested on rock, or they would have sunk beneath by now. But the bare ground might be riddled with this new form of quicksand. And who was to say that the path to the stone cairn, solid a week or a month ago, might not now be completely rotten?
The safest route was not necessarily the most obvious, or the most direct. Gordon edged to a corner of the metal scrap, and then stepped across a narrow gap to the next large piece. It creaked underfoot, the loudest sound in all that night. He wondered how the houndeyes fared in the quicksand.
There was a rocky outcrop just ahead, but he had a feeling he couldn't make it in one jump. He searched around his feet until he found an unlabeled tin can lodged in a metal crease. He tossed it midway between the rock and his current position. It landed with a clank and didn't move. Gordon jumped down square onto the solid spot and picked up the can. With a second step, he bridged the gap to the rock.
He was most of the way to the stone cairn now. He skimmed the can across the ground. It hit the cairn and bounced back, settling several feet from the stones. He stepped down and walked cautiously, with slow shuffling steps, until he could retrieve the can. Then he walked the rest of the way to the cairn.
Gordon looked around wildly, feeling a tremor of the earth underfoot.
Head for the cairn, he thought. That was solid.
Even as he thought it, the cairn itself began to crumble.
Its separate stones scattered and sank into the softening soil.
The last thing he saw was a bit of rag fluttering on the broken stick that had topped the cairn; and then that was gone.
Gordon lobbed the can across the spot where the cairn had stood, and was relieved to hear it hit the ground with a clank and then roll several yards before banging into a span of sheet metal. He stepped back, measuring his steps for a leap across the soft spot, but in the instant before his leap, the ground exploded into dust and rubble.
Something huge and glossy erupted from the eroded earth and sprang into Gordon's path. This must be the ant lion—denizen of this disturbed earth. Despite its size, it touched the ground quite lightly, even delicately, on six wicked legs. It looked like an enormous insect, striped in virulent colors like a wasp, with its glossy elytra flaring up defensively. Its hind wings formed a crystal blur as it leapt with scissoring mandibles at Gordon's throat.
The shotgun seemed still charmed by the blessings of Father Grigori. One shot and the ant lion tumbled backward like a wad of paper, landing in a clattering chitinous pile.
Gordon judged where it had landed, and leapt to that spot. He heard the silty hissing, felt his foot begin to slide, and took another step. The sighing was louder now, even though the earth felt solid underfoot. He bounded forward and grabbed onto the edge of a rocky shelf, pulling himself clear of the quicksand. Turning, he saw the earth behind him seething, churning, as another ant lion surged out. and another, and another.
They paused, regrouping around the ragged body of the first, and then tilted their shiny alien heads in his direction. With a shriek, they spread their wings and flew above him, descending with their sharp legs stabbing. He shot down one, then turned as the other two hit the rocks. Gordon rushed for higher ground, still having had no chance to get a look at the path ahead of him. The ridge loomed up darker than the night sky, offering the advantage of height. But as he neared the peak, a blur of black silhouettes sprang up and settled on the crest. Others had somehow been summoned to cut him off. As they fluttered down, he fired again and again. They clattered dead around him. With no time to reload the shotgun, he pulled out the machine gun and peppered them with bullets.
The things were plentiful, but their exoskeletons were brittle. They crashed down around him. screaming with a sound like rending metal. As he reached the ridge, he half expected to see clouds of the creatures swarming at him, winged legions bent on devouring everything in their path.
Mercifully there was a field of hard black rock below him. Ant lions were scurrying over it. but at least they could not surprise him here by coming up from underfoot. He traversed the ridgeline a short distance, firing shots at the pursuing creatures; then he started down. Below was what looked like the hull of an overturned ship, a long metal shell jutting out over the sand, where he would be safe from things that burrowed through the earth. The ant lions that paced him were met by short bursts of gunfire. As if reconsidering their strategy, a cluster of ant lions stopped and waited just ahead of him, at a narrow strip of earth that separated the black rock from the ship's hull. Crossing it could be difficult.
He took out one of the grenades Father Grigory had given him, pulled the pin, and tossed it. The grenade hit the shell of an ant lion and bounced off, arcing down to land in the sand. Almost instantly, it was swallowed up, which confirmed what he had feared about the soil down there.
An instant later, a geyser of sand, silt, fire and ant lion parts roared up from the buried grenade. The gathering of ant lions scattered in a chittering cloud of wings and jaws and stabbing legs. Gordon rushed forward through their confusion, sprang across the narrow gap of quicksand, and continued full- speed onto the metal hull that rang hollow underfoot. He could hear them settling behind him, could hear their skittering steps as they followed. He ran without looking back, reloading as he rushed for the far end of the hull.
And there he stopped, gazing down.
Below him was a different creature. If the ant lions had seemed large to him, at half his height, then this thing was gargantuan—at least twice his height, with a long, powerful body the size of a car. Its head was shielded in chitin that gleamed like steel, and he sensed this one would not shatter or split when he pocked it with bullets. It stood firm in the midst of a roiling crowd of the lesser ant lions, dwarfing them, and they seemed to treat it with fear and respect. When one came too near, it dipped its head and flicked it aside as if it were weightless.
