[This is part of an ongoing series. See my ‘Half-Life Story‘ page for more information.]
CHAPTER 4 – THE STATION
When I entered Elliott’s small room he was reading a book. He was deeply engrossed and didn’t notice me yet. I took the time to peer at the cover. Interesting. Elliott had picked up The One Man Stand by Eli Vance.
Of the few survivors of the Black Mesa incident, and of the fewer still who saw Gordon Freeman, Dr. Vance knew him the best. After those terrible first days had passed and the survivors of Black Mesa regrouped, Eli decided to write a biography of sorts. He wanted to inform the resistance of the man who saved the survivors, and to tell of his valiant efforts to stave the invasion. Although the timeline is a bit spotty, Dr. Vance successfully gathered a rough approximation of Gordon Freeman’s travails through camera recordings, computer logs and eyewitness accounts of other Black Mesa survivors.
The title is indeed appropriate. Gordon Freeman was a hero unto himself by surviving that worst case scenario. In addition, he took on the strange invading aliens, marauding militants intent on wiping the slate clean of all biological intel, and a station that was falling apart. How he did it, apart from a higher power, was anyone’s guess. To people everywhere Freeman is known as the One Free Man.
Elliott gave a start when he became aware of my presence, “Colonel Shepherd, I didn’t see you come in.”
“Thats quite alright. I’ve come to give you a tour, if you’d like one.”
“Uh, sure.” He put the book down and threw on a loose hoodie.
We traversed from hallway to hallway, making sure to note important causeways, such as the kitchen, bathrooms, entrances and exits, the garage, and the munitions room. There was no point in bothering him with the heady places, so I merely mentioned the labs, tech room, and communications room as we ambulated by. But as we passed the communications room a conversation from within caught my attention.
“Course ‘ave seen ‘un. Ugly as ‘ell I tell ya,” blustered one voice.
“If you’d seen one then you’d agree that they are calm and intelligent critters.”
“Calm n’ ‘telligent? They critters sure, but they ain’t nuthin’ on makin’ sense. I’m tellin’ you, their gibbrin’ aches me head!”
“So says Ciril the orator.”
“Oho! You get right out then ya mouthy weasel.”
The other only laughed in response. I had chuckled as well, catching their attention.
“Blimey! Wrong decade tah go sneaky behind blokes like us capt’n. I’m all a shakes oft enough as things be,” growled the first voice.
That only made me laugh afresh, though Elliott remained silent behind me, eying the two scruffy men of uncertain English origin within.
Every opportunity to trip up Ciril was a privilege. “I am afraid Alvertis is correct Ciril, you belong to a select few who offer quality entertainment during everyday chatter.”
Ciril muttered something what sounded like curses from the black lagoon, and after we laughed again, he retreated to observe some monitors across the room.
“So what creature is under his scrutiny this time?” I asked. “Bullsquids?”
A ‘Hardy-Har’ drifted from where the monitors glowed.
Alvertis shook his head, “No. No. No. Are your ears damaged by Bass Hounds? I was defending the creature’s intelligence for crying out loud, and you come up with bullsquids?”
I was conjuring a witty reply to defend my joke when Elliott spoke up.
“Eh?” Both Alvertis and I turned toward Elliott.
“You meant to say Bassett hound, right?” he asked.
Alvertis stared at Elliott for a moment with a blank face. Then a slow grin emerged from his stubbly jowls and grew into a laugh, “Ha! Skinny mans trying to pull one on me. Aren’t ya skinny?”
“Er, no. I…”
Then it dawned on me. “You haven’t been out much, like, out of the city, have you Elliott?”
“I, um, no. I’ve lived within the walls my whole life.”
“Well slap a grenade on me forehead. You’re a greenie if ever I seen one!” Alvertis exclaimed. “You ain’t even seen them Bass Hounds, ‘ave ya?”
Elliot displayed a cherry hue as Ciril interjected from across the room, “Speakin’ o’ green. It was them dang crazy Vorts this man was all teary eyed fer.”
