12:57 AM 09/07/2014: The Journal
I once heard a song a long, long time ago during my childhood called "It's Not Easy Being Green". Well, it ain't easy being me, and no matter what that guy had to put up with, I guarantee you I have it worse off. For one, I live in a shipping crate like some hobo - surrounded by trash and toxic sludge. My diet consists of dehydrated food (in the army what we'd call D-Rations) - the odd toxin-laced bird, and get this: headcrabs. "Tastes like chicken". Secondly, I have but two friends at this lonely post. Well, three ... if you count the television.
The first one is my gun, a Colt G.I. issue, Model 1911. It's loose - not like the civilian models which have such tight tolerances as to make them inoperable in combat conditions. I don't get tack driving accuracy, but I can get it dirty and rely on it to go "bang". It fires .45 caliber slugs, which I prefer over the 9mm. Civil Protection officers use the USPs, which are of the same aforementioned caliber. The bullet is big, and slow, and will blow a hole the size of a quarter in anything fleshy. Occasionally I'll find Civil Protection officers in the canal, and replenish my stock of ammo thusly. I have a crate full of empty USPs under my little "house".
My second friend in this wretched hovel is Oscar - a pretty talkative and interesting fellow who is capable of shooting lightning from his hands (if you could call them hands). Oscar is a Vortigaunt.
The Vortigaunts are a race of beings from a border world that exists between our universe and the next - a race once enslaved. According to Oscar, this era of subjugation ended when a portal between our two worlds opened. This brought an invasion from his oppressors, led by the one called "The Little Master". In what most people here know only as "The Incident", hundreds of his kind were killed. Security guards for the Facility took out their fair share, then "America's Finest" were sent in to clean up the rest.
There was a guy who was there at the Facility when "The Incident" happened. Apparently, Oscar's entire race view this one man as the bittersweet bringer of freedom. On one hand, he personally killed over a hundred Vortigaunts. On the other hand, he killed their enslavers. Oscar wasn't there when it all went down, but he has told me the story in great detail. It seems that the Vortigaunts have some kind of racial telepathy, and they know what all the others know.
Anyway, this guy was just a scientist, but he was wearing a special suit, and he tore his way through an army base or something, leaving a trail of dead aliens and Marines in his wake. He then teleported to the borderworld, and knocked off the ambitious over-alien that was trying to take over. Without the mother mind, the Vortigaunts were free. Of course, little good it did Earth.
We weren't wiped out by the borderworld aliens, or "Xen" aliens, as the borderworld is called. But headcrabs. Those bastards. It became dangerous to live outside the cities. My Guard unit was called up in defense of Dallas, Texas - that was an easy tour. We just sat up on the walls and took potshots at the zombies and headcrabs that came our way. Sometimes you'd get the monstrosities, and that would be interesting. The hulking ones with several crabs attached to their bodies which they would throw at you. The bigger, bulkier "Gonomes" that would take an entire magazine of 5.56 before hitting the deck. The "crack zombies" that we clocked up to 25 miles an hour ... it was educational. The months dragged on, and pretty much everyone was either in one of the big cities or dead. A few would rough it out in groups outside the cities, but they had their own compounds and were generally self-sufficient. I saw my first Vortigaunt while deployed there. Watched him get ripped to shreds by a zombie out of range. I don't think he knew I was there. Oscar hasn't said anything about it.
Gradually, humanity accepted the Vortigaunts as we began to understand their plight. They weren't killing us willfully, and did not hold us accountable for their dead. They were helpful, ranging from starting dead car batteries to aiding in defense of the cities, and we eventually got used to them. It still makes me cringe to listen to them speak their own language though, it's gargled and deep, and has an unholy inflection to it. They have a third method of communication beyond verbal and their funny tongue, and that's the telepathy I mentioned before. They go into a trance like state and lose their situational awareness, so they only do it when they feel safe. Pretty bizarre. Oscar's doing it right now, in fact.
I like having Oscar around. The other Railroad Stations have Vortigaunts as well, so if I need to maintain radio silence and still report Combine activity, he can just send a telepathic message to the others in the area. He doesn't eat much, and has a surprisingly perceptive and analytical mind. I made an improvised chess set, taught him the rules, and he picked it up amazingly quickly. I traded a dead Civil Protection Officer to another resistance member at one of the Stations for - amongst other things - a deck of cards, and found that Oscar also had a mind for averages.
Oscar also learned to read very quickly, although I think that was courtesy of the Vortigaunt telepathic link. All in all, he's a good, albeit odd, crate-mate. His innate ability to control electricity means he can recharge the batteries that run the radio, television, and other odd luxuries I like to keep in the crate. One of the advantages of living in (what amounts to) a trash ditch filled with water, is that you can scrounge equipment. With a bit of tinkering, a radio or an electric range becomes usable again. The difference between raw and sauteed headcrab is notable, thanks to having Oscar around to keep the batteries charged. Open fires are a lot harder to cook on accurately; and if you're not out of doors, or at least in one of those huge storm drains, potentially deadly. At any rate, certainly not feasible inside my box. And cooking outside of the box is also too risky. Fires are like beacons at night.
After Ravenholme, the Combine started cracking down wherever Resistance or escapees could be found. Too many people floating in the water, too many whisked away to Nova Prospekt. Too much loss.
You know, I've gone on patrol in areas infested with zombies and killed hundreds. Watched all of my friends get vaporized by the Combine. Seen others fall prey to Breen's Administration. I've watched people get torn to shreds by helicopters and blown into meaty chunks the size of your fist by mines. I have seen people die in every way imaginable - and yet only my memories of Ravenholm give me nightmares. Sometimes at night, I can hear the distant screams. I worry if it’s the sound of that place actually echoing along the valley, or just a psychological aberration.
Oh well. Oscar is waking up. This journal thing is pretty therapeutic, I think I'll update it again sometime this week.
9:02 AM 09/08/2014: Inane Rambling
Radio is one of the most wonderful inventions known to man. A radio can receive without transmitting. A radio can use abandoned metal for the previously mentioned receiving while remaining inconspicuous. I adore my radio.
Of course, I could just use Oscar to listen to the activity at the other Resistance posts. He has no complaints about droning out the observations of the other Vortigaunts to me. From his monotonous speaking, I have deduced that Vortigaunts have a penchant for memorizing mundane details, such as how many crows have flown by, or the number of bites the human outpost crew take, on average, to eat your standard Combine ration. It can be extremely boring, or extremely interesting, depending on which outpost it is. Oscar never mentions, so I have to rely on my knowledge of the people at each one to try to figure it out. For example, Outpost 3-Gamma is incredibly dull. It's in a huge sewage pipe strategically positioned near a Combine helipad. A variety of debris blocks both ends of the tunnel, partially to keep out the odd zombie and mostly to act as a damper on any sound they make in there. Once a day, one of the Combine choppers dusts off, patrols the river, and returns in an hour. They have never been discovered, and have never even had a close call with the odd headhumper. There are many crickets, however. Thank God and all the angels I don't have any near here. I hate crickets.
Then there's Outpost 35-Eta, on the main river that leads to the hydroelectric dam. It's one of the first stops in what we've dubbed the "Underground Railroad," and one of the largest; a big red barn with a landing, right near the city. Not only do they get far more refugee traffic (the first stop is nearby, and by the time they get to me their numbers are usually thinned, courtesy of the hazards that abound here), there's a lot more Civil Protection activity. At one point, they even threw a couple of Manhacks into the area surrounding the river. I haven't seen a Manhack in weeks. Two shots with the 1911 and they go down like a sack of bricks. What's bad, though, is when you meet half a dozen or more. I have a great big scar on my back where one took a chunk outta me that one time when we were trying to ambush a patrol disembarking from a dropship. After we nailed the first two Combine out the door, the rest stayed inside and released a flood of manhacks. That wasn't good. My back is still kinda stiff in the morning, and my ribs have jagged notches in them.
Kleiner's friend did a bangup job sewing me back up though. It's always nice to have friends with PhDs and MD licenses; not that those things really count anymore. I didn't catch her name, mostly because I was nearly unconscious from the pain, but I remember that her hair was a dirty blonde color. I last heard she was at Little Odessa on the coast with that nutty British colonel. He occasionally goes out on relief runs to the smattering of small towns in the area, taking medical personnel with him in addition to shooters. We are pretty much the only contact between the Citadel and the outside world; Combine rations, clothing and other odds and ends. For example, some of the more enterprising outlying communities have greenhouses, and apparently there's a demand for watermelon - the sole recipient being Kleiner. That's not to say the only thing they grow is watermelon, mind you. The guy running that community is a pretty smart cookie, and they've maximized their space and energy for the most product. Most of it is "greens," with tomatoes and squash thrown in for good measure. They'd feed us when we got there, and you never appreciate cabbage until you've been eating freeze dried soy protein for weeks. I'd love to have some cabbage and potatoes right now. That's one of my regrets about leaving Little Odessa and volunteering for watch duty here. That, and it was nice to have human company (no offense to Oscar). We stopped using radios for everyday social communication after Ravenholme. Lesson well-learned.
I saw a bullsquid in the river today. Muscley bastards, with a tail strong enough to shatter your legs, should they decide to smack you with it. In addition to that, they've got quite a beak, and will hack up acidic digestive juices and spit them at you in a vile sphere that will eat right through MK I combat armor. The trick is to get the jump on them and put five in the brain; or, if you've got a scattergun, two or three shells' worth of buckshot does it. If you hit them in the digestive tract, however, the acid ruins the meat. And nobody wants that. I'm gonna see if I can find his lair and nail him; that one on the river was at least two meters. Standard operational procedure for a bullsquid is to take it to Sector Command, and have them cook it. Everyone gets a decent meal, although there are never any leftovers. The meat is sweet, and slightly smoky tasting. It makes excellent jerky, too, and the person or persons who got the kill have rights to take a couple of pounds for that purpose. It's been a while; Oscar and myself ate the last piece for some sort of bizarro planetary alignment ritual in the fall. The real cold snap hasn't come yet, so maybe I can still bag one before they burrow into the mud for the winter.
It's quite fascinating, really. They burrow into the mud in their "lairs," or if they are somewhere without mud, leave their current home and find a new lair in an area with suitable geology. They create a little hollow, sort of like a lungfish, and go dormant. They are the most vulnerable at that point... But nigh on impossible to find. This behavior sort of confuses me because I've seen it every year since The Incident, and because I've also seen them making their homes in walk-in freezing units. It's obviously not a vulnerability to the cold... I'll have to ask Doctor Vance about it.
5:23 PM 09/09/2014: River Side Story
Today was an interesting day. It started with a zombie. I saw the zombie down by the old refinery doing zombie things, such as molesting the corpse of some guy named Vadim, according to his papers. The refinery is at the edge of my patrol zone, and I was somewhat surprised to see a zombie there because we had a team sweep it only a year ago. The Russkie contingent near the fortified city of Odessa did a good job because we found nothing, albeit that was right after we got relocated. The Combine don't do nearly as good of a job, thankfully.
Anyway, I motored my little boat over and applied the axe I keep in the boat to the crab perched atop the zombified victim. No use firing a gun and stirring up the whole river. The corpse of Vadim was fresh, but the blood was coagulated, so it was likely older than thirty minutes. I confirmed this, he was cold to the touch.
The second thing I noticed was the small, extremely bloody wound in his back. I turned him over and observed with great interest a huge, gaping exit wound. When I say "huge, gaping exit wound," I mean it seriously; it was as big as my fist. I surveyed my surroundings. The concrete staircase that I assume he was running to was cratered, with tremendous chips blown out of it. A couple dozen feet away from the corpse lay some evidence that confirmed the idea that had formed in my head; namely, that the guy with the gun was a very bad shot. Five huge shells lay scattered in the mud. They reminded me of .44 Magnum cartridges. Imagine my shock when upon picking one up I saw ".50 AE" engraved on it.
.50 Action Express: Take a .44 Magnum shell, stuff a .300 grain hunk of lead in it, and put enough powder behind it to propel it around 1400 feet per second. Then, fire it from the most pathetic excuse for a handgun in the world, and I can see how someone not used to it would end up spraying lead all over the place.
I went back to the body and frisked it. Wallet. Pocket watch. A steel crucifix on a chain. A folding knife. I pocketed the items, and then noticed something strange that I had missed before - he was barefoot. The tracks directly behind him were muddled by the zombie, but further back, two pairs of bootprints led to the corpse, and then a matching set leading back to the refinery. The fact that there was no mud between the toes confirmed my suspicions that his boots were removed after he was shot. Yet, why would someone do that? Had he been killed for a pair of boots? I didn't think so, because his other possessions were not removed. Certainly not consistent with the behavior of someone desperate for footwear. No, I thought there was something more to it.
I left the body and motored back to my place of residence. It was very puzzling. As I mentioned earlier in this entry, we had cleaned that building a year ago. It could have been a wandering, errant zombie (or, as some call them, "mawmen"), but I didn't think so. I decided that we'd sweep the building again, if Cubbage would send me the men. Which he might or might not, depending on what he was planning on doing. Headcrab on the bank. Breakfast.
When I got back, it was a tossup between radioing Cubbage myself or having Oscar do his magical telepathy thing to New Little Odessa. I figured Cubbage would be more likely to respond to my harping instead of the requests of a vortigaunt, so I set Oscar to cooking the headcrab and I radioed Cubbage.
"New Little Odessa, this is outpost 15-Omicron. I need to speak to Colonel Cubbage."
"Outpost 15-Omicron, Cubbage is down with the flu. Forwarding you to Mandel."
I groaned. Mandel was Cubbage's second in command, and he had a burr under his saddle about everything. Cubbage was a flawed man, but he could be reasoned with. Mandel was ex-Bundeswehr, and still had his uniform from the start of the Seven Hour War, when the mags on his G36 melted from the heat and rendered him weaponless. Thank God we used metal mags. Mandel said he keeps his old uniform because the German Flecktarn camouflage pattern is superior (which it is for that environment), but the dope is that he uses the tattered and patch-spattered uniform to pick up naïve and impressionable peasant girls in the villages outside the "reproduction suppression zone," as the coagulation of pond scum and fish eggs on the screens calls it. We have a different word for that field, but my mother taught me to never put anything down on paper that I would be ashamed for her to read, so that doesn't bear repeating.
"15-Omicron, zhis is Mandel. Stahtus Reporht."
Every time I heard Mandel speak, I was amazed at how stereotypical his German accent was. It was like watching one of those bad World War II movies where the Germans see the landing craft at Normandy and say "ACHTUNG!! IT IS ZE AMERIKANS! FIRE ZE MASHEEN GUNS!"
"Mandel, I found a corpse with a bullet hole in him the size of my fist and a zombie near the old refinery at the edge of my patrol zone. Definitely not Combine activity. I'm requesting a team to sweep the refinery and look for any escapees and possibly to clean out any infestation."
His response was exactly what I'd expect.
"No. Ve cannot affort to send an entire fire team down zere, fully equipped to kill a few mawmen. It vould leaf a tremendous security gap."
"Labber nicht so eine scheisse, Mandel. I'm not asking for a fire team, I'm asking for one or two competent guys to help me deal with what I think is a high priority threat to opsec here. We can avoid getting the Combine's attention in a major way, but if there's an independent contingent of people running around stirring up trouble, the Combine will aware of my position and the rest of the outposts along the river. We need to absorb them into the fold."
A long silence ensued. It always did when I spewed my limited knowledge of German at him. I knew I had won when he sighed. But then he started speaking in a tone that made the hair on the back of my neck twinge:
"Very well, 15-Omicron. We're sending our best men. Ze Jaguar and ze Dragon."
"New Little Odessa out."
The Jaguar and the Dragon. I thought I might not ever have to see them again, posted out here on the river. Rob and Josh. Or Robby and JJ as we called them back in the States. They hated that. They'd probably poke Oscar with sticks when they got here, and knock over my stuff. I cleaned the crates up tonight. Oscar was chattering away inside his head to the other Vortigaunts. I'm going to bed now. Tomorrow's going to be a long day.
12:57 AM 09/10/2014: Dreams
She was beautiful. There was no other word to describe her. Cyrano de Bergerac could run his mouth for a week and not capture the essence of what she inspired in your mind. The moonlight splashed across her hair, which cascaded down her back like an auburn torrent. The Tritium night sights on her Mossberg 500 left tiny trails of luminescence as she moved along the street. She paused without warning and fired, and upon racking a second shell in, fired again.
I put two rounds into the skull of a zombie, and she killed another one. A shout was heard from behind us, and she turned just in time to miss seeing the hairy, slimy beast that launched itself from a broken window and attached itself to her head. She dropped her shotgun and slumped against the wall, muffled screams emanating from what was to soon be her corpse. I walked over, picked up the shotgun, aimed it at the crab and blew them both apart like a rotten tomato. I picked up my second set of dog tags from her twitching corpse and ran with the others. And then I woke up. Consciousness drained in. My vision slowly went into focus.
And the visual that greeted me was that of Dragon leaning over the spot on the floor that I sleep on, while at the same time, I could see Jaguar outside, poking Oscar with a stick. I had stayed up writing in my accursed journal for too long, and let them get the jump on me. It's hard to be as good as I am without sleep. Unless you're out on a 72 hour patrol. Then you're popping stims.
"I see you dug yourself up something better than what you had at Ravenholm."
"It's an AKS-74. You can touch it if you want."
"I'll pass, thanks."
"So, when are we gonna do this? I want to be back in NLO by the day after tomorrow. We're running another convoy out to one of the untouched towns full of Ukrainian girls who can't speak English, and I don't wanna miss it."
"I don't know about you, but I need to eat first." Dragon could be so impatient.
Jaguar strode in carrying an anachronism of a Soviet weapon designed around the end of World War II, a grin on his face that I've seen before on fools and the mentally ill. I sighed as he inhaled to begin what would probably be a very long and boring monologue, but all he said was "You're getting sloppy."