Gordon stepped back from the edge, wondering if it had seen him. The ant lion leader cocked its head as if listening, took a few surprisingly delicate steps forward, and then seemed to sniff the air. He could actually hear it snuffling.
The moment when it caught his scent was unmistakable. Its whole body tensed, its head thrust in his direction, and all the smaller ant lions around it seemed to surge on its signal.
The second of his grenades was already in his hand. It landed at the ant lion guardian's feet. While the lesser creatures shrank back, as if they had learned their lesson from the deaths of their fellows, the guardian treated the grenade with disdain. It lowered its heavily armored head and nudged the grenade like a horse nosing at a fallen apple. When the grenade went off, flinging the nearest ant lion bodies everywhere, the large one merely took a few steps back and shook its head as if flinging off a mild annoyance.
Gordon fell back, looking around wildly in case he had missed anything—any opportunity to take a different path. He had nearly forgotten the pursuing ant lions, but these were easily dropped. They tumbled and slid down the sides of the hull, vanishing into the shadows. If he followed after them, he would no doubt find himself claimed by the silt. If he went backward—well, what was the point of that? And forward...forward was madness.
Then, in the dim light, he saw a faintly luminous symbol shining on one panel: a lambda, its paint fading. The ship's hull had been sawn through on all sides of the symbol, forming a trap door. He was not the first to take this path, after all. He slid his fingers under one edge of the hatch and pried it up with rusted screechings. It was dark underneath, but reassuringly silent. He slipped through and let the hatch bang shut above him as he fell.
The flashlight illuminated a wide empty space with a curved, ribbed ceiling like the inner vault of a corroded cathedral. The bilge floor, once its ceiling, tilted down to where another hole had been cut away. He directed the flashlight beam into the room below, saw tumbled furniture, and leapt through. There was an old mattress pulled into one corner of the room, and a few empty cans that had once held food. The wall was scorched by smoke, as if someone had cooked below the hole through which he had just descended, using it as a chimney.
He stepped over the high threshold of the inverted door, coming out into an accessway that ran the length of the ship. Forward, it all ended in closed-off rooms, jumbled debris. Aft, the hallway carried him deeper than he would have thought possible. He had thought he was only running on the hull of a ship—as if the other shell were all that remained. But now he saw that most of the ship was down here, still intact. However it had come here, it had been settling in the silt for some time, and most of it was under-ground now. At least, being metal, it was impervious to ant lions. Presumably. He reminded himself, as he stepped over metal-sheathed coaxial cables and cage-like light housings, that it was too early to draw conclusions about their behavior.
He wondered about the lambda—whether it had simply signaled a place to rest, a cache of weapons or supplies, or whether it had been another waypoint on the road to Eli's camp. In which case, he supposed he was now heading in the wrong direction. At worst, he could scavenge for supplies and then retrace his steps. Maybe there was a way forward after all. He would know soon enough.
He came to an inverted stairway. For his purposes, it was simply a drop into darkness, and one from which he wouldn't be returning. He listened, and again heard nothing to suggest a threat. If anything, it was quieter down here, even his footsteps sounding more muffled, with the ship encased in earth. He took the leap and found himself in a section of corridor that had been ruptured from outside. A faint susurrus of moving air suggested open spaces somewhere near or far. He aimed his light through the rupture and saw stone, smoothed as if polished, gleaming with nodules of what looked like heat-fused silicates. It was a tunnel.
Gordon crept through the opening. The tunnel ran steeply past the rupture. Listening with all his concentration, and moving as quietly as he could, he sidled toward the rear of the ship. After several yards, the passage angled up so sharply that he could advance no farther without simply slipping backward. In the other direction, it curved away from the ship in a gradual descent. If he had any doubt that this was the way to proceed, he soon came upon a chalk lambda. Gordon thought of Jules Verne's Arne Saknussen leading his followers toward the Earth's core with similar markings.
Only mildly reassured, he began his own descent.
The passage was oddly regular, giving him the impression it had been machined or at least hewn by some extremely consistent creature. He had to be careful not to let its monotony lull him into lethargy...his tendency, especially given his fatigue level, was to fall into a kind of trance. But the sameness of the journey gave way to an adrenaline jolt, and new worries to go with it, when he came to the first intersection.
It was not the matter of choosing a path that worried him. It was the fact that suddenly he heard the soft, steady skittering of ant lions somewhere near; and he realized that for whatever reason, the tunnel he'd been following was disused, but others were not. Worse, the lambda marking showed up at the mouth of one of the divergent passages, and the insect sounds grew louder as he proceeded in that direction.
He expected at any moment to find himself on a well trafficked ant lion highway. The sound of chitin on stone grew louder and louder; he could hear the creatures' constant soft chittering.
Finally he came out on a ledge above a wider passage. There was a steady movement of ant lions back and forth, several feet below him. None paid him the least bit of mind. Directly across from him was another tunnel opening. And there, sure enough, just inside the entrance, was another lambda mark.
Gordon sank back to watch the ant lions come and go. They didn't seem to notice his light, so he grew a bit bolder with it.