Alvertis let the hyperbole slide, though he followed along with the change of topic.
“So he says, so it is. We still can’t make ‘eads or tails of ‘em.”
“Not that they got much of a tail,” Ciril added.
Elliott’s new shade and newly confounded look combined to make him look more boyish than ever. He must not have a clue as to what’s actually out there.
“Indeed,” I agreed, “seeing that they are closer to human than anything else.”
“Human you say?” asked Alvertis. “Hoho. If you subtract the green toad-skin and red cyclops eye, you might have a hunchback at best. But even then, you’d need to conjure excuses for the wee eyes ’round the first, and extra arm thingy they have abreast.
“I stand corrected. Humaniod then. The Vortigaunts are humaniod.”
“Fine, fine. They’re dandy humaniods then. But to as I was a-sayin,’ these Vorts sure have the smarts. I, for one, am glad they be allies.” Alvertis nodded as he shot a glance at Ciril.
Elliott looked troubled, “But, by your description of these creatures, these are the same ones in the novel I was reading.”
“Novel?” I asked. “Elliott, that wasn’t a novel. It’s a biography.”
The cherries returned with a vengeance.
Alvertis and Ciril gawked at the poor man for a moment, looked at each other, looked at Elliott again, then returned their gaze to each other with a huge grin.
“Where’dga find this ‘un Capt’n?” one asked.
“No matter, what’ll we do with ‘m?” asked the other.
“Now guys, hold up. We just brought him in, I’m still showing him around -”
“Me thinks he needs a swig!” they both cheered at once, wheeling around to find their bottles.
Before long the four of us were hunkered on the floor of the comm room passing several bottles of uncertain alcoholic content around. Elliott took timid sips, apparently unsure why he remained, though probably stayed by curiosity as the two strange men retold their tales.
“- n’ they would bunch up oot o nowhere, making their entrance by a volatile bridge betwixt the two worlds,” Alvertis was saying.
Ciril continued, “Be they kind dearies? No sur. Blastin the ‘ell oot of ya ‘s their first action. Slaves they be.”
“Slaves o the Combine!” Alvertis interjected.
“Right, slaves sent t’ kill yon Gord’n Freem’n heself! An’ dese ugly un’s control ‘n ability tah manip’late ‘lectricidy.”
“They can send a bolt atchya, and mess up computer equipment. No foolin’, this be no picnic for our Freeman.”
“But then there’s this see? When yon ‘ero saves the day, ‘e done freed them Vorts.”
“He severed the connection the Combine ‘ad over them.”
“Dem Vorts, bein’ all sorts o’ apparen’ ‘telligence, ceased to blast at us ‘n joined the resist’nce.”
“Good thing too,” I said. “They were crucial in the effort to evacuate the surviving members of the Black Mesa research facility once Gordon was gone and the military continued its aggressive biological cleansing. And beyond that, their help is beyond what I can describe in one sitting.”
Elliott nodded his skinny head, as if understanding what I said, though he had no clue of the possibilities.
I stood up, though a bit uneasily, “Well, it certainly has been a fun, and quite informative, time here in the grand communications room. But I believe we must be going now.”
“Mooch to see ‘n mooch to ponder for yon laddie here,” said Ciril.
“No foolin’,” added Alvertis.
“You guys just, well, you guys just keep doing your thing. Watch for signs of activity, on both the Resistance and the Combine frequencies,” I instructed.
“What else got we to do but snuggle up ‘t speakers n’ monitors?” joked Alvertis.
“You’d snuggie up t’ dem Vorts fer one!” came the snide response from Ciril.
“I’ll remind ya that last I seen um, da blimey blokes bloomin’ bust me last barometer!”
The unintentional alliteration caught him off guard, and we all laughed.
I had to purposefully take a breath before I could ask, “Where did we find you men anyway?”
“It involved socket wrenches, some Combine arse-whoopin’ and a lot o’ blood, I’ll tell you that!” slurred Alvertis with a homemade bottle of scotch half empty in his hand. “Mostly his!” he added, sloshing the bottle in Ciril’s direction.