"Not really. This place is quite secure. Only a miscreant of your great skill and tact could gain entry without me knowing. And, Oscar doubtlessly detected your presence but opted not to wake me, but that's neither here nor there."
He was satisfied with this flattery and wandered over to Dragon to talk about something or other. I went outside and urinated into the river, keeping an eye out for Oscar. He was standing on the embankment of the river, soaking up as much warmth as the pale sun offered. It was cold outside. The first real hard cold snap. The bullsquid were probably long gone, buried in their little hollows in the mud. It would be slim pickings with just headcrabs and Combine rations.
I walked over to Oscar and tapped him on his leathery, rough shoulder.
"What do you desire, The Harper?"
'Do you feel like coming with us to the refinery?"
"Does The Harper want me to come?"
"We are only three, and it's better to work with a four man team."
"The Harper and The Jaguar and The Dragon will perform adequately on their own. I will stay here and watch for the mawmen. Thirteen-Omicron down the river said there were a few headed up here. There is little prudence in leaving our camp unguarded."
"Very well, Oscar. We will depart soon."
Jaguar and Dragon had tossed the headcrab that had been prepared on the electric range. The acrid stench of the leathery hide filled the enclosed space the range was in.
"Damn, guys. Usually I skin the headcrabs before cooking them because I cook indoors, and not outside like some sort of Neanderthal ape-man. You are the two most asinine and immature bastards I know."
They just stood there and stared at me, trying to suppress their amusement. I went outside and vomited bile into the river. The aroma of rotting flesh is something I've gotten used to. I can even handle congealed blood sitting out in the sun for three days a yard away from my face, like I did back in America after the Seven Hour War. But I despise the smell of burning headcrab, something it seems every other member of the Resistance is accustomed to. It's like a menthol cigarette and burning hair at the same time.
I wasn't really hungry anymore, so I went into my sleeping quarters and grabbed some ammunition, duct tape and an LED flashlight I had. Flashlights will save your life. So will rope and a good knife. And matches. Never know when you want to set something or someone on fire. One of these days I am going to wait until it's good and windy, and I'm going to burn Ravenholm. I'm gonna need a lot of gasoline to make a fire trench though, to keep the zombies from escaping. That, and it would irritate Odessa.
Dragon and Jaguar stood up when I walked outside:
"What's the matt-"
"Where's my shotgun, Josh? You were supposed to bring me one from the armory at N.L.O. You know, the shotgun they were supposed to send out here to me two months ago."
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot. It's back in the boat; looks like they sent you one of those Marine 870's with the corrosion-resistant coating. The stock ain't so pretty, but who cares?"
I walked over to the boat they arrived in, beached up next to mine. The weapon was lying in the bottom of the boat, wrapped in old newspaper. The composite stock was cracked in places and scratched to Cain and back. Nothing some duct tape wouldn't fix. Sitting next to it in the boat were eight shells. I picked these up and walked over to Dragon.
"Where's the rest of my ammunition?"
"Mendel said those shells were all we could spare from our armory."
The next thing I said about Mendel wasn't exactly the sort of dialog I'd put down in a journal.
"Yeah, well, so be it, Harper. Mendel's the boss. Oh yeah, tooth fairy visited you last night."
I gave Dragon a sharp glare and stomped back into my sleeping quarters. Underneath the burlap sack full of old rags that I rest my head upon in the evenings was a wondrous sight to behold - a whole mess of 3" twelve gauge buckshot in a cardboard box. I grinned and began stuffing the shells into the bag I kept clipped to my belt. Dragon could be so deliciously evil at times.
I brought the shotgun back out into the sun to give it a quick inspection. The weapon looked as if it had never been cleaned. A faint spattered stain near the muzzle spoke of a discharge into something fleshy at close range. The barrel was scratched and battered, the result of heavy use. But the shotgun would cycle, and after firing off two rounds, I was satisfied.
Jaguar was drawing geometric shapes in the mud with a stick. Dragon was fiddling with the sights on his weapon.
We piled into the boat, the bow sinking dangerously low to the water, and began to motor away. It wasn't one of the fast airboats (or "Mudskippers," as we called them) that we would use for fast delivery or emergency courier work. It was more like a "John Boat," as I believe they are called; a simple metal shell with a motor. My motor died a quarter of the way to the refinery.
"Great, Jack. The motor does not work anymore. It's a fifteen mile ruck over rough, gooey terrain to get to where we are going. These are my last pair of hiking boots. I am not happy in the slightest with this situation."
It doesn't matter who said that, because I'm going to try to be fair to everyone in this journal. One day it may be the only record of my existence. But the situation was summed up perfectly. I had the proficiency to repair the motor, but not the parts. To go back would be failure, and to catch Cain from Mendel for delaying the return of his troops another day.
So, I threw the anchor overboard, and we swam to the bank and walked all the way to the refinery. It took us a good bit of the day to get there, and we decided that our efforts would be best expended on finding a place to sleep. So we found a small office overlooking the loading dock at the refinery, and we have been shifting guard every four hours. It's my turn right now. I brought my journal along to record the wacky events of the day, obviously. Too bad the day involved the motor going out and us losing several hours worth of daylight. I'm so tired. My shift is almost up. We are going to have a very busy day tomorrow.
1:57 AM 09/11/2014: Death
I got the second watch last night, so I got a decent amount of sleep, although it wasn't as relaxing as a full, uninterrupted eight hours. Nothing happened in the slightest, other than the far-off sounds of the damned at Ravenholm and the ever-present lapping of water against the concrete dock outside. Dragon snores. I had forgotten about that. It becomes irritating after four hours. I had also forgotten how boring watch was. You see the moonlight slowly move across the floor and pray for a zombie or something to break the monotony of sitting on a chair watching two people sleep. And then it was my turn to sleep again.
I woke up and was neither rested or tired. If you time your Circadian rhythms properly, you can get away with it. The sun had just begun to cast a pale glow over the river, the cloud cover that came up in the afternoon, having slowly dissipated over the night. Dragon was eating some sort of gruel he had carried from my home in a thermos. It looked cold and unappetizing. Jaguar was still asleep. I kicked him in the ribs. He groaned and twitched and rolled over, and grabbed my leg the second time I kicked him, saying, "I'm awake."
"Good. Eat whatever you saw fit to bring here and let's go."
Jaguar also procured a thermos with the same slop that Dragon was eating. It looked to have the consistency of chunky cream of wheat; oozy, disgusting and foul. I had never seen anything of its ilk before. So I asked them what it was.
"What ditch did you get that ooze out of?"
"Don't be silly, Jack. These are the new Combine rations. They call it TVP, and I dunno what that stands for. They're almost as good as the MREs we had in the Service."
"TVP stands for 'Textured Vegetable Protein,' Dragon. It's soybeans. It's flavorless. It's disgusting. It does not compare to the most pitiful of MREs. If killing you right now would get me Beef Stroganoff, I'd do it. I'd kill both of you for a good Alfredo sauce I could dump over your corpses to make you edible."
"I'd like to see you try, Jack."
"Hurry up and let's get this over with."
They sat there and devoured their disgusting gruel while I sulked. When we divvied up the load of extraneous equipment (I forgot to mention that last night), we each took care of something. I got the CB radio and battery that goes with it, in case we needed to talk to Oscar. Jaguar got a dozen pounds of low-grade explosives, and Dragon took care of the food issue. Now, when he said he would do this, I assumed he had brought some sort of produce from N.L.O or something like that. From now on, I would take care of my own food supply. I walked over to Dragon's pack and rummaged through it until I found a third thermos in the bottom and popped the top off. A sickly smell, like that of fermented legumes, wafted up my nostrils. With trepidation and horror, I stuck my finger into the disgusting gruel and licked some off.
I am a person who is very sensitive to texture as opposed to taste. Although, this tasted pretty nasty. No, it was the consistency that got to me. Watery and slimy and vile and hateful. I vomited all over the floor. Jaguar and Dragon laughed at me as I spat the fell taste from my mouth. Insensitive bastards. I've eaten my share of disgusting things, but they could eat boiled leather boots with no ill effect to their digestive systems. There was nothing to eat here, and as I wiped the bile and saliva from my lips, I could see Jaguar and Dragon eating my portion of the gruel. Which was fine by me.
"Let's go, already."
And so we went outside onto the dock. Last night our selection of a room was hastened by the darkness that enveloped us, but in the light of the rising sun, everything seemed different. Rusty I-beams and handrails were the trim to a house of decay and entropy. The body of the shoeless Russian was visible along the bank. He had started to bloat. The strange, mutated catfish that live in the river had crawled out and had begun to eat him. I'll have to ask one of the brains in the resistance about that. But later. We needed to stay vigilant, because there's some guy with a hand cannon in the general area. Not a natural sound could be heard but the crows in the distance and the water slapping against the concrete dock. Jaguar and Dragon washed out their thermoses in the river (a questionable move, frankly), and we walked back inside the facility.
The room we slept in the night before was that of the dock master’s; or more specifically, his office. The facility itself sprawled out over several acres. What a pain this was going to be. Dragon could read the Cyrillic on the wall and said it was a steel refinery. Huge machinery lay before us, casting a menacing pattern of shadows on the floor. Shadows that could conceal a zombie, or a headhumper, or a man with a gun. Or even a bullsquid that hadn't gone into hibernation yet.
We all had our flashlights taped to our guns, so we switched them on and slowly began to clear the building. It was dull. Shadows from our flashlights danced on the walls, and the dust we stirred up filtered the sunlight through the windows. It sort of felt like digging around in your grandmother's attic. A rusty old attic that smelled of cosmoline and fecal matter. Odd. Fecal matter.
As it would happen, there was a great big pool of it in one corner of the facility, the stench of sulphur accented by the acrid tang of urine. People were living here. Jaguar and Dragon just sort of stood there doing nothing. I knew one of them was going to say it. It was the same immature behavior I put up with in the 'States; the same asinine behavior, the same old schtick. But neither of them did it. Neither of them made commentary on the fecal matter before us.
"I have a good idea where the people generating this waste came from. Let's go."
And so we cut straight across the back wall of the first big room and came to the opposite side. "Logic," I began, "dictates that people would want to be far enough away from their cesspool to avoid the stench, and close enough to make it the easiest walk possible. Hence, they are likely sleeping in the offices here."
And whaddya know, we found the remnants of habitation. A scorched spot on the ground with ashes scattered about. Looked like a cooking fire had been started there many times before, a few feet in front of the entrance to the offices. We entered the room. It was clear. he entrance to the rest of the office complex was sealed off. A toolbox lay in the corner of the room; someone had obviously taken pains to scrounge the facility before setting up shop here. The fire, cesspool and assorted blankets and other such trappings here told an important story - someone had been living here for a while. And because the facility was open to the outside, there wasn't a huge zombie threat here. Otherwise, a seemingly competent fellow wouldn't have been living here for so long with this female. At least, I assume the man outside bloating in the sun lived here.
I stepped on something slippery while scrounging through their obsessions. A ,50 Action Express shell. Not surprising, really. Especially when you take into account the body. She had probably been beautiful once. The bottom half of her face was delicate and smooth, and she wasn't that dirty for a refugee case living in an abandoned building. She probably had nice eyes. It was hard to tell, though, because a halo of broken bone and chunky gray matter surrounded her head. The blood was congealed quite nicely, but the state of decomposition of her corpse led me to believe it had only been three days at most since her death. The pockets on the Ukrainian Army issue uniform lying next to her nude body were empty, but around her neck was a blood-smeared necklace made of sterling silver. I lifted her gooey, sticky head off the ground and removed the trinket. I put it in my pocket, wiped my hands on my pants, and looked around.
Why were these two killed? Why was the girl nude in such brisk weather? Why did the killer steal the dead man's boots? These are the questions that I asked myself. I put these inquiries forward to Jaguar and Dragon, and we all began to thoroughly search the area. We would still be there looking for further information if Dragon hadn't asked to see the wallet I found two days ago on the dead man. He had an identification card, giving him access to the "Rustam Hulei Arsenal".
"It's worth a shot, Jack."
"I agree. The fact that the recently deceased here have been living a while in this area implies that the building is clean of zombies. I think we should head out."
And so we did. Jaguar had a map of the area, circa pre-Combine. I'm still hungry. We had to stop again tonight. My stomach is tightening up and groaning in disapproval. We're camped out in the remains of an old house. We barricaded ourselves in, so we're relatively safe. I'm glad I brought my journal along. During the time that I've been writing this, my four hours have flown by. It's time to sleep. Tomorrow brings promise of interesting things to come.
1:57 AM 09/12-13/2014: Slaughter
The sun was streaming in through a crack in the wall, and Jaguar was sitting there with his SKS Type 45 Carbine staring intently at something through said crack. He squinted for a moment, opened the bayonet with a schlick, and walked outside the house. I got up and peeked out the broken window to see what the deal was. Just a zombie. Jaguar stabbed him a half dozen times in the head, and that was that.
He walked back into the building and gave me only a passing glance before wiping the bayonet off on the sleeping form of Dragon. It coulda been ketchup and mustard on Dragon for all you knew, if it weren't for the chunks of gristle and bone suspended in it like pineapple in jello. I watched, without surprise as Dragon rotated onto his back, kicked Jaguar soundly in the hand holding the gun, causing him to drop it, and used his other leg to kick him behind the knees. He crumpled to the floor, and Dragon sat on his back, wiping the blood of the zombie into Jaguar's hair. Disgusting. I'd end up smelling that all day. Thank the Lord it was a "mature" zombie and not something new, which would have had parts of him that the crab deemed unnecessary rotting off. They rolled around on the floor together, a brutish ballet of ham-fisted combat. A better way of saying it would be that they were wrestling. Sounds less fruity too. I got bored of watching this and gave them each a good kick in the ribs, narrowly avoiding a grasping hand that reached for my shirt.
They disengaged and Jaguar jumped at me. I dropped my shotgun and brought my knee up to block his assault, rotating my body slightly to use his momentum against him. At the same time, I grabbed his arm and thus, with the help of his bulk, swung him to the floor. I kneeled down on his arms, pinning him quite effectively, and applied pressure to his cheek against his teeth. It's something I learned raising dogs. It hurts. I had both hands on his face, grinding his flesh against his molars and canines, and suddenly felt a sharp blow to my back. It hurt. I fell off him and thought, "I'm getting rusty." And it was true. Most zombies are slow and not a threat. Headcrabs can be dealt with from a range or with a blow from some sort of blunt object. People, on the other hand, are slippery. And can hit you in the back with their knees.
I roll over on my back and see Jaguar and Dragon standing over me and laughing, but that was okay. They both offered me a hand up, but I got up by myself. Kind of wished I hadn't. I sort of have a reputation for being standoffish and uptight. It was an opportunity, albeit a small one, to help alleviate this. Meh.
"I dunno if you have enough of that disgusting gruel to eat for breakfast, but if you do, hurry up. Time's wasting. Places to go and people to kill."
They didn't have any food. Fine by me. My stomach felt hungrier than a black hole with no gas giant to feed off. I wonder if anyone will know what I'm talking about in twenty years. There probably won't be Astronomy 101 in Community College, if there even are Community Colleges. You know what; forget what I said. I was hungry. I hadn't eaten in two days, but had too much pride to go foraging for a headcrab or something. So we set out for the Rustam Hulei Arsenal. Or as Jaguar coined it, "Destination: FUN!" Wacky bastard.
The hike took a good part of the morning. We encountered a handful of zombies; nothing too extraordinary. Jaguar's bayonet accounted for a few, and I put my axe to a few more. If you know what you are doing, zombies aren't really a threat unless they get you cornered. At least not the plain-jane types. The hulking brood zombies and the crack zombies are two entirely different propositions, but those are far less common. Except in Ravenholm.
The Arsenal was over the next hill according to the map, and it was. It was bigger than I expected. Something that immediately raised warning flags was the fact that most of the buildings were intact, as was the fence. The Combine hadn't blasted this place into slag for some reason. Why wasn't the resistance using this place as a Forward Operations Base?
"Jaguar, look at the map again. Any notes?"
"Then why aren't we using it?"
"Let's take it slow."
And so we fell into formation, the name of it long forgotten but the memories of our instructors fresh in our subconscious. My tenure in the Army seemed so long ago. But it worked. The gate to the compound was swinging on its hinges, a large padlock dangling from one of the sections of fence. Closer inspection revealed a ring of rust where the weather had taken its toll - the lock had been disturbed recently. Fascinating. We could be hot on the trail of the mystery man who shot the stiff by the foundry. Or it could just be nothing. My reverie was interrupted by gunshots.
Great, big, loud gunshots in quick succession. And the howl of a zombie. The howl of a crack zombie.
"Wanna risk it?"
So we ran towards the sound. More gunfire broke out, echoing off of barracks and what looked to be vehicle hangars. Then I saw something that made me halt in my tracks. The remnants of a headcrab shell.
When the Combine are too lazy to send a dedicated force to root out a large group of people in an area, they use biological warfare. Namely, headhumpers. They created a delivery system (although I've talked to people who say it was the United States military who created these for war after the portal storms) to give the gift of undeath to people from far away. This is what they did to Ravenholm. Headcrabs crawl out and in a few hours you can turn a dangerous population of armed paramilitarists into relatively harmless zombies. During the Seven Hour war nearly every military unit in the world was deployed. And so...
My train of thought was interrupted by roughly thirty zombies staggering around. More gunshots were heard. I looked at Dragon and Jaguar, and they grinned. Oi vey. I slung my shotgun over my shoulder and got out my 1911. .45 was easier to find than twelve gauge, and this would be more of a turkey shoot than anything.
And it was. After the first magazine of ammunition, I stopped using my handgun and just watched. Funny how you become immune to violence against things that were once people, and, according to Dr. Hesing, still are underneath the rotting exterior and alien nervous control. Sometimes, if you hurt a zombie in the right way, it will talk to you...