There were gaps in the procession. Sometimes several seconds went by with no ant lions in sight. But always another string of them would come along. They headed in either direction, sometimes bunching up and touching each other with their antennae and claws, before proceeding. And then there would be another quiet interval. He could hear their wings fluttering as they took short flight in the unseen dark.
He crouched and waited. The traffic surged, thinned, then surged again. He watched an ant lion scuttle out of the reach of his light to the left. Then, just as it vanished, another appeared from the same spot. It hurried along below him, limping slightly, taking its time. He wondered if it was a creature he had injured at the surface. It was taking forever, and in the meantime, he could hear the scurrying of others approaching.
The dawdler finally vanished at the edges of his vision. Gordon leapt down and scrambled for the far ledge, finding the surface slicker than expected. He couldn't get traction. He fell back and tried again, again.
He looked at the ledge he'd abandoned. It was too high to get back up. Well. He looked left. It was silent that way. He ran hurriedly, casting the light ahead of him, until he came to a steep section of tunnel. This must be where he'd heard them taking short flights. Turning, he rushed back the other way with his shotgun ready now. steeling himself for the inevitable confrontation. He hurried past the unreachable tunnel mouths, including the one with the lambda mark. So much for Arne Saknussen.
Miraculously, while he could hear ant lions somewhere up ahead, for the moment they had stopped crawling up this passage. But their sounds were getting louder as he hurried on. Surely at any moment he'd see their hard eyes glittering in his beam.
He came out suddenly in a wide section of tunnel...there was no telling its extent. He could see the gleam of ant lions straight ahead of him, however. Ducking sideways, he found himself in a tumbled pile of broken rock. The sound of the creatures was incredible here, filling the air, as if he were in a crowded arena. He crouched and caught his breath, content to think that for the moment he was hidden and off the main path. As he knelt there, he noticed a small movement on the ground just ahead. A fat little grub lay there...well, it wasn't exactly little for a grub, unless you considered the size of the ant lion it would presumably grow into. It was roughly the size and shape of a sourdough loaf, and it was coming his way.
Despite a general fondness for insects in all their forms, Gordon suppressed the urge to kick the thing in revulsion. There was no telling how it might react if harmed; and the thought had just occurred to him. given the presence of the larva, that he might be in something similar to a nest. Best to be on good behavior.
The thing wriggled over to him, seeming to sense him, however dimly.
It lifted its stubby head and waved it in his direction, like a caterpillar straining to reach the next leaf.
Gordon scrambled backward, standing up.
He stumbled over a low lip of rock, and fell back into another restricted tunnel passage. His light crossed the familiar lambda chalk mark, just at the tunnel's mouth. So he had found his way back to the passage after all. and an easy exit from this infernal nest.
He scrambled into the passage, first going on all fours, then running over hunched so as not to bang his head on the low ceiling. He was making progress now—good progress. The passage seemed to be deserted, like the one he had followed initially. He had to hold back from running, wanting to conserve his strength, because one never knew what hazard lay ahead.
And with that thought, the next hazard dutifully appeared.
The passage ended on a high ledge, crossing a perpendicular tunnel that ran past at a somewhat lower level. He was hit by deja vu. Ant lions scurried along beneath him, and he heard the frenzied sound of wings as they took flight briefly somewhere to his right. Everything was turned around, but it was all the same.
He looked up and saw the chalk mark on the stones just above his head.
So this was none other than the ledge he had failed to scale the first time. He was back at the verge of the passage that would carry him down to the nest, and no closer to finding his way out than he had been before.
The worst thought was the realization that he would have to return to the nest, and find his way around or through it.
Resigned to this course, he retraced his steps. When he arrived at the entrance to the vast black nest, the little grub was still waiting for him where he had left it several minutes ago.
It raised its blunt blind head and let out a little chirrup, and even began to glow, as if cheerfully welcoming him back.
Gordon couldn't restrain himself. He'd suffered so many indignities.
To be...mocked...by this blind ugly inhuman thing.
He raised his foot and stepped down on the grub, putting the full weight of his frustration into it.
It squealed as it burst.
In that instant, the entire seething, chittering, chaotic business of the nest roared to a louder pitch of frenzy.
And then...went utterly silent.
It was drizzling, and the rain hissed where it hit the pavement, something in it eating away at the traces of old concrete. There wasn't much of that left anyway. The sidewalks were inlaid with heavy sheets of colored rubber, reminding him of the acid-resistant floors of the Black Mesa labs. The rubber tiles formed color-coded paths between buildings like prison blocks made of worn, acid-etched cement; little openings in the heights caught traces of whatever light managed to sneak through the ominous filter of the sky. He wondered what it took to warrant occupation of one of the rare apartments furnished with a window, when most of the cells within must have been windowless. They made him think of towering bunkers, fortified as if the inhabitants were perpetually fearful of invasion.
He followed an orange path until it veered and dipped below street level. He could see some kind of checkpoint down there. Remembering the scene at the train station, he knew better than to follow the path to its end. Hoping no one was watching him, he sidestepped to a yellow path and kept going.
How long could he keep this up? Without an ID card, could he enter any building without being challenged? How would he find food? Where would he sleep? He remembered the homeless people, the city-scavengers of his own time, forever shifting from spot to spot, harassed by police if they ever tried to settle down and rest. No wonder so many of them went mad. And this was infinitely worse for someone outside the seamless system. Someone like himself.