But none of these did because they all died. Dragon dumped the mag from his Kalashnikov and slapped another one in, and Jaguar had used his second stripper clip. He should really consider upgrading to something that could hold more than ten rounds. Little matter. I inspected the corpses of the fallen undead. They were wearing military overcoats, but many of them had civilian clothes, and then it dawned on me that this place had probably been used as a refugee camp right after the Seven Hour War, when the resistance was scattered and many of us in other countries. This is probably why the Resistance skirted the place in the early scoutings. In the young days, we didn't have much ammo to waste, although after the discovery of a few former Soviet arms caches this eased up.
And so we did. We would probably frisk the zombies later for anything of vague interest, like a watch or a pocketknife. Hey, you never know what could be useful. And it's not like they'd be needing it. I once found a still-ticking watch buried in the flesh of a brooder zombie. Sometimes I wonder if the person that may or may not have been under that disgusting and deformed exterior could hear it. The muted sounds of the world, and then the incessant ticking of his watch to keep him company as his body became twisted and deformed and horrible to look at, and then new little crabs would begin to grow...
Around the next barracks was a big building with a big blast door that was recessed into the ground. The arsenal. And someone was slumped against the wall. His hands were shaking and he had a ridiculous handgun that was as big as a Bible. He pointed it at a zombie which was lumbering towards him and fired, missing by a large margin. It was very loud. The bullet left a crater the size of my fist in the pavement that made up the ground. The gun was empty. He kept pulling the trigger anyway. Jaguar shot the zombie in the head. He turned and looked at us.
We walked over to him, weapons drawn and he just tracked us with his eyes. He was lying in a pool of his own blood, and had a good bit of meat missing from one of his legs. We sat there and stared at him, and then I kicked the Desert Eagle Mark XIX out of his hands. It skittered along the pavement and came to rest in front of the blast door. I looked at Dragon significantly and then asked the man "Do you speak English?"
He just stared at me.
"DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?"
"He doesn't speak English. Too bad none of us can speak Russian. Let's just kill him."
"No, don't do that! I can speak English."
"That's good. I am going to ask you several questions and I want you to answer them truthfully."
"Okay, I can do that."
"Why are you here?"
"I was looking for my family."
"Why did you shoot the man and the girl at the refinery?"
"What? No! I didn't shoot them. He was my friend and he killed himself, and then the girl killed herself in sorrow. I ran away in grief... and now I am here"
Har har har. All evidence pointed against this. I drew my 1911 and squatted down in front of him, the barrel pointing downward.
"What's your name?"
"Well, Cheslav, here's the deal. I know you're lying. My friends and I here, we've done a lot of bad things in our lives. There was this guy once and he was from Russia too, and he wasn't telling us the truth either. And you know what? There's this thing called the appendix inside of your body. It has special fluid for digesting food in it. Well, we had access to some anesthetic, so we drugged him and cut that open before sewing him back up. He told us the truth about things because his body was eating itself inside out. After the second day we promised we'd kill him if he told us the truth, because that's what he really wanted to do. He wanted to die, because it hurt. He told us the truth, but because it had taken him so long I was feeling kind of cranky so I let my dog eat him. God rest Muffy's soul. Anyway, would you care to change your story?"
Cheslav was sweating now, but whether from the pain of his injury or from my long and (for the record, false) painful threat I couldn't tell.
"So Cheslav, why did you kill the man and the girl?"
"The man wouldn't give me the key."
"Why did you kill the girl?"
"She had a gun."
"Why was she naked?"
"Do you like my gun?"
"That's a retarded gun. You think that gun makes you more gangster? I'm surprised you lasted this long."
"It is a cool gun. It comes from America. I have the only one in Russia."
Dragon walked over and picked it up and said: "Now I have the only one in Russia."
"And technically, my dear Cheslav, we aren't in Russia. We're in the Ukraine. And you're changing the subject, and I don't like that. Why are you here?"
"I have friends in the De Organizatsiya. There is an armory here supposedly. Organizatsiya wants the weapons to fight the Combine."
"Why was the girl naked, Cheslav?"
"Organizatsiya sent me here but I am a failure because I can't get inside. I thought it would just be a lock or something but it's all elektronik."
My inquiry was interrupted by Jaguar's angry shout and the screaming of one of the crack zombies. He and Dragon fired their guns about the same time I whipped my head around to see one on the roof of a barracks building nearby, flinching from the shots fired at him. That wasn't so bad. One crack zombie was cake. But there were about a hundred other zombies on the ground, slowly shambling towards us. They were streaming out of the barracks and bunkers and from under the mud. The majority of them were probably on the far side of the compound and were attracted by the gunshots. Bad.
I shoved my 1911 back into the holster and unslung my shotgun.
What happened next was kind of hard to remember. It involved lots of shooting. At one point I ran out of shotgun ammunition and started using it as a club before dropping it and using my axe. The herd had started to thin. I got scratched quite nicely. Jaguar and Dragon had more ammunition than I did. I had two clips for my 1911 left when they were all dead. All but one.
One of the zombies I had smacked was... different. Smaller. Same arms, same split chest cavity, but it was about three feet tall and I realized it was a child. I don't know why I've never found a child zombie before. It wasn't dead. Dragon dropped the nearly empty magazine from his Kalashnikov, slapped a new one in and was about to crush its head before I stopped him. I picked the little zombie up under the shoulders and set him down in front of Cheslav.
"Cheslav, you could have told us about those zombies and you didn't. Now, the only thing I want to do right now is cut off your arms and legs and let this little guy wake up and eat you. But I'll give you a fighting chance, even though you're scum. I won't cut off your arms and legs."
I set the little zombie down in front of him, and it started to stir. Cheslav called out "Yob materi vashi!", which Dragon tells me is a very bad thing in Russian. I turned around and walked away, and his cursing reached a crescendo. I stopped for a moment, gritted my teeth and turned around and walked toward him. I stomped the head of the zombie child in, and said "I know what you did to that girl," and shot him.
You know how you read in books about time slowing down during moments of intense emotion? It's true. I watched in what seemed like slow motion as his face caved in, A tiny halo of blood and flesh and bone spouted up from his forehead as the bullet went in before it splashed back down and joined the rest of the debris that exited the back of his skull and painted the wall he was leaning against red. I've read somewhere before that the Colt .45 is powered by the will of the Founding Fathers of America, and is propelled with powder made of the blood of every patriot. Some days that seemed true. But not today. I sort of scared myself by doing that. It was like I lost a tiny piece of humanity by shooting someone in cold blood. I've never really killed an ordinary human before, that close or that suddenly. He was an evil man, and in America or even Russia he would have been put to death for what he had done, but I made myself the judge, jury and executioner. The scary part was I kind of liked it.
"Wow," said Jaguar.
"He deserved it," said Dragon.
"Shut up and swipe that card you found in the coat." I said.
The card worked, and the door's locks disengaged. There was a muted grinding of gears and cogs and then the door finally began to slide open. Odd. This place must be on the Combine power grid or something.
"Go on in, I need to get my shotgun and I'll frisk Cheslav here for anything useful."
They went in, and after retrieving my shotgun I cupped my hand under Cheslav's chin and lifted his head up. My first squad leader told me to never look at the eyes of the people I kill, but I did anyway that first time and I've done it to every "real" person since. Combine are faceless, and zombies don't count. His blue eyes hadn't glazed over yet. Another face to remember for the rest of my life. This made nine, along with the face that I can't forget anyway.
Cheslav had nothing on him but an empty mag for the Desert Eagle. I put it in my pocket and stopped for a second. Fighting the zombies had given me an unbelievable adrenaline rush, one that I thought couldn't be topped, but Cheslav was "better," if you could call it that. I swapped mags out of my 1911 and ran into the arsenal after Jaguar and Dragon with eight in the chamber.
What I saw when I got in surprised me. An older man wearing a Ukrainian uniform was sitting and chatting with Jaguar and Dragon. He nodded as I entered the room. I just sort of fell down in shock because frankly the last thing I expected to see in here was a clean shaven middle aged man. He was speaking Russian, so I looked at Dragon expectantly for some sort of explanation.
"He wants to know why we shot Cheslav."
"Tell him why I shot him."
Dragon and the man jabbered on and on about various things, and my eyes wandered over the room. It was one of at least three, packed to the ceiling with crates of weapons and ammunition. There was a conspicuous empty spot. When I pointed, the Ukrainian said something and Dragon said "Heavy weapons. They were all deployed when the Combine showed up."
I suddenly felt very tired. I performed a huge tactical error and fell asleep.
My watch said it had been fifteen minutes but it felt like five days. I guess it was psychological, like my brain needed to be rebooted or something. I was very hungry. Dragon asked the man about some sort of food, and he said many words. He then got up and went outside.
"He said he would make us soup. He also said we could each choose one weapon and as much ammo as we could carry from his stores here."
Jaguar's eyes lit up and he ran off into the other room and began opening crates. Dragon did much the same thing. I began to wander around in the huge building, bewildered by the amount of devastation that this room could unleash. There were probably a billion rounds of ammunition in here. I grabbed eight boxes of shotgun shells, loaded my shotgun and threw the rest in my pack. There were many weapons here. PKM light machine guns, SVD Dragunov sniper rifles, Kalashnikovs by the hundreds. But I wanted something special. Something unique. Something that could actually be different and make me useful in capacities that my peers couldn't be. And then I found it.
I was still entranced by it when the Ukrainian walked in and stood next to me. "That" he began in broken English, "Mosin-Nagant 91/30PU Sniper Rifle. Zoom scope. 7.62x54 boolets. Big boom."
I pointed at the World War II era weapon and looked at him. He shrugged his shoulders and pointed to a bucket of stripper clips in the corner and then again to a tin of ammunition for it. I smiled at him in gratitude and picked up the heavy weapon. It fit me perfectly. I took the dust cover off the scope and sighted it down the room. Beautiful. The action worked perfectly. I was in love.
I put two ridiculously heavy tins of 7.62x54 in my pack as well as the stripper clips. It was going to be a long hike back home. I wondered how Oscar was doing. And then a smell wafted into the area I was in, a smell that overpowered the stench of cosmoline and metal, a smell that spoke to me of many things that once were, before the advent of the Combine. I walked into the main room to see the Ukrainian hunched over an electric range with a great big soup pot. He had some oil in the bottom, and was sprinkling an odd looking white powder into it - once it hit the oil I could smell the fact that they were dehydrated onions. Onions. Leek of the gods. And in the bottom of the pan, braising? Cubes of meat. Not the pale meat of a headcrab, but good red meat. It looked like beef. As I found out later after the addition of more dehydrated goods, it tasted kind of sweet, like pork, but also gamey at the same time. I made commentary on this and the Dragon translated the old man's words:
"Regrettably, the animal was under a lot of stress before the butchering. But it's still edible at least."
It was good enough for me. I sent Oscar a message in a code we had devised to let him know we were all okay. It was very simple. A certain pattern of knocks meant that we were in good fortune or bad. Two days without communication and he would report us missing to New Little Odessa.
We spent the night there, and ate the leftovers of the man's delicious soup in the morning. Before we left, he told us that the dead man near the refinery was a new recruit assigned to the arsenal, and after it turned into a refugee camp, only he and his girlfriend escaped. He came back the next day to see everyone headcrabbed - and thinking the old man was dead too, got the biggest lock he could find and contained the infestation. Why did the old man not signal him? "He likes his solitude," said Dragon.
We set out that day, back for my home and their boat so that they could leave. The man in the Arsenal said that any attempt by the Resistance to seize the arms would be met with lethal force, and I didn't doubt that for one moment. The three of us made a pact to lie about where we got our new arms. He could have his solitude.
I noted with interest as we left that something had worried the corpse of Cheslav over the night and removed most of the meat from the bones. Maybe a ravenous horde of crows? I didn't really know or care. I was thinking about what I could do to the Combine with my new weapon. She was beautiful, the light of the sun bringing out the color in her stock and the blued metal that made up her barrel and action. I was thinking up various euphemisms for sniping people when I heard several screams, much like the screams of crack zombies. They jumped over a nearby hill and were upon us in an instant. I felt burning lines gashed into my chest and then felt myself flying through the air and hitting something hard and I don't really remember what happened after that because I blacked out.
12:57 AM 09/15/2014: Enter Parabellum
Sorry for cutting out early last night, Parabellum. That's what I've decided to call you. It means "Ready for war", which is both ironic and fitting at the same time. Most people would call me crazy for talking to a book, but frankly, we have zombies now and an evil alien force which dominates all of humanity. This is crazy. I'm hoping Dragon found some LSD again and spiked my soup again and that all of this will wear off as my body slowly detoxifies itself. Or perhaps I am certifiably insane. Either way, there seems to be other people involved in this certifiable insanity, so it can't be that bad.
Tangent. Anyway, my two traveling companions got away from the crack zombie attack with minor scratches, but apparently I bruised my ribs and got a lovely bite in the meat of my upper arm, in addition to a concussion. Another hundred thousand neurons down the drain. Jaguar and Dragon stopped the bleeding and radioed N.L.O asking for pickup, but apparently the glorified go-karts that Dr. Vance's daughter designed were either broken or out with the convoy, so Jaguar and Dragon dragged me the whole way back to N.L.O. I don't remember, but I think it's around fifteen miles, so I guess I owe them one. Bullsquid jerky or something. Or perhaps I won't break Jaguar's wrist if he puts a blacksnake in my bed while I'm sleeping. Again.
It hurts when I breath, but I've gotten used to that. My upper arm doesn't look so hot. Again, it was just a flesh wound but I think it might get infected. The mouth of a mawman is not the most sterile place in the world, if you catch my drift. The last thing I need is to get gangrene or something and then have the pretty doctor chop it off because she doesn't have any antibiotics. Which reminds me, I haven't seen her around. I'll have to ask the vaguely medical looking guy who stomps in and out every fifteen minutes or so. His bedside manner isn't so hot either.
There are two other people in here with me. One of them has bronchitis. I know this because his name is Jerry, and Jerry gets bronchitis every fall without fail. The other one has a bandaged chest. They moved him in last night, but he's awake and reading a book with Cyrillic on the cover. Quite a hale fellow.
I struck up a conversation with him. His name is Simon Alazraque, and he is from Spain. He got a neat little hole punched through him by a Combine plasma-based weapon while "out on patrol". This angered me. Cubbage, Jaguar and Dragon never mentioned that we were starting to engage Combine patrols. I wanted a piece of this action, but one thing at a time.
Jaguar and Dragon came in.
"Thanks for hauling my ass outta there."
"You need to lose a few pounds."
"Oh shut up. Did Mandel give you a lot of trouble about the weapons?"
"He hasn't asked yet, but he seized your rifle. Said someone of your caliber wouldn't appreciate it. Pun was mine."
I said some bad things about Mandel. Things that my dear departed mother in Heaven would frown upon if I wrote them down. I despise that man. He's too arrogant and cocky. He needs to be put into place, but the Resistance agreed to use military rank within limits, and he outranks me. He's an okay soldier, but he's a curmudgeon and I swear if there were not extenuating circumstances involved, I would have beaten him to a pulp outside some dive bar by now. But he's valuable to us, just like every other warm hunk of meat we have here. If all else fails, we can push him out in front of the Combine with an axe handle and run the other way.
I used to only say such things about Mandel only in front of my friends, just let off a little steam you know? Force cohesion and all that. And frankly I stopped caring today. Simon started laughing from his pallet in the corner. He quickly fell into a coughing fit, but managed to stifle it to laugh some more. "You fucking tell him, man." he said.
"I may just do that."
The orderly/medic/whatever he was came back in. "You" he said, pointing at me, "Mandel wants to see you three. You can walk, Jack."
"One question, where's the doctor who used to be here?"
His dull, listless British accent sparked for a moment, his voice raising the tiniest bit in pitch.
"She went out on convoy one day to visit one of the towns. She stayed behind for a few days. Combine shelled it. She was alive when we came back, but had a nasty infection in both of her arms. So I amputated them. Couldn't find any booze, so she was conscious. She died about the time we got back here. Bad business."
Bad news, more like. Out here, people with certain skillsets are commodities. You have the medical practitioners, mechanics, chemists... we even have a dentist and biologist in collaboration growing penicillin for harvest. There are upper-tier people too, the people who know what happened to start the portal storms but won't talk about it. Dr. Vance, Dr. Kleiner, Dr. Mossman and Teaga... They have PhDs in mumbo-jumbo that for some reason is important. That's okay though. Their protection is a discernable goal, it's something that ties the Resistance together. If they were involved in the rending of universes to let these things in, maybe they can figure out how to remove them. We protected them at Ravenholm, the original members of the Ukrainian resistance gave them shelter when they arrived here, and we gave them the safest and most secluded facilities to use. When they arrived here, the rest of us followed. The influx of people from all over the world rather confused the Ukrainians, but they welcomed us. We are the world's biggest bodyguard, in essence. Most people believe that we are here to fight the Combine, but that's a hopeless battle. What do these people think? We can defeat an enemy that annihilated the armies of the world in under seven hours?
We can, but not with guns. At least not the guns we have now. The eggheads understand how these things work, sort of. They kind of comprehend alien technology, and have a decent handle on the concept of teleportation it seems. They aren't perfect, but they are better than a bunch of pissed off people with a few guns. You can always find people willing to fight the Combine, and we lose many of them. We've only lost two out of eleven of the eggheads though. They are more valuable than Josh, Rob or myself. They are more valuable than my beloved Alice who died at Ravenholm. That is why we are here. If they move, we will follow. We have too much to gain. Cubbage personally promised me a spot on a raiding party if Kleiner and Vance perfect spot teleportation. We can show up in Breen's office and tear him to pieces. There are other possibilities. Nuclear weapons didn't work on the Citadels... but were they detonated from the inside? I salivate at the thought of the destruction we could sow if only we had a working teleporter. I live for the day that they do, and it won't do to me what it did to that cat. The destruction and fury we will rain down upon our besuited tormentors will be more horrible than any of the tortures spoken of in Dante's Inferno. They will pray for the gates of Hell to open and swallow them up. There will be no mercy - especially for the treacherous wretches that joined the Metro Police. The remaining shreds of their humanity will make no difference.
And with that out of my system, I go back to earlier today. I was kind of dizzy at first, but I managed to stay on my feet and it passed. The cranky Brit hadn't dressed the wound, which was fine by me because I have vestigial remnants of the teenage "hurr, look, scars are cool" syndrome. The medical area of N.L.O is a bit further back from the main road, so it was a bit of a walk down to N.L.O proper. The command center was in the basement of the larger house, which I believe was actually a school at one point. It was kinda chilly outside. You know that feeling you get sometimes when you inhale, and you can feel air moving through your ear? Sorta felt like that in my gaping wound. Cold air going where it wasn't supposed to be. The cold air is good for you, though. Builds strong lungs.
I stomped down the stairs leading to the basement and kicked the door open. I heard Mandel finish a sentence with "Activate the Noah Plan.". Crazy bastard.
"Your entry into hearh ist most unorthodoks, Sergeant Harper."
"I want the Mosin and my 1911 back."
"Keep in mind that I haff summoned you here not to make demands of me, but to answer questions. You haff a large ammunition expenditure, because you have two types of Kalashnikov ammunition, and have more than you left with. Explain."
Dragon stepped in, probably because he knew I would have said something very bad and explained, removing the part about the armory and replacing it with a crate packed full of cosmoline with the firearms we retrieved, and a small cache of ammunition. He didn't buy it, but what was he gonna do, call us liars? It's not like he hasn't done that before. But he did it again.
"You are liars. I'm confiscating your sniper rifle and reassigning it to someone with training, Sergeant Harper. You may keep the shotgun. The excess ammunition you have will be put in our armory. Zee Jaguar and zee Dragon are assigned to sector Theta for guard duty with the outpost there. You will return to your post in two days. I have spoken."
I started to say something, but Jaguar stopped me by punching me in the arm. I ignored Mandel's salute, although I wasn't under any obligation to return it anyway, and stomped out into the pale sun. I turned and looked at Jaguar and said "You understand I am not leaving this place without that weapon, right?"
"Yeah. Why not wait until Cubbage is feeling better? He'll likely side with you. Mandel will be pissed that you went above the chain of command, and both of your objectives will be accomplished."
I felt like an idiot, because he was right. Sometimes I am rather impatient.
N.L.O was dead. Most of the people were out with the caravan. It was chilly out, so we went into the upper level of the schoolhouse, currently being used as an operations post. Maps lay scattered around, and another radio was being attended to by an operator. He turned around and said "Hey, listen to this guys".
He unplugged the headphones and though the sub-par speakers flowed the sound of Bob Dylan singing "All along the Watchtower". Which was an okay song, but I hadn't heard it in two years. Odd choice to play, taking a risk like that should have been dedicated to something very very important. I asked the radioman for an explanation:
"It's set up just like a normal radio station, like pre-Combine. It's even got a DJ who speaks some weird language that sounds sort of like Spanish, but isn't."
"Yeah, probably. He's been switching songs every hour. Might be some kind of message or something, but if there is I haven't been catching it. Fascinating, really."
I could vaguely hear Mandel yelling something in the basement, but the music almost drowned him out. My arm didn't hurt as much anymore. We ate dinner. The food wasn't spectacular. I'm getting very sleepy. I've missed things like music. Dragon can play the guitar, sort of, but he broke two of the strings when he smacked a zombie with it. Very "Quick Draw McGraw"ish. I bet that cartoon will never see a television set again. The radio is playing an Eagles song now, and I don't remember the name, just that it ain't "Hotel California". For some reason they played that song in one of the Blackhawks I was in when we went to recon Boulder, Colorado. We didn't see any signs of survivors, just massive throngs of zombies. They hadn't built a wall around Boulder, but it didn't matter because even though they had a perimeter, they had bad enough luck to have a Portal Storm erupt inside the city. They actually set one of the other chalks down at city hall, and they found the mayor to be quite deceased. Killed himself, or was shot, or something. Later we set down at the nearby nuclear power plant so that a few techs could shut it off until we got a firebase set up there, but that's a tale for another night, Parabellum. Because I'm tired. Goodnight.
12:57 AM 09/15/2014: Mirror
I woke up this morning, and the music wasn't playing. It was a new radioman's shift and he kept the headphones plugged in. The station was still running, though, so perhaps we could listen later tonight.
My arm is stiff. I hate zombies. Their very existence infuriates me. I have never seen a headcrab attack anything but a human with the intent of zombification... And why humans? Are there humans in the Border world where these monsters came from? I asked Oscar once, and he gave me some mumbo jumbo about being "coterminous." Bastard Vortigaunts and their oversized vocabulary. Just because they can have three of them read the dictionary in a day and then disseminate the information amongst the rest of the species doesn't mean they need to use every word in it.
We have a PhD in the Resistance dedicated to studying zombies. Her name is Norma Callinger. Despite her archaic label, she's only about 40 years old. Her lab is on the outskirts of the abandoned district of C17, in the remnants of a school. The above-ground section had been turned into slag, but the basement still functioned, and she had a fairly complex laboratory set up. I know this because I helped her network her computers together. Not that there had been an internet for a long, long time, but she could number crunch with multiple machines now. We've learned a lot from her. For example, once you get headcrabbed, most of the higher-function areas of your brain are turned into soup. Speech remains intact, although the crab controls this. I've watched her make the zombies talk. You douse them in gasoline, set them alight... they'll scream for mercy, God, or death. She figured that if the headcrab itself is under a lot of pain (for example, if the host body is on fire) that it regresses control of parts of the brain. Now, if you've been around zombies for any great period of time, you'll know that if you heavily damage the host body, but not the crab itself, that it will detach and try to eat your face. But never once in a subject has that happened with fire. Perhaps fire floods the headcrab's nervous system or something. I dunno. She's the doctor and won't make a statement until it's gone from theory to fact.
I helped her in her lab for a little while after she moved in. Once someone is crabbed, please, don't try to save them by taking the crab off. Just put a bullet in them. It's better for them to die as a zombie. Twisted flesh, soupy eyes, bare bone... I don't know what Norma is doing with them now that we know they can't be saved, but whatever it is I hope it helps us exterminate them. Of all the things we are forced to endure now, the zombies are the worst by far, I believe. Your friends and comrades hunt you down and try to eat you, still alive under an external shell of sloughing flesh and a cracked ribcage, and the only thing you can do for them is put them down.
At least the bite isn't infectious. In the early years of 2000, Hollywood became obsessed with zombies. There were two camps: the "Viral" zombies, abominations made in laboratories, and "Classic" or "Romero" zombies. Their origins were of various natures, but they all had one thing in common - their bites would spread the infection. At the very least I can thank God that these zombies only spread via headcrabs; if it were contagious, then I am certain around 85% of the Resistance would not exist right now. I would be "turned" ten times over, as would the other "shooters" (to wit, people not in the command staff).
As a boy, and even into adulthood, I would plot and plan for "zombie invasion." It was an odd hallmark of immaturity, to prepare and lay the foundations of a survival plan in the likelihood of an event that was so outrageous that it would never occur. There was even a network of us across the world, people who could band together and fight a common foe for their own survival. Ammunition is cheap. I think at one point I had nearly three thousand rounds of 7.62x39 hollow point in my house. Sure, I used to shoot a lot, and that only cost me around five hundred dollars, but three thousand?
The zombie apocalypse did come, but I wasn't sitting at home playing videogames. I was fresh off a war and fresh out of the Army. I joined the Guard, 'cuz hey, why not? I already had the schedule, I got to go and play army man twice a month and got paid for it. I was rather gung-ho on account of the performance of my unit in the war. Sir Winston Churchill once said that "The greatest thrill in the world is to be shot at ineffectually," and you know what? It's true. We got into some hairy close quarters stuff, but that was only about half the time. The other half was sitting on our asses in the scrub and dunes laughing at people spraying with Kalashnikovs from half a mile away and then plugging them with an M14 or M21, or even lucky shots from the Designated Marksman. At least until China started sending our enemies cheap Dragunov knockoffs. They were cheap, but they had reach, and the times spent laughing at an ineffectual enemy were over.
But I had survived. I heard rumors before my discharge about an entire regiment of Marines disappearing; a regiment stationed in America. I chalked them up as being just that. Rumors. Groundless information composed of a shell of lies with a shard of truth at the center. The day after I heard that, I also heard that a military research facility in New Mexico was incinerated in a thermonuclear explosion. The official report was a reactor meltdown, but I had flyboy friends. The residual radiation was too low for something like that. It wasn't an out of control reactor... too clean and efficient.
And then the portal storms, and the "zombie apocalypse." But enough of that for now.
Today was thoroughly uneventful, which is why most of this entry has been regarding my past. I like to ramble, you see. You'll forgive me for it, Parabellum. Some days you fight zombies, discover lost caches of arms and execute murderers, other days you sit around and do nothing. Cubbage is getting better, and the caravan should be coming back soon, meaning I probably won't have to hump it back to Oscar. Oscar. Kind of odd how you can miss a leathery alien that shoots lightning and will beat you in chess and then gloat about it. Smug bastard.
Oh yeah, I talked to Simeon again. He mentioned a few brief raids on Combine patrols, mostly using IEDs to disable the APCs (those Combine APCs have a lot of armor, but we have some really skilled people working for us), and then gunning down the crew as they evacuate it. I've seen that behavior before, of course, except I was on the receiving end. But hey, if it works, it works.
He also talked about the vaguely medical-looking person with the horrible bedside manner. Apparently his name is Jerad, and he's a rather recent arrival. They caught him up in England trying to take out a Combine patrol with a sniper's rifle. Instead of executing him on the spot, they shipped him to City 17 to go to Nova Prospekt, but he managed to coordinate an escape attempt that only he survived. With dual training as a sniper and a combat medic (I have no clue why we didn't have dual training in the States), he's moderately useful, and for the time being, the closest we have at N.L.O. to an M.D.
It's now the evening, and after doing some painful stretches to keep my arm from tensing up, the radio operator from last night is back on duty, and he plugged the speakers back in. The station is still running, this time doing a lovely collection of hair band music from the 80's. Fantastic. Because you know I've lain awake at night wishing with all my heart that I could hear Twisted Sister again, and what do you know, my fondest wish was granted. That's sarcasm, Parabellum. They could at least play Rush or something. We need to find someone who can speak Portuguese.
12:57 AM 09/16/2014: Pyrrh
I awoke to the sound of Jaguar and Dragon packing up around five in the morning in the communal barracks. I groaned. Today they were leaving for other places, and today I had to go back to my shipping crate. It'll be nice to see Oscar again, but I need to talk to Cubbage first... And my arm's not even healed. It's gonna be stiff for the rest of my life if I don't get someone half-decent to work on it. I don't like this Jerod fellow. I saw him standing over the new guy they brought in from the outskirts of C17 who tripped a Combine "Hopper" mine and got a faceful of shrapnel for his efforts. He just stood there as the guy whined softly in agony. Like I said, bad bedside manner.
The convoy would be getting in around 13:00 or thereabouts, and Mandel was throwing me out around 15:00. I'd get to shoot the breeze for a little bit. But first, Colonel Odessa Cubbage and I would have to have a talk. How convenient it was that he was feeling better the very day I had to leave.
I ate breakfast, but it wasn't so great. What I really wanted was more of that rather delicious stew the man in the arsenal made. Speaking of which, I've been rather careless with you, Parabellum, leaving you under the bed and such. If Mandel read this and saw that I lied about a resource the Resistance could use, he'd probably try to have me shot, or something along those lines. Which leads to an interesting question: Why was the man in the arsenal willing to let us have weapons and ammunition, but not the rest of the Resistance? We had found a few other weapons stockpiles, long looted or mostly emptied by the militaries which owned them, not to mention destroyed by the Combine. He could supply the Resistance in this area with weapons and ammunition to last for years. But why wouldn't he? Why was he just sitting on the weaponry? I doubt he had even discharged a firearm in months. He certainly wasn't using however many millions of rounds of ammunition and thousand of weapons he had in there. Perhaps it was a trap, a Combine trap - it wasn't their style, but maybe they changed tactics. Perhaps he put tracker nanites in our soup, or injected a chip into one of our boots when we weren't paying attention. I have no idea what the extent of Combine technology is. Save the eggheads, none of us do. We've seen their weapons - men disintegrated, buildings and tanks turned into slag, plasma splashing into airplanes and helicopters and burning right through. They even resisted thermonuclear weapons; or at least, the Citadels did. We killed quite a few of them with that nuke. We didn't need San Francisco that much anyway, but that's a tangent. We don't understand the subtle tech. We don't know what's inside a Combine APC, for example. There are no controls. How are they operated? Remotely? Psychically? Maybe there's a little control chip in your left big toe which transmits a coded signal for a console to pop out of the dash or something.
Maybe those flying-whale Combine gunships are headed this way to annihilate the head of the Resistance because I hadn't thrown away my boots.
Cubbage was up and about and feeling better. It's odd how great you feel after the worst part of the flu. He had a broken lawn chair and had placed it out in the sunshine near the cliff face by the beach. He, as well as the rest of us would probably be down on the beach right now if it weren't for the antlions. Their activity now was nothing compared to the breeding season, but it still only took one to ruin your day, so the beach was off-limits. Back in the early days, just after most of the Americans arrived, someone's kid was playing down on the sand and got torn apart. Jaguar and some other guy convinced him not to off himself, but one day he up and disappeared. Oscar mumbled something about the Vortigaunt camp up near Venture Prospekt when I asked him about it. But again, that's a tangent, Parabellum.
I walked up to Cubbage, and I'm not even going to try to write his accent down because I'm just too lazy. Just keep in mind it's so stereotypically British that you'd expect him to wear a monocle. He saw me coming, and opened with:
"Hullo, Jack. Heard you got bit in the arm."
"Yeah, Cubbage. Hurts like all the dickens. Nice to see you out and about."
Cubbage laughed. He always laughed when I used archaic terminology, since he's probably the most educated person in this little army.
"I really don't want to trouble you when you're recovering from a bout of ill health, but this is somewhat important. Not just to me, but I think it affects the others here too. You probably weren't briefed on what happened with Jaguar, Dragon and myself out on recon, but I'll cut to the chase. We found three weapons. Mandel has confiscated mine. I want it back, since it's a weapon I can use."
"Is that so, Jack. Where'd you find them?"
"Wrapped in newspaper in a barn. We poked around some more but found nothing."
Cubbage looked at me, his face expressionless.
"You're lying, but that's okay. Come with me, we will go discuss this with Mandel."
We trudged back up the hill. How did Cubbage know I was lying? We found tiny caches of arms all the time, just like that. Cubbage was a learned man. Did he know the subtle intricacies of human body language? Had he read my journal?
We walked into the schoolhouse and down to the basement. Mandel was busy mumbling to himself looking at a big dirt-smeared map. Red thumbtacks represented Citadels. Red marker represented the borders of combine held territories around City 17, and blue represented areas we knew we held, while orange represented "free cities" out on the edge. He turned around when the door slammed behind us and greeted Odessa with a "Goot day, Colonel," before glancing at me and saying "Ahh, Sergeant Harper. We have packed our bags and you are ready to go."
"Just a minute, Mandel. Jack here says you confiscated a weapon he found out on patrol."
"This is true, Colonel. He refused to tell me where he found it, or more actually he lied. His two... Companions... Refused to tell me as well."
"What makes you think he lied?"
"He was acting nervous."
At this point I was quite angry, because I've discovered I'm a very good liar throughout several events in my life. You don't look down to the left when responding. Most people do that. There are other things too, but the best magician never reveals his tricks. Haha.
"Mandel, give Jack back his rifle."
"But Colonel, he can't use it out there on the river. In light of our recent... changes in policy regarding the Combine, I recommend ve give it to someone qualified to use it. Such as Jerod."
This surprised me because Mandel never referred to people by their first names.
"Jack is more than qualified. Besides, we need Jerod here because he's the only one with medical training, remember? That is what you told me when I wanted to send him out with the convoys."
Mandel paused and gave me a look that would cause the skin to slough off my body, if I cared. Which I didn't.
"But Sergeant Harper will be back on the river, and his weapon will be useless."
"About that, I'm reassigning Jack and Oscar to N.L.O. That part of the river is empty now. Waste of manpower and all that sort of thing. Jack is to immediately be put on the roster for guerilla activity. We'll move Oscar and his things here after the convoy gets back. As for you jack, go to the armory and turn in that shotgun for your rifle."
I saluted Cubbage, he tossed me a key on a chain, and I left. I let myself have the grin I was barely suppressing down there. The river was okay, and my accommodations were pretty good for a watch post... But it was too passive. Out here I could take lives and leave my mark on the Combine, no matter how small. Even if I died without firing a shot, it would be one more person that defied them, one more person that stopped and said, "This is enough and I am going to fight and kill for ideals I believe in." This is clichÃ©d, I know, but often times it seems my life is clichÃ©s and my ideals are hollow jingoism. But I've accepted that, because I know I'm right. Odessa Cubbage, Ret., gave me what I wanted.
I went outside into the sunshine, which seemed just a little bit brighter. My shoulder hurt just a little bit less. The armory was in the basement of another house. We didn't really have anyone assigned to it, just a padlock. Hence the key. Myriad weapons of all sorts were in there, in sawdust, wrapped in sacks or paper, or dunked in barrels of grease. The rifle was just as I had found it. I replaced the rifle with the shotgun and walked out into the sunlight. A shout drew my attention. The convoy was coming back.