Off to one side, Gordon noticed a wide opening at street level. No colored paths led to it directly. He heard bright electronic noises from within, and the incongruous sound of human laughter. Laughter was the last thing he expected to hear in the streets of City 17.
As he watched, a suited figure of smallish stature stepped off a green track and strode through the doorway. Two Metropolice in armored uniforms, faces hid behind mirrored visors, were stationed at the entrance. They didn't give a second glance to the person going in; didn't ask for ID or anything else. Gordon knew that if he hesitated he would only draw attention to himself, so he made the decision in an instant and followed the other into the laughter.
Inside it was dark and cold and his feet crunched through discarded rubbish he could hardly see down in the gloom. But the noise and flashing colored lights were in stark contrast to everything else he had seen of City 17. He recognized the kind of place it was instantly.
The walls and aisles were lined with video games, and almost every console was occupied. Suited citizens stood at the cabinets in a stance familiar to Gordon from every arcade he'd ever known. Tensed over a joystick, bodies twitching this way and that, one hand slapping a bright red button. From the speakers came whirring electronic sounds, shrill buzzsaw whines, and bright little shrieks cut off in mid-scream.
Gordon drifted to the nearest console, where the word HACKMAN was emblazoned as a shiny silver hologram. Glancing over the shoulder of the player, he saw surprisingly primitive graphics.
He was staring at a maze made of pipes, through which the player was steering a small disk that looked like a circular sawblade. A lurid little cartoony sprite popped up in one section of the pipe-maze, a crude human figure with two or three animations that made it appear to be running. The player leaned into the screen, deftly sending his little sawblade sliding through the circuits of pipe until it was right on top of the blinking enemy. The blade hit the man-sprite and sliced it in two, sending out tear-shaped drops of bright red blood and a round of synthetic screams. The player gave out a high-pitched laugh that marked him as most likely an adolescent boy, otherwise unidentifiable inside his acid-proof rubber suit.
The screen flickered and scrolled up a menu: GOOD WORK! YOU'VE CLEARED THE SEWERS.
ARE YOU READY TO LEVEL UP?
The boy slapped the red button, hard, and a new selection of weapons popped into view. They were all variations on the first buzzsaw: Larger, faster, sharper.
SELECT YOUR NEXT MANHACK!
At that moment, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Gordon spun and found himself staring into the mirrored faceplate of the Metropolice. He tried not to panic. Even in here, in the dark, he knew he could not escape. He looked down and saw the cop's stunstick held an inch from his abdomen.
The cop leaned close and whispered, "We don't have much time, Freeman. Go north and find the old radio tower. I'll meet you there."
The cop moved into the crowd. By the time Gordon's panic settled, he found himself already moving onto the street. The Metropolice at the door stared straight forward, impassive. He stepped onto the yellow strip again, heading what he hoped was north, although down between the towers it was almost impossible to separate one shadow from another, or estimate the position of the sun. He didn't waste time questioning why he would follow a stranger's directions. It was enough to know that someone recognized him, but hadn't turned him in. What choice did he have?
At the next intersection he pretended one of his shoes was coming loose. He stepped off the track so as not to impede the pedestrians marching along behind him, and knelt to fiddle with the straps, meanwhile glancing to either side. To his left, down the canyon whose walls were made of tenements, he saw a spidery hulk of corroded metal, something the acid mist had blurred into the merest webbing of a structure. It might have been a radio tower, once.
A blue stripe led him most of the way, and once he was in the shadow of the tower, he found it easy enough to leave the track completely without fear of being spotted. Almost no one else was visible on this avenue. The tower was surrounded by barricades, wood and wire and concrete.
As he looked for deeper cover, he heard a hiss: "Over here."
A bit of plywood gaped, and he saw the glimmer of the cop's visor beyond it. Gordon hurried through.
Beyond was a weed-strewn lot, with the remains of a shattered building in the center. The tower rose from the rubble. Why it hadn't simply been leveled, he couldn't imagine. But there was little time to wonder. The cop gestured toward the fallen walls that foamed and hissed in the drizzle, then hurried down a flight of broken steps into what was left of the basement. Gordon descended into shadows. He heard a door creak open; the cop went through and Gordon followed. They continued on in darkness for a moment, and then another door opened. Gordon stepped into an underground passage, a substreet service tunnel where a few yellow bulbs still burned. The cop stopped, blocking the corridor, and Gordon suddenly realized that he was at the other man's mercy.
The cop sheathed the stunstick in the strap at his waist, then put his hands to the helmet and began to work at the seals. There was a pop and the visor went up. Gordon found himself staring into a face he knew instantly, although time and trouble had pared it down to its essentials.
"Yeah," said Barney, with a hard grin. "It's me. We can talk about old times later, maybe. Right now, we've got to keep moving. There's someone else here you'll want to see."
Barney turned and headed down the passage. The tunnel was choked with debris no one had any reason to clear; they scrambled over shifting piles of rock, scattered cans. Once something loomed up in front of them, a shape like a dog with double rows of back-slanted teeth. It was doglike but it gave no warning didn't bother to growl—it simply charged. Barney lunged with his stunstick. There was a sharp crack, the smell of ozone and scorched skin, and the creature fell, wheezing. They picked their way around it.