Or at least one vehicle, packed with men who bled. It was a deuce-and-a-half truck, the type with a covered back. Seven men were in that truck, two of them without a scratch on them, but five with horrible burns and bloody injuries. The survivors of the convoy. Combine Gunship. We lost 35 men. THIRTY-FIVE MEN, PARABELLUM. One gunship did this. Fuc- I get angry, Parabellum. Forgive me. I spent the rest of the evening helping the sniper-medic and some others in the medical building. Got blood all over my arms and I pray to the Lord that none of these men had hepatitis or HIV because I got some in my wound. I don't know if these men will survive. I've gotten blood on your pages, Parabellum. Blood of men who did nothing wrong but be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got zapped with a laser beam by a flying whale from another world. I've been too sheltered. I felt this way after the Seven Hour War, but grew complacent on the river. Killing zombies or executing a rapist is nothing like seeing people, "normal" people covered in burns with partially coagulated blood oozing from cracked and charred flesh on a table while someone with little medical training tries to keep him alive. I am angry.. Angry at myself and this enemy we cannot fight.
In the old wars, your enemy was cunning and hid behind a curtain of deception, but when you found him, you could kill him. When we went on to bigger things, the enemy had airplanes and helicopters which you could knock out of the sky with several words over a radio. We have not taken down one Combine Gunship. I haven't killed a Combine in months. I want the blood that stains my hands now to be washed away with the blood of the Combine. And Breen. I want to do things to that traitor that I haven't done to men in years. Things that men should not do. As I've been writing this, one of the men just stopped breathing. He'll die.
12:57 AM 09/17/2014: Music by Numbers
"Chove torrencialmente, activar o Plano NoÃ© dentro de seis meses. One, Seven, Niner, Seven, Juliet, Romeo, Sierra."
"Chove torrencialmente, activar o Plano NoÃ© dentro de seis meses. One, Seven, Niner, Seven, Juliet, Romeo, Sierra."
"Chove torrencialmente, activar o Plano NoÃ© dentro de seis meses. One, Seven, Niner, Seven, Juliet, Romeo, Sierra, Tango."
The voice of Simon rose above the chattering of the radio.
"What's that noise?"
"It's the radio. He's been repeating that for about an hour and a half now, with minor variance. It's called a Numbers Station."
"What's a Numbers Station?"
That's the first thing I heard this morning as I woke up. The concept intrigued me. If a Numbers Station was running, that means that there's a good chance there's a resistance beyond us. I figured that other people would do the same thing at the other Cities, but never had any concrete proof of it. It was Simon and the radio operator talking. Simon had been moved into the common sleeping area yesterday.
"Allow me to explain," I began. "It's a radio station set up for relaying numbers, usually for time-pad encryption. It's rather complicated. Basically, for it to work, the receiver and sender need to have the same code key. It's basically unbreakable without the key. Fancy stuff."
"There's another way, which involves books. Sender and receiver have a book, any sort of book, and using the first three digits, find the page number. The last two digits are a word, found using a grid system. This one is strange though. Usually Numbers Stations only transmit their codes. I don't know why this one plays music as well, unless to grab the attention of people who may have the key to the code, but don't know to listen for it. Additionally, there's a third type of station - it uses the phonetic alphabet. Rumor had it the Mossad ran those. This one is strange to say the least, because it not only has a code phrase in Portuguese, it has the five numbers necessary for a book decryption AND part of the phonetic alphabet. It could be three different messages, or one message with the other two components to confuse, or it could be a false lead to distract the Combine from another thing entirely."
This was quite fascinating. The station had been totally dead until the other day, or so the radioman said. I continued along that thought process, and then acknowledged a funny smell. I looked at my hands. Blood all over them. Oh Lord have mercy, I had forgotten about last night.
I walked into the pale sunshine and across the way to the medical building. It wasn't very warm. The cold had set in for the winter now, and times were going to be hard. Hey, on the bright side, that's 35 people we don't have to feed now. In spite of myself, tears of anger welled up. I choked them back and entered the building.
Two of the men were in the corner with blankets over their faces. They were dead. The other three were in various states of injury. Two of them had only first and second degree burns, but the third, the one screaming, had mostly second and third. Well, he was trying to scream but I'm pretty sure most of his alveoli were seared shut because all you could hear was wheezing. I don't know how he was alive. His nostrils and eyes were scabbed over. The light was better in this room this morning. Last night I didn't see his arms. They were charred to a fine crisp, his tendons and bones jutting from charred meat. His fingers were bones with slivers of meat on them. He had no hair. Blood slowly oozed from a dozen cracks in his flesh. He smelled like a pork roast. The thought of equating this man with food nearly made me vomit. He was a pitiful wretch, a broken and sorry human being. And at the same time it's a reminder of your own mortality, because if you had your hair burned off and were covered in burns, you wouldn't look so different from him. In a movie a long time ago a woman escaped from a science facility and found horribly mutated clones of herself and recoiled in shock and horror. This was my clone lab. I am Ripley, facing what I could easily become, or easily have been.
I turned around and walked back out and saw Odessa sitting in the sun again. He looked a lot more careworn, a lot more tired. He looked up as I approached.
"How's your arm, Jack?"
"Healing up. I wish we had some butterfly bandages. How's your flu?"
"Gone, thank you. I am feeling much better."
"I have a request, if you will. I really need to wash off, and we obviously don't have the water storage here necessary to do that. It's something of a biohazard, you see."
"Of course Jack. What did you have in mind?"
"I could just go down to the beach and splash about a bit in the water. I'd take a shotgun from the arsenal, and if you felt up to it, you could sit with my Mosin in case there was any trouble with the antlions."
Odessa got up and moved his chair closer to the small bluff overlooking the beach, and I went over to the unlocked shed and got the shotgun out that I had put back yesterday. I love my 1911, but for ant lions it's just not enough. I shut the door, went back to the communal room and grabbed the Mosin, and walked back out to Odessa.
"It's a beautiful weapon, Jack."
I walked down the road around the bluff to the beach. There shouldn't be much antlion activity with the recent cold snap, but you could never be too safe. I stripped to the nude and walked into the bitter cold water, muttering curses.
Water in the Ukraine is cold. Water in the Ukraine is colder in the winter. I wasn't thinking about that, though. I had the blood of that man in that building on my body and I had to get it off. If I didn't, it would begin to rot and smell horrible and I would get diseases and become ill and soon I would be as dead as those thirty seven men, soon to be thirty eight. There was no question in my mind that the charred carcass with a spectre of life left in him would leave this coil. It was just a question of how many hours of agony it would be until he did.
The blood ran off me and left little tendrils in the gently lapping sea. So cold. Kicked me back into focus. Out of all the people who usually frequent N.L.O, we had about 94 left. Most of them were out working on a stronghold we could use in a network of caves in some nearby mountains. Well, not really a stronghold. More like a large storage facility. Too bad the Combine could easily sniff it out if they went looking for it. So cold.
Odessa shouted something, barely audible. Bad acoustics. I dashed out of the water and flicked the safety off the shotgun. I was clean enough. I had irrigated my wound with seawater, so maybe the salt would help stave off infection. I looked down the beach to see what Odessa was screaming about, and started laughing.
It was an antlion, but a rather gimped one. Two of its legs were broken and dragged behind it, useless. It had a good chunk missing from its abdomen and a hole in its head. Maybe a Combine patrol ran into a few dozen of his friends. I heard the crack of the 91/30. First time it had been fired around me. It had a good sound, rich and loud, and I couldn't help but grin when I saw what it did to the antlion. Punched right through and kept on going to splash in the water, trailing guts and broken fragments of carapace. Beauty is a Russian gun that predates World War II and can be used to kill aliens from another universe.
I walked back up the beach, dried off with an old shirt I had brought from the communal area and put my clothes back on.
"You really need to give your arse a good shaving, Jack."
"That was a great shot Odessa. You punched a hole the size of my fist right through the bugger."
"Get back inside, Jack. You'll get hypothermia."
There's only one building in New Little Odessa that's heated, and that's the medical building. I unloaded the shotgun and put it back in the arsenal, and slowly made my way with a heavy heart back up to the medical ward.
There isn't much to say, really. Many people came in to visit the three men. I wished Oscar was here. We could play chess or something. The fire slowly warmed me back up. Colonel Cubbage came into the ward later that day and sat down without saying a word. Mandel was there too. He didn't even glare at me, just said a few words softly to himself in German. He left a quarter hour later.
It was very quiet in here. There were two sounds audible, at once quiet and deafening, oxymoronic though that be. There was a clock we had found, one of the few left that still worked, and we had put it up. The other was the silent screams of the burnt man. I couldn't hear what he was screaming, but I could guess. God. Water. His mother. Perhaps just garbled gibberish.
I listened to him for three and a half hours that today. It is impossible to describe what I felt for those three hours. Pain. Anger. Fear, hatred, a whole parade of emotions that marched in turn through my mind. And then I could listen no more.
"This isn't right," I said.
I stood up and scanned the room for something. I found it. I took the shroud from one of the dead men and walked over to the charred corpse on the table, his lips barely moving, his chest scarcely rising as he breathed. I wadded the bed sheet up and placed it next to the poor wretch's head. I whispered something to him. I won't say what it is because that's between me and God. I think Odessa had guessed, but the sniper-medic had not, so what I did next came as a surprise to him. It sort of surprised me, to be honest. I unholstered my Colt model 1911A1 Army model, flicked off the safety, firmly pressed the barrel against the sheet and fired.
The two sleeping men did not awaken.
"It's better this way," I said. The sniper-medic stared at me. Odessa shook his head sadly. I flicked the safety back on and reholstered my weapon. It is better this way. I will shed tears for that man whose name I don't know when I have time. If I'm not dead either. We all die sometime. I hope I die better than he did.
I'm going to sleep now because I am exhausted. The numbers station stopped broadcasting entirely on that frequency and hopped to another, and has started playing music again, this time with the numbers and letters broadcasted at the same time as music from one of those Beethoven CDs you could get for three dollars at the store. I go now to dream dreams. Goodnight Parabellum.
9:44PM 09/18/2014: Contagio
I had a dream last night. It had the dead man and a girl with auburn hair and no face in it. We were eating dinner on the veranda of a nice restaurant. Steak and gravy, asparagus and butter, a nice poached salmon filet. The burned man oozed pus on the table and apologized before wiping it off with a napkin. The waiter was a zombie who spoke in a slightly nasal fashion. Little hairs on his crab waved gently in the warm breeze from the east.
Then the man with the charred flesh and the neat hole drilled through one side of his head got the ticket, and started yelling at the waiter before dumping what looked like a delicious bowl of onion soup on the floor. One of the waiters tried to calm him down, but the angry man kicked him in the shin, and was quickly dragged, screaming and thrashing, out of the restaurant, leaving a slick of blood and pus behind him. The girl sighed, a gurgly, wheezy sound that came from her throat, and dug around for her checkbook.
"I left it in the car."
I dug around for my wallet, but it was empty and I had cut up my credit cards the night before. I shrugged at the waiter, and the security men came back and threw me into an iron maiden. They shut it, and iron spikes pressed against my chest. It was hard to breathe in here. My arm hurt.
When I woke up, someone was sitting on my chest.
"I don't know who you are, but you're irritating me. Get off immediately."
The person got off and I sat up. It was just a kid. Someone (who I assume was his mother) shot me a dirty look. She was one of those short, dumpy Ukrainian women you keep seeing, although not quite so dumpy as emaciated at this point in time. There were others, too; men and women and more children. Children are irritating, but you need them. They are the next incarnation of you and me. They can be faster, stronger, better - and they replace us. And some days you think that's the way it should be because you're tired and you want to let other people shoulder your responsibilities. I understood this back when I was young and fresh and wore a beret, but now I understand it for real, personally. I'm only 25 and I want to wear flannel and chop firewood.
Except the forests are filled with zombies and Lord knows what else.
I got up out of the bottom bunk in the communal area. My arm hurt. I went and took a leak and found a shard of the mirror Jaguar broke one night before I got assigned out to the river, a full nine months ago. What I saw was grim in nature. The area around the bite was inflamed and puffy. I touched it - it was warm. I was getting an infection. Just what I needed. I had thought about this possibility when they brought me in, mind you. I just put faith in the competence of a stranger because when you come to rely on people to do their jobs, you get lulled into a false sense of security.
It's too cold to grow maggots to eat the rot away. It's a good idea though. In World War I, men would get trench foot, which is where your foot actually begins to rot. Many men were inadvertently saved from gangrene by maggots munching away at the rotten flesh. They would travel up your leg if you weren't careful though.
But all of that was a moot point. So I wandered around until I found Jerad the sniper-medic and said "I've got an infection."
"Let us see. Ahh, so you do."
Interesting. He didn't have the stereotypical British accent at all. It was a lot more... Neutral. More bland.
"The infection is bad."
He prodded it a bit, causing me to curse most profanely.
"This is not good."
He massaged the area around it, causing me to wince.
"This is very very bad. Your best chance of survival is to amputate. There is no guarantee your body can fight the infection."
"I'm not gonna be a cripple. You are not cutting my arm off."
"We have no antibiotics here. You are malnourished and your immune system is taxed. Do you value your arm more than your life?"
"You're not cutting off my arm."
"You are obviously beginning to enter a delirium from your infection. Our only choice is to amputate your arm before the infection can spread."
He just wouldn't shut up. This went on for another thirty seconds or so. It was irritating. The weather wasn't right. It was abnormally warm for the time of year. Or maybe it was just the fever. My cheek began to tick, the way it does when I get very very angry. He had both hands on my arm now, poking and prodding and it hurt like all the demons of Hell chose that time to simultaneously dance on my arm with stiletto heels. This analogy occurred to me as it was happening, not as an afterthought, and so I laughed at the concept.
"See? You are incapable of making your own decisions. Even now you are laughing hysterically while we discuss serious matters."
He was really starting to annoy me. I knocked him to the ground with my left hand, catching him off his guard. What I said is so hilarious as an afterthought, so trite and cheesy that it could have come from some horrible action movie starring Steven Segal.
"I am capable of making my own decisions. In fact, I have decided that if you get three or four of these nice people here to overpower me, I am going to shoot you. You're really starting to piss me off."
"You can't stay awake forever, Jack. I think it's best if you give me your weapon. You're in a volatile state of mind."
"Fuck you. And if I wake up without an arm, I'll learn to shoot left handed."
Ha ha, did I just write that? Oh well. I must admit I am becoming a bit delirious as the evening goes on. Little matter. I may be dead in a week anyway, so anyone who finds this to read it won't be offended by my vulgarities and epithets. Anyway, he got up, dusted himself off, and went on his way. Some people might say that threatening to kill him was a bit much, but seriously, you have no idea how annoying he was, Parabellum.
I'm not going to be a fifth wheel around here. That's what I told Cubbage. He sighed and shook his head the way he does when people act immature and impulsive. Then I went to Mandel. I didn't trust him any more than I trusted the sniper-medic.
"If you authorize the amputation of my arm, I'll cut your balls off and strangle you with your vas deferens."
He looked at me blandly and continued what he was doing. Smug bastard.
You see, if I am missing an arm, I can't shoot. Not effectively anyway. If I cannot shoot I am effectively useless. Non Combat Personnel. Like a civilian contracted plumber on a military base. A waste of food, space, time. Without these extenuating circumstances, things would be different. And so I say this right now, for myself and anyone who may read this after I'm dead: If I died from this injury, it was worth it. I died whole. I didn't waste away in the corner of one of these buildings operating a radio or something, or die slowly from the sniper-medic's suspect doctorings. One of the guys from my chalk in the Seven Hour war said "I was a shooter until the end". He was talking about the expiration of his requirement for the National Defense Force, and how he renewed it - I'm talking about my utility to these guys in the Resistance.
And thus, in the event I do die, it is my final Will and Testament that my Mosin be given to Cubbage, because he likes it, and my 1911 to Dragon, because he bitches about not having a sidearm. Give Oscar this book so he can use the pages to start fires, and give him the rest of my personal possessions - most notably my wallet (which doesn't have any money in it you grave robbing children of pigs). Also, if you ever get a hold of this, Oscar, I'm sorry we never got the chance to dance in a chorus line and sing showtunes together. That would have been amusing.
My writing is degrading. I am very tired. I edited that last paragraph four times for typos. All the people here are that are new save three are leaving, probably for dispersal to assorted outlying towns. Better than refugee camps. Most of them don't know what happened to Ravenholm, so they think that they are safe. We know the truth here though. We know the truth and send them out to those death traps anyway. We told the village leaders about the Combine's new weapon and they unanimously agreed to stay put. If the Combine have any reason to notice them, they'll all die. Die like Alice did. Well, to be accurate, I killed Alice. She haunts my dreams. Sometimes you think you see her out of the corner of her eye, you know, and it's just another zombie, or sometimes a bush. Hah. I'm talking to myself in the second person.
The radio is on again, but it sounds distant and hollow. It's playing Metallica. Crazy Portuguese speaking DJ bastard. Last place I heard this was in a trashy poolhouse. I got piss-blind drunk and slugged an officer. He didn't recognize me, and Jaguar/Dragon lied to cover my ass. You know you've got some good friends when they are willing to commit perjury for you. I wish we had beer here.
I noticed I sort have departed from my normal formatting regarding my journal today. I'm going to close this entry before it becomes even more of a travesty and I start talking about the Bermuda Triangle or something. Goodnight.
9:44PM 09/21/2014: The Devil's Secret Name
I haven't done anything with this for a few days because I was rather catatonic. I'm writing left-handed because my right arm hurts too much to move it. Apparently a huge pocket of pus formed, and they only just recently lanced it.
So I've survived. My arm won't work properly, but it will function as an arm, albeit a rather stiff arm because of the way the scar will form. A pity, but we don't have plastic surgeons here, so it can't be helped. The refugees or whatever they were had long left. They had some of the youngest kids I'd ever seen, they had probably been born just before the Combine came and threw up the breeding suppression fields which plague us all. It's a rather effective method of population control, in all honesty. They could run every human on earth through Nova Prospekt and the other facilities like it. They set up one in the United States near Los Angeles, and there are reports of another near Beijing. I assume there's one per continent, since we get a huge influx of people from all over Europe who hop off the train, and hop back on to Nova Prospekt. I fully believe they could process the entire population of the world. It would take a few years, yes, but they could do whatever it is they do there. I assume that's where they create the alien-human hybrids that we commonly (but erroneously) call the Combine, amongst other things. The Combine are the actual aliens that came from another dimension with their Citadels; the human-machine hybrids with blue suits that run around and terrorize the populace are just their hatchet men here on earth. At least I assume they are cyborgs.
The radio is fainter this time. The signal must be weak on this band. It's playing the great classics now - music from those old German guys who were deaf or had Tourettes or what not. I can't remember their names anymore. My memory fails me now. Names and places run together like the colors from a crappy shirt made in the Indies. Must be the remnants of the fever, I hope. Or perhaps it ran high enough to give me brain damage. Time will tell. The DJ or the recording or whatever is broadcasting is still doing the numbers station thing, this time under the actual music itself. The numbers stayed with me all through my dreams because the headphones had broke and the radio operator had to run it on the speakers. It's odd to here someone speaking in Portuguese while dreaming about Mandel and Jaguar eating the brains of a dog.
I dreamed of other things too, most of which I remember but won't put down. Some things are better left unsaid, and my arm is starting to get sore. Everything seems like it happened so long ago, it's hard to believe I was only out for three days. The swelling in my arm has subsided, although it still hurts like the dickens. Odessa came in to see me. He smiled and we chatted for a bit and then he left. Mandel also came in, and gave me a glance and a nod. That was a nice gesture on his part I suppose. The sniper-medic came in several times, and prodded the injury with much cursing on my part. He declared me to still be in grave danger, but I honestly don't care. My dreams have stopped and I'm feeling better. I demanded food, and it was given to me. More TVP. I was too hungry to care.
I took a walk around N.L.O, and got news that Dragon and Jaguar were late to their assigned post, near the great big bridge. It's where the trains that go to Nova Prospekt run over, and why we were deploying men that close to the Combine I do not know. It seemed like a bad idea. All of our outposts, or at least the new ones are very close to the Combine. They were probably fine, but it's still hard not to worry. They were good, some of the best of us non Special Forces types, but they are still only men, and all it would take is one well-placed hopper mine or roaming Combine gunship to exterminate them. Or they could have crashed into a tree. Or ran out of gas and it's just taking them a while to walk.
On that note, we are setting up a new outpost much farther along the coast, dangerously near Nova Prospekt. It was in an old lighthouse. Surprise surprise, they call it "Lighthouse Point." Real creative.
That matter aside, there's something that's bothering me. It's called "The Devil's Secret Name." It's not a name at all, actually, but an expression. I don't know the origins. The old NCOs in my unit would speak of it. It's what drives men to desire combat, a fight, a battle. It's not bloodlust, but more of the desire to be in a situation where it was you against an enemy, an enemy that wanted to kill you, to snuff you out. The name was whispered in my ear. Taking potshots at zombies is not enough. I dreamed of the Seven Hour war over the past three days. I was in Dallas, Texas when the war began. Well, at least, when the Citadel began to appear. I had just been promoted and had brought my squad back from an exhausting 14 hour vehicle patrol. The defenses around Dallas were nearly complete, and the brass wanted to keep the zombies away from the construction teams and engineers finishing the last of the defenses. Land mines. Chain link. Razor wire. Fixed gun positions. Dallas had never had a portal storm inside of the city limits, so most of the population had been untouched by the headcrabs, and those that were had been exterminated. It was the largest remaining city in the Midwest. Refugees poured in from the rest of the urban areas of Texas - folks living out in the country usually got away with staying out there since Texas is rather large. Some of the more wealthy ranchers, for example, hired their own security forces and continued to send beef to the cities - very expensive beef.
But I digress. The Citadel came. Every gun in the city was pointed at the buildings it demolished with its entrance. It wasn't there at first. It slowly faded in, and on the third day the doors opened and every terrifying thought we held about its existence or what it contained was verified.
First came the Striders. Giant spider things. Pulse plasma weapon, or at least I think it was plasma. And then it had some sort of death-beam that turned tanks into slag. The Vortigaunts, who were visibly agitated at the beginning of the process, began to shout and act panicky. The first time I had ever seen a Vortigaunt display emotion other than slight amusement. We shot the striders. We even destroyed a couple dozen before we ran out of RPGs. Our tanks opened fire. Then the gunships came from the top, and the scanners. Giant flying things that looked like whales and screamed when they were hit. They too had a pulse weapon, and a death-beam. We scrambled a few fighters from the airport, to no avail. Each gunship had a missile defense system that was extremely effective. The fighters closed to range with their cannons and the pulse weapons fired back. The beams sliced the fighters in half, not to mention the bombers we had attacking the ground targets. When all of our armor was gone, the striders started attacking our troops.
Men fell with smoldering holes punched into their flesh. Or were punctured by Strider legs. There were other Combine weapons too, but I was too far away to see them effectively. Mortar tanks, for example. I saw the result. A scanner would pop up, and if you weren't fast enough in bringing it down, gobs of superheated gas held together in a magnetic field (at least I think that's how it worked) were lobbed at you. It would melt concrete. Not that shooting down the scanners mattered since they could see exactly when the scanner went off the Combine battle grid, and they would throw mortars at the general vicinity. But we shot anyway. It felt like we were doing something. Most of my squad survived up until this point, somehow. Before my promotion, these guys were in my chalk. Now they were my squad. It would seem trite to say this, but they were my brothers-in-arms.
We had killed as a whole in the War before the portal storms, not in the same unit but as part of the military. We could talk about Tehran or Korea or Cuba the same way we talked about our lives at that point in time. The settings change, but the song remains the same. As a unit, we killed thousands of aliens and zombies. One day we sat on a Blackhawk near Denver and took turns taking potshots from the open doors and "playing" on the minigun. It didn't last. The Combine came. Three hours after the Citadel opened up, we were in a full route. We had appropriated two HUMVEEs and had a guy on the .50 to take down any scanners. He had his head down though, because we were being chased by a strider. This scanner was different though. It wasn't directing fire control. It flew directly in front of us along the road, accelerated as I swerved a bit in surprise, and dropped two mines on the road.
The vehicle I was driving had the bad fortune to hit both, but that was okay because the other vehicle shot past us and was then turned into slag by a gunship.
I had been violently thrown from the vehicle through the windshield, but that was okay too. The strider had finally got a lock, and blew the Hummer into scrap. I played dead as the strider walked past. Two hours later, I saw a B2 Spirit stealth bomber come in low and insanely fast. The sonic boom vibrated my teeth. It roared off towards Dallas and two minutes later the ground around me turned white and I closed my eyes. Then I heard a rumble. I turned around and saw a mushroom cloud over Dallas. I stared numbly at it. So it had come to that. The bastards in their blue tower had gotten theirs. Thank God for American superiority by firepower.
I was forty miles out, and upwind. I sat and stared at the cloud. I had never seen one in person before, but I saw the effects in Jerusalem and Bombay. It was beautiful. It spelled the destruction of the hateful things from another universe. Or not. The mushroom cloud faded, and I wept bitterly. The Citadel was still there. My M4 carbine had melted in the hummer, but I still had my 1911. I thought about shooting myself. I stayed there for two days. I dragged the corpses of my men out of the vehicles and lined them up in the ditch I was sitting in. A council of the departed. I talked to them for two days. I drank water out of the ditch. My wounds from the broken glass in the Hummer's windshield were beginning to heal.
And then a scanner came. The Citadel was not done, and had not even deployed all of its forces. The scanner flew down, and "looked" at each corpse and I sat perfectly still. I sat there and thought about shooting myself again. It would be a simple task. I made a decision, and when the scanner came and looked at me I shot it. And then I ran.
I ran very far, and some things happened and now I am here in a bed listening to a song Beethoven wrote for a woman who rejected him while writing in a little book. My arm feels a little bit better. Soon I will be able to fight an enemy I can kill. An enemy that is just a man like me. A traitor to his own race, his allegiance branded on him with Combine technology and a blue suit. An enemy that bleeds.
Goodnight Parabellum. I'm going to start physically rehabbing myself tomorrow.
10:44PM 09/22/2014: Puellas
I dreamed last night. Of fudge. Fudge with walnuts. The faceless girl and the dead man were there too. We were in a coffee shop. The waitress tripped and spilled our coffee. She apologized and went to get us some more. A man and a woman with shotguns entered the store. The man racked his slide, a perfectly good shell flying out of the shotgun. Amateurs.
The woman started going from table to table demanding that people place their wallets or purses in a large duffle bag she had. The burned man and I looked at each other, an imperceptible nod, and when she walked over to our table, we both put our wallets into the bag. The man was still screaming at the cashier, with his back turned to us. Their loss.
The burned man grabbed the woman from behind and started choking her while wrenching her neck back and forth and I ran over to the man, smacked him in the side of the head with the butt of my knife, and wrestled him to the floor. I got his neck in the crook of my right arm, and stabbed him a few times in the back, trying to get the blade between his ribs. For some reason it wouldn't go in, so I bashed him in the back of the head with my knee and then stuck it into his cerebellum, or brain stem. He went limp and I left him on the floor with the knife sticking out of the back of his head. The woman was dead.
The faceless girl clapped, but it was a golf clap so she obviously didn't approve. There was a very fat Scottish man in the corner, who was clapping rather enthusiastically, however. He thanked us for our bravery or what have you and gave all three of us tickets to the opera. So we went. It was "Schiatta Gorgonzola" or something like that. I left halfway through to wash my hands because they were filthy.
My dreams are pretty inane, aren't they?
I woke up to swearing and invoking the name of some sort of Irish guy, or at least it sounded like an Irish name since I couldn't sort it out. Or something, as someone was trying to fix the radio. I didn't recognize his voice or accent. He was big, though. Taller than me; even taller than Odessa, who at times seemed to tower over everyone under him. Might just be psychological.
I sat up. My arm was feeling a bit better. I don't know why I was healing so fast, but I was, and I wasn't about to complain about it.
The man hunched over the radio had a long braid of hair that went about halfway down his back. It was ratty and full of split ends and very dirty, although the same could be said of just about anyone's hair here. He had a big knife strapped to his belt, naked and without a sheath. Dark maroon stains covered the surface; souvenirs of memories past, no doubt. Still, kind of sloppy. He should cut the hair off; I don't even want to know how many lice inhabit that place. Lice are a good reason to keep your hair as short as you can bear it, and to keep your pubic hair completely cut down.
He also had a Heckler and Koch MP-7 PDW strapped to his belt, confirming my suspicions regarding the nature of the stains on his knife. For some reason, the Combine Metro Police used them. Maybe they found a big stockpile in a warehouse or something, because they did this at the other Cities too. I had never actually gotten my hands on an MP7, because all the Metro Cops I had encountered had USPs. Seems like the Combine have a love affair with German weapons.
"Who are you?"
The big man turned from his work and looked at me. He had one of those tribal tattoos down his neck that were so fashionable twenty years ago, and a week's worth of stubble tinted his face with bronze. He had a scar on his lip; it looked like someone had punched him there and split it open.
"Name's James Argyll. I won't tell you twice."
"That won't be necessary. Your foul odor, combined with your effeminate hair will keep your name fresh in my memory."
He laughed and went back to tinkering with the radio. I got up, went outside and urinated against a fence. I noticed with some irritation that I had forgotten to retrieve my 1911 yesterday, so I went to Cubbage and got it back.
"Nice to see you up and about, Jack."
"Who's that great big bastard tinkering with the radio?"
"James Argyll. Something of a curmudgeon. Irishman that was apparently in the Royal Marines for a while, then dropped out to take up soccer hooliganry or something. At least, that's what he looks like. He's quite proficient in electronics, and apparently, handy with a knife because he smuggled a big one from City 8 in Dover and made his way into the Underground in style. Very convenient, since our long range radio blew out. Oh yes, one more thing Jack - Jaguar and Dragon called in. It was nice, because they explained the mystery of why Bridge Point hadn't made contact in days. Combine raided it and are apparently setting up a halfarsed checkpoint. There was one in white with a single red eye that executed every last one of them. Somehow, the two escaped. Quite a miracle considering the hornet's nest they stirred up. Bridge Point is a total loss."
I sighed. There were seven or so guys at that bridge. We were begging for trouble keeping men so close to the Combine trains. Those guys were brave, or foolhardy, or both. Even though you get assigned to go places and do things, that doesn't mean you have to do them. Jaguar and Dragon could have easily told Mandel to go bugger himself when he sent them away, but we kind of work on the honor system. If we don't do our jobs, then we are stopping other people from doing THEIR jobs. It sounds trite, but it's true and that's why the honor system works.
"Odessa, when can we raid again? My arm is better."
"We have the manpower, and we've already sent one out. Your arm is certainly NOT better. Two days ago you were in a fevered coma, and you are still weak. I know you don't want to stay here, but you have to. I can't let you leave."
He picked up a pencil and scrawled on the wall in big letters: "No new raids without my express approval. Cubbage."
"There, are you happy Jack?"
"Good. Now go get better."
I didn't want to sit inside a building and "get better." I wanted to do things. Test my arm. So I grabbed an axe, buckled my holster to my belt, and started looking for a dead tree that could be used for firewood. I felt kind of dizzy, but ignored it. A little ways up the road, I found the perfect candidate and took the axe to it.
I kept on hacking away at the tree anyway, looking at my arm to see what was happening. My wound had sealed up nicely in an abnormally short period of time. It hurt like a portal to hell in my arm, but it wasn't bleeding and the scar wasn't tearing. The tree had a rotten core, making it practically useless for firewood, but I dragged it back anyway. Two of the more carpentry-inclined residents of N.L.O were working on building a gate. I don't know why. The Combine could just plow an APC through something like that. No matter. Either way, I finished dragging it to the main courtyard of N.L.O and sat down for a breather.
My boots were wearing away. I'd need a new pair soon, or at least to have Oscar fuse a patch on with his magical electricity or something. I heard that the Vortigaunts used to be enslaved to another alien race, and that they invaded a military facility in Black Mesa, New Mexico. I've mentioned that before, I believe. The nuclear detonation was probably an attempt to close the portal down. Oscar's race killed hundreds, perhaps even thousands of humans. If for some reason Oscar attacked me, I'd probably die, even if I was expecting it.
I looked up and saw a new face here. It was a scrawny teenager with the standard pasty skin of the Ukrainians, or at the very least, the people of Eastern Europe. He was young, maybe sixteen or seventeen. Staring at me.
"The old British man in the basement sent me out here to look for a guy with a crippled arm."
He spoke with a neutral Midwestern accent. You see that a lot in people who take on English as a second language. His clothes were ratty, his face was dirty, and his shoes were worn.
"What did he tell you to do once you found me?"
"Await your instructions."
I sat and stared at him. This is exactly the sort of thing Cubbage would do to keep me occupied and not whining about being stuck here. Give me a project. A blank slate. Cunning old bastard.
"You were left here by the group of people who went through a few days ago, right?"
"I asked to stay."
"How old are you?"
"I am sixteen."
"Why'd you ask to stay?"
"To fight the Combine."
Kids these days.
"So you're sixteen years old and you stayed here to fight the Combine? What on earth do you think you're going to do? Have you ever shot a gun before? Can you make explosives out of chlorine and headache pills? Can you at least cook?"
The boy just looked at me.
"Until I had a chunk taken out of my arm," I began, "I was at the top of my game. A killing machine. The Combine would hear the name "Jack Harper" and tremble in their suits. They had heard of the time I had killed nine of their number with eight bullets and a brick. They would whisper about the time that I hunted down an elite commando that was directing operations against us, and I tore out his spine before eating his heart to gain his powers. Or the time I nearly killed Wallace Breen, but one of his bodyguards moved into the path of the bullet."
First impressions are the longest lasting, so it's best to make an impressive one. Sometimes, even if they are lies.
"But being the greatest butcher of Combine in the world is not about being a good shot, kid. It's about the training it takes to gouge out a man's eye with a knife, or watch someone flop around on the ground through a sniper scope. It's the training that makes killing automatic. Where you don't have to think about it. When the sight of someone pumping blood out of a wound you made in them doesn't make you nauseous. The best of us here spent years in the military, or as policemen. We have the skills and the training. You bring nothing to the table. In the even of an attack, your best use would be to go and run in front of the enemy to distract them for the few seconds it would take for them to kill you."
The boy just sat there and stared at me.
"But Odessa seems to think you have potential. He may be right, he may be wrong. But he sent you to the best to learn. I can shape you into something much akin to myself. I am bitter. I am cynical. I have seen horrors beyond your imagination. I have done things that would send me to be hanged, had I done them before the Combine came. But I have a purpose in life. I am a destroyer. I will cut a swathe of destruction across this land, leaving blood and the bodies of hateful things in my wake. My allies are a group of men and women who are filthy, violent, and full of hatred. And the Vortigaunts. My life will be short and when it ends it will be painful and alone. But while I live, I am the Death's Head. I am the knife that stabs, the hand that strikes, the boot that crushes. I send people to Hell. Do you want to be snuffed when you are so young?"
Give me a break, Parabellum. Sure, it was clichÃ©d, trite, and full of exaggerations. But he drank it up. That was good. We needed new blood.