"Hurry," Barney said. "It's only stunned. It'll be up and looking for us in a minute or two."
Before another minute had passed, Barney led them to a ladder. There was a metal panel at the top. Barney hammered on it with his stick, and second later it began to squeal. Barney climbed up, then turned to help Gordon.
They stood in a room with broken, peeling walls, but a room that clearly saw use as a rude laboratory, judging from the jury-rigged diagnostic devices, bits of scavenged glassware, bales of multicolored wire. The only light came from a bulb strung up over a workbench that had been fashioned from an old firedoor.
When the plate slammed down behind him, the ringing had hardly faded from his ears before Gordon heard another voice, familiar but weirdly out of place.
Leaning against the crude workbench as if it were a crutch, half in shadow, was his mentor from Black Mesa and, before that, MIL Dr. Kleiner looked even more weathered than Barney. He wore an eyepatch over his left eye, and that side of his face was a mass of twisted scar tissue.
"Yes, Gordon, it's me. We had word you were coming, but even so, it's strange to see you in this place after so long. You look...hardly worse for the wear. The last 10 years must have been easier on you than on the rest of us."
"I've been in City 17 about 6 months," Barney said. "They rotate us cops around from city to city every nine months, sometimes less. Dr. Kleiner here's been hiding out for nearly two years."
"Well, not exactly here," Kleiner said. "l snatch bits of time down in my laboratory, but otherwise I'm a dutiful citizen of City 17. If I weren't, I'd be out in the wasteland with the rest of the refuse, or taken for a Servitor more likely. While they still value my mind and my expertise, they treat me fairly well. But if anyone suspected I had work of my own to attend to, well... no one lasts long in such circumstances."
"Show him what you've been working on, Doc."
Kleiner stepped to a battered cupboard and began twirling the dial of a padlock. "This came to me several years ago, through unusual circumstances. Suffice it to say there was one other survivor of Black Mesa who seems to have kept his...connections...in the halls of power. He suggested that if I could restore this to working order, adapt it to our new circumstances, it might find use again someday. And now I believe it may."
The cupboard swung open. Inside, much altered but even more familiar to him than the sight of Barney or Dr. Kleiner, was Gordon's old hazardous environment suit.
"The Mark V, Gordon, just as you remember her. I'd call her the Mark V-Point-Five at this point...she's seen a bit of modification, as you'll learn. I did the best I could with the tools at hand. She can draw power from Combine chargers now, the same units used by the mechs and Combos, and by the police for their powered armor. That's the main change. Why don't you try it on, eh?"
"Yeah," Barney said, shifting nervously from foot to foot "We should hurry."
As Gordon eased into the suit, Kleiner kept rattling on: "l was advised you might not be aware of all the changes that have come to pass in the last ten years, Gordon. There's no easy way to make it all digestible. After the events of Black Mesa, the world spun out of control...creatures teleporting in randomly, terrorizing the countryside. The more tenacious species established footholds and ate their way through the local fauna, including humans, until most of us were driven back into the cities for self-defense. The infrastructure was strained past the breaking point. And shortly after everything collapsed, the Combine arrived. The old city centers, everywhere, simply disappeared. Huge chunks of Earth torn away from their moorings, leaving gaping craters. Moments later, something new took their place. The Citadels, including the one you've seen at the center of City 17. That was the first we knew of the Combine, and they've been with us ever since. We started to put up a resistance, yes, but before we could determine if it was futile or not, one man sold us into our current condition. The Consul, in exchange for his own hide, and a promise of global power, delivered us into slavery. And here we have languished ever since. It's not common knowledge. but our birthrate has declined steadily for the last five years; we'll be at zero before long. And the cities, the inhabited sections, are smaller every year They keep closing us in. And as for the planet Itself...."
"Come on, Doc. He's suited up, we should get going."
The suit pinched; it was patched with tape and rubber sealant, and there were some new sockets in the power panels. But otherwise it was the suit he remembered. As he tightened the last clamp, the old voice clicked on:
"Welcome to the HEV Mark V protect...protect...protect—for—for—hazardous environ.... "
The voice slowed to a drawl and faded out.
Kleiner grimaced. "Sorry about that. It's never going to be new again. But it should keep you safer than you would be otherwise."
Barney pushed open the door to the lab, and they stepped out into the interior of another abandoned building A second door opened into a narrow alleyway, and beyond that was the street with its colored stripes. Barney led them out to the sidewalk, where several pedestrians were marching along at a steady pace. Barney pointed out a kiosk at the side of the street, marked with a bright image of one of City 17's buses. They took up positions at the bus stop.
"Be ready for anything, Gordon," Barney said. He had forgotten to push down his visor. Before Gordon could say a word, a bus squealed to a stop in front of them.
The doors hissed open. The driver inside was armed and armored. He glared down the steps and said, "Move it."
Barney grumbled back at him, flashing a badge. "I'm escorting a prisoner. Get down here and give me a hand."