"You're a boy of few words. Soon you'll be a man of few words. A man after my own heart. You aren't fat, and that's good. But you lack muscle tone. Before you can stab with a knife or shoot with a gun, you must be strong. We will get to that later. A few ground rules here - stay off the beach. Antlions. Report any zombies or headcrabs you see in the area. I can't remember if we have any females here, but if we do, don't harass them. They'll hurt you. Everyone here has seniority over you. We own you. We may make you do things that seem like bullshit, but it's really for your own betterment. Except for Mandel. If he tells you to do something that's bullshit, it's probably just that, but do it anyway. We'll give you a rifle or a shotgun or something of that nature when you're ready for it.
I assume you're anxious to become a monster slayer such as myself, so we'll start immediately. Run ten laps around the compound. Help those guys with the gate. It's good to learn many skills. Run ten more laps. Get your lunch. If the dog takes to you, play with him. He plays rough. Fight back."
The dog was a great big Shepherd-Mastiff mix. Ugly thing, but everyone at N.L.O loved it. It did indeed like to play rough. That's good for the kid. He had already begun to run by the time I wandered back into the command center.
"Don't complain Jack, I don't want to hear it. Your assignment, while you are incapacitated, is to turn that kid into a little clone of yourself. We'll all get our crack at him, but you're the best utility we've got. You're an All-American grunt, Jack. We need more of that. We can teach him to fiddle with electronics or build engines later. For now, we need shooters. And you're the best shooter we've got."
"I'd thank you for your kind words, but under the circumstances I think you have ulterior motives. What's the kidâ€™s name?"
"Bogdan. It's Ukrainian. Pretty queer, isn't it."
"Yep. I'm gonna go get the kid a knife. We've still got a few dozen in the armory, right?"
"Yes. Help yourself. Also, your friend is coming back today. We finally sent a boat out to retrieve him."
"Oscar's coming back today?"
"I did indeed imply that."
"Thanks Odessa. Talk to you later."
The arsenal had been moved and catalogued recently. I chose a long, wicked Kalashnikov bayonet for Bogdan. It wasn't as sharp as it could be, but it was sharp enough. Like so many things the Russians made. I'd make him kill a zombie with it later. A month, perhaps. It's not that hard to find sole zombies roaming around.
I found where the boy was sleeping and left the bayonet in his corner of the room with a note stating it was his. Then I went out the second story window and sat on the roof above the porch and watched for Oscar. I guess I fell asleep because I woke up and it was around three in the afternoon and he was here, mumbling to himself and sorting out my possessions. He never kept anything permanent. He said it violated the very nature of the Vortessence itself. Which reminds me, I need to ask him what that is. Not that I'll get a straight answer.
I gave Oscar a hug. Hey, why not. I missed him. Someone, I think it was the Irish soccer hooligan, mumbled the word "faggot," and I flipped him off. He was just jealous because his friends couldn't shoot lightning out of their hands. We talked for a good while. He of course, had heard of the goings on, but it was limited in scope and I gave him my own recollections. We then discussed the fate of Bogdan. It was getting dark. My standard pre-sleep thoughts were a bit different this time. My standard gloom was overshadowed by a sadistic glee and healthy case of Schadenfreude in regards to what I was going to subject this boy to. I had to give him a condensed version of my experiences and expertise, because I'm the only one with spare time and enough knowledge to do him some good.. The others can pick up the slack when I'm gone.
I thought up an excuse to walk into the other building, where Bogdan was bedded down, ostensibly looking for a copy of "The Art of War," which I knew nobody here had. Bogdan was in the corner, playing with his new toy. I had taken the bayonet with the sheath, the only sheath we had left for those Kalashnikov models. I'd need to find him a belt.
I'm going to bed. Much work to be done tomorrow.
7:24PM 09/23/2014: Deathstick
The "Illis" was a Higgins landing boat that someone had duct taped torpedoes to the side of. I don't know why. A Higgins boat is hardly suitable for Patrol, Torpedo work. There was a battleship near the beach shelling England, so I launched the torpedoes at it, which did absolutely nothing. I beached the boat just as the battleship fired a fourteen inch high explosive shell at me.
I managed to avoid the shrapnel and ran onto the beach for the cover of a tank obstacle. A dead man there had left his M1 Garand battle rifle at his side, and I took it and ran up the beach, randomly shooting at the Russians. I'm not sure why the Russians had taken the place of the Germans on D-Day, but they had, and so they had to die, and I killed them.
I made my way to a town full of Marines, and a burned man wearing a "killhat;" to wit, the hat that the Drill Sergeants in Basic training wear. The ones that make your life miserable for the sake of it. He had us PT for hot dogs. Hey, I could eat a hot dog. I assumed by PT he meant "Physical Training", but it actually had something to do with chainsaws because the PFC who finished lubing the bar and chain first got a hot dog. Strange. And then a great pyramid rose out of the sea near this quaint French town, and the Mayans came out of the top of the pyramid, holding crystal skulls in their hands. Then the Canadian troops who were supposed to be at Juno Beach swarmed up the steps and disappeared into the temple. And that's how one of the stranger dreams of the past year ended.
Sometimes I wonder why I write down my dreams. I had heard if you do, you begin to remember them better, and it helps you to dream lucidly. I don't know about that, though. Some days I'd rather not remember my dreams, you know? And some days I do not dream at all. And some days I wake up and don't remember dreaming of anything, but my arms are covered in scratches and the marks of my teeth. Those days scare me. They are also irritating because then my arms hurt.
My shoulder is feeling a bit better. Which is a good thing. I got up off the pallet on the floor where I sleep and walked outside to take a leak.
Oscar was out there, mumbling to himself in the strange language of the Vortigaunts. A thin wisp of smoke curled up and away from his face, his back turned to me. Interesting. I walked down and urinated off the bluff onto the beach. It was a lovely day out for being September. According to the locals, the winters have been getting progressively warmer. Maybe the Combine had something to do with it. I walked up behind Oscar and stood there.
He turned around slowly to face me, a cigarette casually hanging from the corner of his strange mouth. He glanced at me dolefully before turning back to look at the sun, which was coming up over the horizon. I walked around until I was facing him again. He was indeed smoking something.
"I didn't know you smoked... whatever that is."
"It is grass. If I had found cigarettes with tobacco in them, I would have sold them to someone else by this time, not converted them into smoke."
"So why exactly are you smoking?"
"The Vortessence approves of this habit. Does the fact that we have picked up a human behavioral trait disturb The Harper?"
"Not at all. It's just... unexpected."
"This is most enjoyable, as was said before. One must wonder what tobacco tastes like."
"Maybe you'll find out one of these days, Oscar."
I left him to his new diversion and wandered back in to talk to Odessa. I wonder if Vortigaunts can get cancer? Or if they even have lungs? Perhaps Oscar is in for a surprise more human than he realized, albeit there's a difference between smoking grass or weeds or something and tobacco/marijuana.
I made my way into the CP and was immediately accosted by Odessa asking me how my arm was. I told him it was feeling a bit better, "Good, good" he said.
"How's the raid party doing?"
"We don't know. They haven't reported in. We're sending a team to look for them tomorrow."
"I figured you'd say that and I can't really stop you. So get some rest tonight, and maybe take a few practice shots to make sure you can still use a firearm effectively."
"Gear up for a month or two. If the first raid is lost, we're keeping you out in the field to continue their operations."
I walked out into the sunshine and mulled over this. With the loss of Bridge Point, it was entirely plausible that the Combine were picking up the pace, so to speak, in their operations against us. It was entirely plausible they had taken out the entire raid. Of course, on the flip side, our communication technology was anything but cutting-edge or flawless. Someone could have dropped the radio or gotten mud in it. There was a myriad of possibilities. I guess we'd find out.
I packed my rucksack with what I'd be taking with me - extra ammunition for my .45, all but one of the clips for the Mosin, whatever foodstuffs I could obtain, some clothes, a new burlap bag to sleep on (oftentimes it's beneficial to stay out of the mud as much as possible), a spare knife... I prefer to pack early and not scramble for things later. Serves me well.
I went and got the Mosin out of the armory and took it down to the beach. It had four rounds in the magazine, with Odessa having fired off the first the other day. I held it in my hands for a little bit. It was heavy. Not uncomfortably so, but it was going to be different than hauling around an M4 SOPMOD with a synthetic stock. But that was years ago anyway. I thought about a target I could test myself against, and grinned with anticipation.
I walked into the building where Bogdan was sleeping and found him up and about already. Or more of, I didn't find him. The bayonet I had given him was gone. I walked back outside and shouted his name. Well, it was more of a bellow. Either way, he came running from behind a shed and stood in front of me.
"What have you been doing, Bogdan?"
"I was running."
Good kid. Shows some initiative, self discipline, all that sort of thing.
"That's a start. It's time to teach you something. Ever seen an ant lion?"
He responded that he had only heard of them.
"Well, prepare to learn."
I took him over to the bluff and gave him some stones with instructions to throw a few down onto the beach. He looked at me the way a dubious teenager looks at someone who knows better than they do, and began to toss the stones. I was hoping that some antlions had moved in since my little dip in the ocean, and the Lord was on my side, for two had. They burrowed up to the surface and attacked the rock viciously until they realized it wasn't food. Bogdan jumped away from the edge in surprise. I laughed.
"They feel the vibrations in the sand. That's why you must be careful. They can only live by the coast though, since the dirt is too dense and compact for them to burrow through. That is why you must never go down to the beach. Cover your ears."
The antlions had stopped trying to eat the rock and were scanning their surroundings for potential food items when I sighted the scope two thirds of the way up the carapace and squeezed the trigger.
The gun roared and gave me a good kick in the shoulder. It kinda hurt. But it was a good hurt because this rifle had left my ears ringing, and a long spray of alien vermin innards on the sand. I cycled the bolt, aimed, and fired at the other one. It was good. The boy was awed that a weapon that innocuous could be that loud. It spoke of many grains of gunpowder propelling a large chunk of lead very far and very fast. It was almost sexual. A thin query-mark of cordite slowly drifted away from the barrel.
"You can take your hands off your ears now, Bogdan," I shouted. "That is what the 7.62x54 caliber round does to flesh. Go get that shell casing that I ejected, bore a hole in it and wear it around your neck with a piece of string."
"Just do it. I am going away tomorrow. Oscar's the Vortigaunt with the cigarette. He'll take over your training in my absence. Listen to him, or I'll come back and kick your ass. In the meanwhile, go take a break, get some breakfast and we can do some more later."
He wandered away, sort of confused. One could question why I would have him make a necklace with an empty shell casing, and honestly I don't know. It's sort of psychological, I guess. Gives him something that no one else here has (and would want to have but he doesn't need to know that), and something to remember me by, so to speak. If I want to make him an effective shooter, he needs to view me with a combination of fear, awe, and partially as a father figure. A tough line to strike. Once I've done that, I'll have to expose him to violence a bit more intense than shooting vermin on a beach. There is little that can prepare you for the first time you kill a humanoid. My first confirmed kill was a man, but a zombie looks vaguely human, and the Combine troops are very human indeed, if you look past the mask. It's both terrible and empowering at the same time. You feel like crying, and yet you feel like killing many many more men. And then you become immune to it, and it seems inane.
Back on topic, I gave Oscar a series of instructions for the boy's training, and PTed him until the sun went down. He never complained, even when I had him filling sandbags. He's a good kid, and will go far.
The radio is playing Indy bands now. The numbers have stopped for the time being. I am tired.
9:21PM 09/24/2014: Ambulo
The sun rose today, but I was already up. Cubbage knew he couldn't stop me by our adopted constitution regarding military rank, so I was going along for the ride. I didn't actually know who all was coming along, but I had seen a flurry of activity the night before: people packing desperately, taking as much as they could carry. We may have to take up the first squad's position for two months or so. Oscar was out by the bluff watching the sun come up and smoking what looked like a giant blunt. It wasn't one, obviously. He had just gotten overzealous with his stuffing of the cigarette paper. I don't really know what he gets out of smoking vegetation anyway.
He did that thing he does where he turns around and faces you before you're even within a dozen feet and starts talking. It's like he's reminding you in his own weird way that he's more aware of his surroundings than you or I could ever be. His body shuddered as he inhaled and the cherry tip of the cigarette glowed with renewed vigor before dulling down again. A wispy query-mark of smoke oozed out of the end of the cigarette in the dead morning air. There was nothing to be heard. Not even the ravens. Or maybe my hearing is shot from firing high powered weaponry without hearing protection.
He turned back to watch the sun come up over the murky, dull water. I sat down on a concrete block and idly polished my knife with my shirt. The air wasn't as cold as it used to be. We've had colder Septembers in the 'States. Something is wrong with the Earth. The weather is warm. The air is bad. The seas grow dark and murky. People are beginning to forget things. Mass amnesia? The other day I couldn't remember the name of the dog I had before joining the Army. The Combine could be doing it to break our resolve. Our skills are not forgotten, but personal memories are. Another step towards becoming a race of compliant sheep, different only in skillset. You could say the Combine did what the Communists could not - create equality. If everyone is destitute and miserable, then you are truly equal.
Political meanderings aside, the rest of the group began to file out of the barracks and housing facilities. James was there. He still had his MP7 hanging from his belt. It slapped idly against his leg as he walked. There were four other faces, most of whom I didn't recognize. One of them had the 870 Marine Model that was in my possession a few days before. One of our company, a tired-looking brunette from Spain had only a USP .45. This one was an oddity, though. It didn't have the Combine stamping on the slide. It was, in fact, the first USP I had seen in Europe that wasn't taken from a generous member of the Combine Metro Police who had come too far out into our territory. It remained in its cage on her hip, but I assume if Cubbage assigned her to this, she could use it well enough. Cubbage came out of the CP where he slept last night for some reason. He stood up on a stump and looked at the throng of us. It must have not been very encouraging. Six people tired of the life they had to live, tired of death and blood that stained clothes and hands and wood, tired of eating shit, tired of not getting enough sleep, tired of hearing the moans and cries of alien things in the distance, tired of living in this God-forsaken wasteland knowing that with each breath you could be inhaling enough PCBs to give a horse cancer, not to mention whatever other things were being pumped into the air. None of us had seen a Geiger counter. The entire world could be hot with radiation and we'd never know. Alien diseases could be tearing through our bodies while we displayed no symptoms and cause us to collapse and die and our families would never know where we were or what was happening to us, if they still lived. We could only take comfort in inflicting death and pain and agony on the people who had turned our world into a giant interment camp. We couldn't hide like dogs forever.
That's why we all volunteered. Maybe we could help to kill and maim and leave the traitors to humanity that wore blue suits lying in fields and ditches with holes in their bodies, screaming for their masters to come and put them back together. Every last metro cop or bluesuit was a traitor. A Benedict Arnold. But even all the traitors in the past hundred thousand years could not equal what the bluesuits had done. No one up until this point had sold out their own race. They had to die. If by the Grace of God Almighty we drove the Combine away, we were going to round up every bluesuit on earth and exterminate them. It would be a bloodbath. A glorious day, and the only thing I ask is that I live long enough to see it. I probably won't. That's why I'm on the raid. Maybe my pathetic and insignificant life can be of some use.
But I digress. Cubbage said only one word. "Godspeed." He jumped off the stump and walked back into the CP, expressionless. We ate breakfast, and filed out of the area along the road.
The man with the shotgun had point, which was fine by me since I don't want anyone wielding a shotgun behind me. Our walk was uneventful. We humped for a good thirty miles before making camp. We were roughly ten miles from the last known location of the first group. In the standard military fashion, it was Squad Alpha. I was in charge of Squad Bravo, being the ranking man here. I've spoken of how our system works, and I'll clarify a bit further here - if you volunteer or are assigned to a mission (you can refuse missions, mind you) then the old military ways apply - you are under my authority. These people knew I would be in charge of the squad, and by volunteering anyway they signed a waiver of sorts. Alpha Squad was led by Kenneth Bateman. He was, as they say, "Good people". Unlike me, he was actually a Warrant Officer, and had become such by promotion up through the ranks instead of entering from a military institute or what have you. In other words, a "real" officer. I hope he isn't dead. I heard he had a good team with him too.
Of course, as we are doing this whole "hump around" thing, I can't help but be reminded of the time my chalk and I were involved in a helicopter crash. Our Blackhawk had an engine failure, or something. We crashed in a hay field near Nashville, Tennessee. The pilot was dead. He had a hole in his head that I could fit three fingers through. Two of my chalkmates had been ground into a chunky paste. That left the copilot and three others besides myself. We didn't have radios yet because we were being transported to our new home, but the chopper had a deadman switch in it that would set off a homing beacon. We were so close to a huge population center. Too bad it was one of the "lost" cities that had a big red X drawn through it on all the maps the military used. It was full of zombies, albeit not as bad as Denver. There was a holdout group who had walled off part of the suburbs and lived out there. We couldn't rely on them to come to us, so we had two options - we could hump it over to their place, or stay with the chopper. I opted to stay. The copilot was in bad shape and hardly fit for rough travel.
Which was too bad. We had no cover.
They began to filter into view, first one at a time, and then in small groups. I now know why you keep your weapons and ammo on the chopper, even when you are just being moved from one place to another. It was 0400 hours by the time we were lit up by the spotlight from a National Guard Huey. We didn't hear them approach. After the initial rush of zombies, we had begun to conserve ammunition as much as possible, which meant dangerous hand to hand combat. My M4 Carbine was empty, and I was using the buttstock as a club, and occasionally the bayonet. I only had three rounds of ammunition left for my handgun. We were scratched pretty badly, and a few of us had nasty bites, but we lived. The Combat Search and Rescue team that got us out had drinks on us for two days. I imagine they get a lot of free drinks, but frankly, I can't think of any guys that deserve it more.
Or deserved it. I'm sure there are a few of them in the Resistance, but I wouldn't know where. And I don't have any money to buy them drinks.