The driver muttered under his breath, but he got up and started down the steps. As he stepped out, Barney jabbed him in the gut with his stunstick. The guard crumpled to the sidewalk, moaning. His own stunstick clattered on the steps.
"Get in!" Barney said. "And grab his stunner."
Kleiner leapt up the steps. Gordon snatched up the stunstick, then clambered into the bus. Barney slid into the driver's seat and cranked the doors shut. Outside, the stunned driver was just getting to his feet, shouting. He hammered on the doors just as Barney pulled away from the curb.
"Hold on," Barney called. "This could get rough."
Gordon saw the driver running toward the bus kiosk, hitting a sentry alert button. That was hardly necessary, since the low-flying "Combos" that perpetually cruised the streets had already processed the import of the scene they'd just witnessed. Alarms seemed to be going off everywhere. It was as if the city, which had been content to slumber while its citizens went through their dreamlike days unquestioningly, suddenly awoke.
Two of the Combos dropped down on either side of the bus, pacing it Gordon flinched away from them, expecting to be caught in a crossfire, but something more sinister occurred. Both of the hovering mechanisms bore small monitors where a windscreen could have been; he had thought them sensors, but suddenly they flickered and came alight. He saw twin images of himself captured there; they had managed to scan him from outside the bus. Barney pulled the bus hard to the left, taking an impossibly sharp turn, and one the bots smacked into the side, shattering the glass. It dropped from view. The other was left behind as he spun into a narrow street.
Outside pedestrians were screaming as Barney ignored the color-coded walkways, barreling toward a destination of his own choosing.
Gordon glanced back at Kleiner, who was clutching tight to a seat-back, his face gone completely white, his one eye staring out the side of the bus.
"Oh God..." Kleiner said.
Gordon followed Kleiner's gaze and saw the Citadel at the center of City 17. Something about it was different. The odd, irregular guy-wires that ran down from the spire into the body of the city had begun to twitch and tremble, the uppermost wires grasping at the air like antennae, sensitive to every motion. Gordon knew there was only one thing likely to have gained their interest.
The filaments wove together in a flexible mass, gathering a myriad of jeweled tips into a single burning eye. He was glad when a tenement block came between them, hiding the tower from view
An instant later, the same building shattered and exploded in its entirety. Through the cloud of debris, as the building was obliterated, he saw the spear of blazing plasma that the tower's Eye had aimed upon the tenement without any thought of its inhabitants.
The rubble settled, the bus sped on, DC Kleiner screamed, and another building exploded—this time just ahead of them.
Barney swerved to avoid the avalanche of cement. Chunks of concrete smashed down on the roof, crumpling the back half of the bus. There was no way they were going to live through this. Barney kept speeding grimly onward, this time taking aim at one of the city's well-fortified gates.
All pedestrians had wisely leapt for cover, but the city 's guards were more stubborn—or more stupid. Heavy steel plates began to clang down across the end of the road. Huge gun turrets came to bear on the oncoming bus. Bullets began to rip into the windshield, gouging through metal. Dr. Kleiner moaned and clapped a hand over his arm, stanching a sudden gout of blood.
"Now, now, now!" Barney cried.
They were speeding straight toward the steel barricade; at this velocity there was no chance of surviving such an impact
But an instant before they hit the wall, the tower targeted them once more—and narrowly missed. The plasma beam struck the barricade. The steel shimmered and exploded into fragments. The city had burned a hole through its own shell, and Barney steered the bus right through it.
Ahead, a pall of smoke and vapor descended on the road. The police continued to fire at the rear of the bus, but the hail of bullets quickly tapered off.
Barney glanced back over his shoulder, failing to suppress a delirious grin as the shattered gate receded behind them.
"Ha ha! That's it for—"
He never finished the sentence. The road must have twisted, or there was something in it that smacked into them. The next thing Gordon knew, they were rolling amid the sound of tearing metal. He was flung and came down hard among twisted steel and torn seats and the sound of the engine sputtering out.
Someone was moaning. He got to his knees and moved through the murk. He found Barney lying on his back, gaping at the vapors overhead. Barney moved his head a fraction of an inch and gave Gordon a brave and desperate grin.
"You—you'd better get out of here if you can," he said
weakly. "Don't worry about...us. We'll ...be...fine."
Barney began to cough. Blood foamed at the edge of his mouth. His fingers moved slowly to his visor. "Damn stuff...hardly any air in it...." He pulled the visor shut; the seals clicked. Then he fell still.
Gordon looked for Kleiner, couldn't see him. He moved forward. They seemed to have crashed down into a ravine. Somewhere up above he could hear sirens and a scrambling noise that sounded like someone dispatching a pack of dogs to hunt for him. He had a feeling they didn't use dogs for such work anymore. Down here was a thick sludge, sewage or something worse. Just ahead was a dark opening, the mouth of a pipe tall enough to stand in. There were gratings across the pipe mouth, but the slime and the vapor had eaten away at them. Using his fists and a hunk of rock, he managed to break away a section large enough to squeeze through.
Behind him, he heard the rumble of vehicles. He moved quickly forward into the pipes, grateful that he still carried the bus driver's stunstick. It was better than nothing.
Light trickled down from gratings overhead. He moved from one dim spot to another, hoping there was nothing worse than sludge to trouble him in the dark spots in between.
He was in the sewers now. He remembered the flashlight built into the suit, and was relieved when he switched it on. Kleiner had improved on the design somewhat; he had a fairly good light now He pressed forward, wanting only to get away from the city. It occurred to him that he had seen pipes somewhere else today. A maze of pipes. Where?
Then he heard a new sound, coming from behind, coming to chase him deeper into the sewers, and it occurred to him that this too was strangely familiar.
A sound like a buzzsaw keening....
The only thing missing was the laughter.
The grating squealed and swung down with a bang, sending sharpened clouds of corroded iron gritting into his eyes. The hatch would have taken a chunk from his shoulder had he not been wearing the padded suit; as it was, he nearly lost his grip on the rungs, and for a moment hung kicking his soles against the mossy interior of the access pipe. Then he was up and bellying out among sere thorns and broken asphalt.
Twisted rebar, a furl of cyclone fencing, a freeway guardrail that had been crumpled and tossed aside like the foil wrapper around a stick of chewing gum. Farther off, piles of the stuff, more than the eye could resolve, mountains of debris seemingly composed of every object he had ever known. Refrigerators, streetcars, a toppled ATM machine still embedded in concrete; stubborn flags of grubby, but undecayed, plastic; the scalp of a doll with its nylon hair seared back to molten blobs. Gordon struggled to his feet, dusting tiny bright shards of shattered glass from arms and knees, more thankful than ever for the HEV suit.
There was a whirring sound behind him, echoing up from the tube.
In a sudden panic, knowing what it meant, he turned and fell to his knees, digging down into the tube to grab at the dangling hatch. He hooked a finger in the uneven grating and hauled up, the suit's servos kicking in to augment his strength. But the HEV's new mechanics, never properly adjusted to its old wearer, overcompensated. The hatch came up so suddenly that it twisted in its hinge and broke completely free.
From below, in the dark, a flash of silver.
Gordon dropped the hatch as the Manhack came spinning up the tube.
Corroded iron hit the rising blade and bore it backward down the shaft, however briefly.
He could hear it grinding down there, working its way free. Another instant and it would be on him.
Gordon whirled and sank his gloves into a pile of pretzeled rebar clotted with cement chunks. He dragged the pile to the edge of the hole, grateful now for the augments, and watched it tumble in. The Manhack's whir dimmed perceptibly. This was followed with another heap of masonry, a cinderblock, the rim of a wheel with a few shreds of truck tire still clinging to it. The din further muted.
At last he uncovered a huge black can full of cold hardened tar, tipped it over, rolled it to the brink and kicked it down. A loud thud, the sound of settling grit, and then silence. The Manhack whined a few times, then went silent.
It was under there; he knew he had not so much disabled as inconvenienced it. But he felt sure its human operator would give up entirely before bothering to work the thing loose. It would be so much easier to switch to another station, or select another hunter from the menu.
Humans lacked the patience of machines.
Before stalking away, he found an ancient bathtub, one clenched lion claw still intact, and tipped it over before hauling it into place as a cap for the pit. Unlikely anyone would fall in there by accident now.
Still, there was no easiness in his stride as Gordon made his way through the wrack and ruin that had been piled against the margins of City 17 as if by giant bulldozers. He could hear the baying of something that wasn't quite a wolf, and then there were the far-off echoes of landslides from among the junkpiles. What could be moving around out here, huge enough to disturb the massive piles? The answer that came to him was worse than the worry: It could be anything. He had no idea what now stalked the lands beyond the city walls. Maybe the citizens had had good reason to withdraw into the protection of the Combine. Maybe the Combine had wanted it that way...
He became preternaturally attuned to the sounds around him. The only problem was that few of them were familiar, apart from the creak of metal in the occasional gouts of scouring wind. Inside his respirator, the air was growing stale; each time he adjusted it, an acid taste crept in, a poisonous tinge that seemed to coat his tongue. He wondered how long a filter could hold up. It was easy to imagine this atmosphere eating holes in the thing.
What was that...? A familiar sound, made eerie only by its incongruity in this place of ragged edges and decay. It was music...something old and half-obscured by static, but stately despite that. Bach, one of the Brandenburg Concertos, filigreed and ornate and utterly out of place in this landscape of active chaos and utter disarray.
Less mindful of his footing, urged on by the music, Gordon mounted a shifting slope of medical debris and found the Bach at its source. Below him, in a small depression among the scraps, a battered Dodge van lay with its nose hidden as if it had been rooting in the garbage, its tail thrust into the air at a jaunty angle, the rear doors flung wide. Light poured from the open doors, and with the light came the music.
There was no one in sight. It seemed impossible that every creature in the scraplands had not been drawn to the sound of the Brandenburgs, but Gordon was alone as he shuffled down the far side of the slope and crept to the tail of the van. Peering inside, he saw no seats, no dashboard, no windshield. The shell of the van, fused with what looked like heat-bored rock, extended at an angle for 40 or 50 feet into the Earth, and at the bottom of the slope he saw a tarnished brass standing lamp with a red shade, emitting warm light. It looked like the border of someone's living room. The music came from somewhere beyond the lamp.
Testing the edge of the van for stability, he eased himself past the fender and settled down carefully, so as to make no sound. Then he started to slide, letting himself down inches at a time. The metal floor creaked once, softly, and then he was into the rock tunnel. As he shifted his weight forward, preparing to creep, the doors of the van slammed shut with a thud, trapping him. The crash echoed down the tube, merged with the sound of Bach, and abruptly the music cut off. Just short of the lamp, a second barrier clamped down, sealing the far end of the tunnel.
How easily he'd been caught.
As the music died and the clanging faded, he became aware of a muted groan, the hopeless whirring of an engine on the verge of flooding. Then a roaring rumble, heavy clanking. Something huge came lumbering past the end of the tunnel and stood there, blocking off the light. He could see a milky white dome mounted in a dust-clogged grille, like a glass eye crazed with cracks and dirt; it spun lazily to follow him as he tried backing up the tunnel. Then it put out a hand, a claw made of scarred metal, with frayed black tendons and wire ligaments. As servos whined, the inner barrier lifted. The thing stooped in to reach for him, and Gordon frantically scrambled back.
"Hold still," said a resonant voice. "If you mean no harm, you have nothing to fear from us."
He looked for the source of the voice, saw nothing.
"Settle down, Dog," the voice said.
The machine lowered itself to the earthen floor of the tunnel and its straining engines muted back to a low hum. Its reaching hand retracted. It looked like a huge battered beetle squatting there with its legs pulled in; hard to tell what processes might still be at work behind the huge blurred eye.
"Come out, now," said the voice. "Come carefully and there will be no trouble. If you intend us harm, then I should warn you that Dog will respond instantly to disarm you. And he is not capable of gentleness." Gordon crept out, past the raised barrier and the quiescent mech. The corridor wound away to other rooms, to deeper levels. He could hear running water, generators, more music somewhere in the distance.
A man stepped out from the mech's shadow. Once dramatically tall, he now possessed a dramatic stoop. Grayish hair that might once have been blond; a badly cut beard that grew up over scarred cheeks. His deep, commanding voice seemed at odds with his somewhat wasted frame, which was wrapped in a tattered mechanic's coverall, slung with utility belts, the pouches crammed with tools and components salvaged from the wasteheaps outside. He walked with a stick made of matte black steel wrapped with wires, embedded with lights; several small buttons scored the grip of the walking stick. It looked like a weapon, but Gordon suspected it was nothing so simple as that. The man stared at him for several moments; Gordon felt himself being measured, judged. Then he thrust his head forward, one piercing blue eye skewering Gordon, holding him.
"You're the one they're looking for," he said. 'After all these years, I've caught something worthwhile in my trap." He nodded toward the ramp leading down to deeper chambers. "Follow me, then. Dog—come!"
As Gordon moved after the old man, he heard the mech rouse itself behind them. It stood as tall as it
could in the low passage, but he felt certain that its telescoping legs could push it up to a much greater height
"I'm Eli," the old man said as he walked. "The Junkman. You've met Dog. As for you...your name is everywhere now. They've identified you from some very old records. I'm surprised the Combine held onto such documents. I'm always interested to discover what they consider worth preserving. Most of what makes us human they consider disposable. And yet the records, the paperwork...they've devoted great labor to making that immortal. I suppose I should feel some comfort that my name and number will still survive in one of their files, long after I myself am gone."
Dog shambled after them, dragging bare sparking wires as if it were a streetcar sweeping the ground for a charged track. It was pitiful despite its immensity. It had obviously been a thing of great power once; but now it looked like something the Junkman had dragged off the scrapheaps and restored to its least capacity.
"There...the Consul's coming on again. They've been looping this broadcast all day. The escaped non-citizen, the violator...the Vector of Death himself, Gordon Freeman."
Gordon looked around to see where he'd been taken. A room hollowed from the Earth, really no more than a widening in the passage, but lined with worn-out couches and chairs, a low plastic coffee table covered with machine parts. Across from the couch, a splintered pallet stood propped against the wall; from that an old flatscreen television was hung on a bent nail; it looked like an antique, its screen scarred as if wild dogs had tussled over it. And on the screen was the face Gordon had seen everywhere in City 17. The Consul. The man no longer looked placid and reassuring; every feature, every gesture, had been given over to threat.
"We cannot confirm that the Vector has departed City 17. If he has, the Wasteland predators will make quick work of him. But rest assured that we have not relaxed the search in your city. The Combine will do everything in its power to ensure the safety of its citizens. Again, Gordon Freeman represents a vector of chaos and death, an incursion of the insanity and incivility of the world we have tried to diligently to put behind us. We are doing everything in our power to arrest and expunge this threat to the promised peace That the Combine has graciously extended to humankind. I exhort all citizens to do everything in their power to help us apprehend the Vector. Report all suspicious activities at once. If you spy Freeman, make no effort to interfere, but summon the nearest Agent, and activate all available alarms. Every such report is treated with utmost severity, and false alarms may be punishable by immediate execution."
The old man, the Junkman, Eli, looked over at Gordon and chuckled with undisguised glee.
"Well, well," he said. "You are most welcome!"