I'm taking first watch tonight, so even though I could ramble on for a few hours about anything, I'm closing this book. These people are my responsibility, and I won't have them injured or dead from me being distracted by something as inane as a journal.
2:21PM 09/26/2014: Doughnut Shoppe
Last night was uneventful and boring. The moon was mostly obscured by clouds, leaving small patches of illuminated ground. It makes a strange mosaic of light and dark that can trick the eyes, but if you are accustomed to this, it doesn't affect you that much. I'd occasionally snap the scope up, and see it was nothing. Not that the scope worked that well in the dim and varying light, but that's beside the point.
I got my dreamless sleep and awoke to someone cooking over charcoal. They must have brought a small amount from NLO. Charcoal is very smoky to make, but once you do, it gives off a lot of heat and very little visual pollution. Still, it weighs a lot, and someone had to haul it out here, and for that I was grateful.
We had bean broth for breakfast, and what it lacked in substance it made up for in the fact that it was hot and full of calories. I hate beans, but in life we don't get everything we like, and I haven't seen any coffee for two years now. It's funny. Some things you lose memory of taste for, and others you keep in vivid detail. I want coffee out of force of habit and because I like to complain, not because of some taste I desire. Eggs, on the other hand, I desire. Eggs on rye with mayonnaise and enough salt to kill a horse. We ate in relative silence. James finished his allotment first, so he set up the radio to give a status report.
"26 to County, come in County."
"This is County. Anything to report?"
"We are leaving the doughnut shop and requesting information on the suspect."
"Suspect has made no contact. Proceed to last known location. County out."
I used to have a police scanner. I didn't know whether to laugh or sigh condescendingly at the exchange of words. I decided to do neither, and we broke camp. Water went onto the coals, and we shouldered our burdens and began to walk. The sun was peeking up over a nearby ridge, casting long shadows down on us. It also silhouetted a gaggle of zombies. No need to engage. They were about five hundred yards away, and hadn't noticed us. If they came up behind us while we were engaged with other enemies, we had enough firepower to deal with it. And the last location of Alpha squad was still five miles away.
The hump was dull. After the group of zombies, all we encountered were a few crows picking at the corpse of a zombie that was at least a week old. The birds usually left zombie corpses alone unless they were in dire need of food. I almost ate one, once. I'm glad I didn't. I ate the crab instead.
The camp site was obvious when we found it. Coals had been kicked all over the place. A few spent shell casings were haphazardly strewn across the ground. Shotgun shells, a couple dozen 7.62x39 casings, and a slick of blood rotting in the sun. Drag marks led away from the area and off a bluff. Zombie corpses were piled up at the bottom. So that explains that. There were no graves here, no upturned earth, so no one died from the initial fight. Or at least it could be assumed that. I unshouldered my pack and sat down on top of it.
"Let's comb the area for clues."
So we looked around. A bootprint led off to the east, but that could be anything from their egression of the area to someone going off to take a leak. I sighed and sat down. Being in charge is a bitch. Then I noticed something carved into the mud with a stick or something like that. A smile came to my face. Kenny left me a message at my feet. We had trampled on it a few times, but it said "DONâ€™T MESS WITH TEXAS".
"Kenneth Bateman, you come out of your little hidey-hole right now or I'll smoke you out with exhaust from my truck."
The shouted summons was met by an acknowledgement and to the surprise of my team, Alpha Squad filtered over the hill in twos and threes. I walked up to Kenny and gave him one of those machismo-filled man hugs.
"You're getting sloppy. Should have left someone to watch the site in anticipation of our arrival."
"I did, Jack. He fell asleep. I can beat the shit out of him for it later. Took you guys long enough to get here."
"You're lucky we came for you at all."
"We didn't need for you to come." Kenny said. "We don't need to communicate with NLO to do our jobs."
"Yeah, sure. What went wrong? Radio trouble?"
"Yep. Zombies got into camp a few nights ago and tore up our shit. Figured Odessa would send some people out, so we stuck around."
"You â€˜figuredâ€™. Right. You know that's the standard operating procedure. Any of your people get banged up?"
"Yeah, actually. Two or three people are gonna need stitches. Guess what? Nobody packed."
I, actually, had brought a needle and some thread. This represented a huge oversight by Alpha Squad. I was going to have to make a note to Odessa about guidelines, the bare necessities, for going on raids.
Turns out only two people needed stitches. Crack zombie claws had torn one of the men's chest to ribbons. The man's ribcage protected him, but his shirt was soaked with blood, and the meat above the ribs was horridly sliced. The other one had a long gash in his leg. He could walk, but not carry his pack. The man with the cut on his leg limped heavily. Everyone else was in fairly good condition.
"These people can't stay here, Kenny."
He stared at me, drumming the grip of his handgun with his fingers.
James' head shot up from the ruined radio he was tinkering with, "I'll stay too."
The girl in our group wandered over and volunteered as well.
"We're only short two people now."
"Well," I began, "Send back the guy who fell asleep on watch."
Kenneth stroked his three-day-old stubble and began barking at his people, while I told mine what was going on. We were all relieved that nobody had died, even if two of them had been grievously wounded. A man with a limp or scars on his chest can fight another day, or fight in other ways. The four uninjured people in the group of six heading back would be more than adequate protection, in my opinion.
"Mr. Argyle, report back in to County."
He set up his radio.
"26 to County, come in County."
"This is County, go ahead."
"County, we've retrieved the suspect in fairly good condition. Two fingers got cut off, we're sending them back to put on ice."
"Repeat that again, in English please."
"We're sending three men back. Two of them are injured. We are replacing them with people from Bravo squad."
"Good, I'll receive a full report from Harper when he gets back. Because he IS coming ba-"
I pulled the jack out of the battery pack that powered the radio. "Uh oh, batteries need recharging. Get on the dynamo, Argyle. Until tomorrow, we'll stay under radio silence."
Kenneth looked at me.
"With the Warrant Officer's permission."
"Yes, Jack is right. This area is too dangerous to make a second contact."
He looked at me and started to laugh.
We sent Bravo Squad off, and broke camp. We made about ten miles towards the coast for the rest of the day. I told him about the new Combine outpost by the bridge, and he was intrigued. He ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair, and did some mumbling to himself before declaring that it would be a perfect place to lay an ambush as our first operation against the Combine. Honestly, I agreed. The Combine operated sparsely out beyond City 17, and this would be a good place to harry them because of its great distance from said City.
We made camp, and I'm on the second watch. It's dark out here. I'm gonna-
9:49PM 09/27/2014: Monster Mash
Last night was...interesting.
As I was about to launch into a tirade about the poor quality of food that we brought with us, my vigil was interrupted by a roaming pack of zombies. I flicked the spotlight that we had over to take a quick headcount, and shouted a warning.
The light didn't last long. Piece of shit, really. Kenny was up and yelling, and began firing his Kalashnikov. The others rose to their feet and waited as their eyes adjusted to the darkness. That's the problem with our night ops. If you have no light, you either have to grow accustomed to it or suffer. The other thing is, most of our weapons don't have flash hiders. That is very bad if you're firing rifles or pistols at night. But we make do with what we can get. The woman with us started the fire back up. I could appreciate the way she thought. She threw gasoline on it to get a good start, and none too soon for the crack zombies in this pack were getting closer.
My night vision was pretty good for the time being, and the fire only helped since I didn't look directly at it. I fired three shots into the first of the fast zombies and it fell to the ground and began to scream. Kenny got the second. His Kalashnikov had thirty round detachable magazines. It made for quick reloads. The rifle I had been given held only ten rounds, and had an internal magazine. I popped the rest of my shots off at another zombie, and reloaded while Kenny finished him.
The rest of the team could see the zombies, and gunfire crackled in the night. We laid down a withering hail of fire. Bullets and slugs tore through flesh and shattered bone. My carbine barked, a gout of flame a foot long coming out of the barrel each time. It's good to feel a weapon in your grasp. Wood and plastic and metal is the power of life and death in your hands, and for a little while, even if only for a brief moment, you are the master of your destiny. To spew fire and lead and death is good and right, and in a world where everything is out to dick you, it's a moment where you are in control. Bullets hiss, and people scream inhuman, incomprehensible things at their foes, and the muzzle flash from six weapons coats the area in an eerie orange glow and throws shadows behind us. You can see snapshots of people's faces in the light from the end of their weapons; some people grimacing, others calm and collected and obviously enjoying themselves. If nothing else, the Resistance has brought like-minded people together, who enjoy many of the same things. Weapons, for example.
Eventually, there were about 15 or so zombies left. The slow, shambling kind. Someone screamed something and ran in at them. It was very unmilitary-like. But it's a good idea to conserve ammunition. We all got in close to our foes. I have a knife I carry with me. It reflects the moonlight, but I couldn't get one in matte. It doesn't matter though, because after the first stab, there's too much blood on it to reflect anything. The people without handguns had the common sense to use their weapons as clubs. It was over in about three minutes. Kenny did a head count. Six people stood in the shifting moonlight, their exhalations clouding in the chill evening air. After ensuring the demise of the zombies, we did an ammo count - most of us were still okay. We expended more ammunition than I would have liked. The two injured men who had been returned to NLO had left their weapons behind - a happy circumstance, because I didn't have to waste any ammunition for my Mosin. The weapon I had been given was a Simonov SL 7.62x39 Type 45 carbine (often known as the "SKS") - a semiautomatic weapon with a magazine capacity of ten rounds. It was a common enough weapon back in the States, and had the rugged dependability that most Russian weapons are known for. Ten rounds mean you did a lot of reloading, but when you got used to using the stripper clips, it went by fast enough. The girl with the USP had the other spare weapon, a shotgun.
I still had about 90 rounds of ammunition for the Simonov. You could carry a lot of ammunition efficiently due in part to the stripper clips - curved pieces of metal that held ten rounds each. Honestly, I was already so laden with equipment that this ammunition didn't matter. Good thing I have a strong back. My load was one of the heaviest, since I was carrying two rifles in addition to my 1911. I had switched out my burden of consumable supplies in exchange for the materials necessary to manufacture high explosives in the field. The man with the gashes in his chest was the previous explosives expert. People tried to avoid walking next to me. Couldn't blame them.
To return to the chronology, Kenny replaced me on watch and I got some much desired sleep. I didn't dream. We had bean broth for a morning meal again. I hate it, honestly. It makes my teeth feel fuzzy.
We broke camp and once again began our trek to the beach. We should reach the coast by mid-day. Jaguar and Dragon didn't give very much useful information about Bridge Point, beyond its loss as an outpost and the death of the entire compliment. They were wrong, actually. They reported that eight men had been executed - there were nine stationed there. Either one had been taken prisoner and kept alive, or he had died elsewhere and they hadn't burned his body with the others. Or what I wanted to believe, that he'd escaped. We would see when we got a better look at the instillation later.
The rest of our hike went uneventfully. We scared a flock of crows off of a slightly bloated corpse of a dog. It was a mutt, and looked rather emaciated, which is unsurprising. Some cultures view crows or ravens as a good omen, and others as a portent of doom. I view crows as a pulse. If there are crows, you can tell what's going on in the area - the fact that we scared them up implied that there was nothing else here to do it before we did. Crows hate zombies. If there's a single, or group, of the wretched scavengers up in arms over something, you know that there's something nearby. Usually something bad. The crows are everywhere. Their actions are a litmus of the land.
I hate the coast. The water is murky, oily, and... thick? I don't know if that's the word for it. It feels wrong. The Ukrainians say it's the Combine, and that the Black Sea was never this way before, but considering its history and the industry surrounding it, I say it could have been this way from the beginning. I grew up in an area with little pollution, and even after seeing the oil wells of Saudi Arabia spew flame high into the air and oil all over the waterways, or the trash-filled canals of Vienna burning as the riots slowly destroyed that ancient city, I was not used to it. The water left dark stains as it ebbed from the beach before coming back to darken it further. There are no gulls. They are all dead. Ever since the portal storms, creatures have lurked in the oceans - creatures I have no intention of meeting. And leeches. The leeches only live in the ocean for some reason, but I am fine with that. I don't really mind normal, terrestrial leeches. They suck some blood out, no great loss. It's kind of disgusting, but you live. These leeches gnaw and chew until your blood stains the water and your bones lay gleaming in the sand and silt at low tide. Sort of like little, squirming piranhas. Except less urban legend and more fact.
We arrived to a spot where we could make camp and at the same time, watch the road which wasn't more than half a mile off. It had good concealment on all sides but the air. However, the odds of gunship, scanner or helicopter this far out were low. We deployed pickets to watch the road, and once camp was pitched, we set about doing our various tasks.
Mine involved making high explosives.
I stayed about half a mile off from everyone else, because like all things involving chemicals and the ilk, this was rather dangerous. No point in taking out the entire camp if I made a mistake. I don't make mistakes, mind you. Miscalculations, perhaps.
We didn't have real high-quality materials like we did back when I fashioned homemade claymores for the guys on base. Or the time I made that anhydrous fuel oil truck bomb and we blew the shit out of that hotel in Cuba when we ran out of plastic explosives. No, the best I have at my disposal is fertilizer, old leaded gasoline, and a few other odds and ends I could scrounge up. The most powerful for size-to-energy ratio I could easily make was nitroglycerine. You know, the stuff they would use in dynamite. There's a problem with that. Nitroglycerine is shock and heat sensitive. If say, I was walking along with some in a jar, and I dropped the jar, it could go off. If you had some in a car, and the road was bumpy, it could go off. If you walked on a carpet with socks on, and touched the nitroglycerine, it could go off. If you left it out in the sun...you get the idea.
People used to try to stabilize it by mixing it with sawdust and wrapping it in paper. Dynamite. It worked, sort of. The nitroglycerine I could make wouldn't be as pure or effective, but something that explodes, well, is something that explodes.
I could make a boring old fuel bomb too, but those don't work so well for IEDs (military slang for Improvised Explosive Device). Maybe if I wanted to remove some barracks or whatnot. IEDs are devastatingly effective. They were used against the United States during the last big terrestrial war, and a few years before that. You think something is a pile of trash, or a rock, and it's not. It's a bomb. Bad shit. Funny how the tables turn, and members of what used to be the most technologically advanced army in the world who could call an air strike or missile down in ten or fifteen minutes, who could annihilate entire countries at the press of a button, who could say a few words on a radio and then a few minutes later have a huge airplane with miniguns and a 105mm mortar demolish anything you pointed at, we who used to be the titans of this world - we are reduced to making bombs like members of some third world shit guerilla army. We are humbled under the thumb of a metal tower.
Of course, that's thinking a bit more in the long run. We had four artillery shells salvaged from one of the old battlefields that I had been carrying around. Shells fail a lot more often than you would think, and they are very safe to carry around. So, for the time being, we had instantly high explosives in a convenient vessel. Our foes in the war would often use cell phones to detonate the IED; we obviously didn't have that option. The best bet was a length of wire and a battery. It's not that hard to rig up.
I made one. It's best to make them in the field. They can break while transporting, which means repairing them when you need them, which is a bitch. We would scout around a bit and make our entrance into this area. With a bang. Hah, pun.
I could hear a motor in the distance, echoing off of the hills. It was impossible to tell what direction it was coming from, but it droned along. I left my supplies under the tree, and walked back to camp. One of the scouts came back. It was a Combine APC. Great. The second picket came back. Another one had gone by. It'll be interesting to see if this repeats itself.
Tomorrow we are going to begin scouting the outer areas. We're about seven miles up the road from Bridge Point. We could hit an APC and melt back into the wastes before they'd respond. Or not. This is the first time in a very, very long time that we've engaged in direct operations against the Combine, other than ambushing the odd metrocop or patrol. People are gonna die. Buildings are gonna burn. Blood will flow. If we can make more Combine blood flow than our own, so much the better. If we fail, we at least tried.
9:49PM 10/2/2014: Razorback
We spent four days here scouting around and watching the roads. Nothing much happened. We had a minor fight break out over something that was probably bullshit. James decked this guy and Kenny threatened to shoot him. I was out watching the road. Apparently it was resolved with few ill feelings. Little else went on, really.
A pair of Combine APCs go up and down the road every night around 6 PM. Twilight. They usually keep about ten minutes between themselves. I don't know what they are doing, but they are consistent and hence a target. Last night I went out with James and took a look at Bridge Point itself - there are a lot "harder" targets, but this is still tough. We've got about thirty Combine personnel there, two APCs in addition to the pair that patrol the road, and two mounted guns. We couldn't take the men alone, much less the men with anything else. And with that many, they could easily call in a gunship. Fighting the combine is a tricky business. Their suits have life monitors and radios built in - the controllers can pinpoint exactly where a metrocop or soldier dies thanks to GPS tracking. It's not even a matter of killing them quickly so they cannot radio for backup - every time you kill one, you run a risk. A huge risk. If enough go offline in a designated area, they send a helicopter or gunship. Or a strider. Very bad. To kill is to be marked. Thank the Good Lord that the Combine haven't figured out infrared imaging. You can run. And sometimes, you can hide.
Tonight we are going to detonate two IEDs and with any luck, kill. We will place our IEDs on the road, with about a hundred yards between the two. When the first APC gets near the second, we'll detonate it and hopefully disable the APC before it chews us up with its gun. Hopefully, the second IED will disable the second APC (or the second APC will get close enough for it to do any damage). Then we will run. We have a rendezvous point five miles from the road, and we've already moved our camp. Good thing we're all in shape, although we are somewhat malnourished. It's hard to go from eating multivitamins and a balanced diet to the flesh of aliens and whatever slop we can come up with. Some of us wither, some of us simply lose our fat reserves, and a select few thrive on it. I am not one of those few, sadly.
We have a bare minimum of equipment. Weapons, extra ammunition, some food, warlike things. The witching hour is approaching. The sun is low in the sky, casting a pale light over the Ukrainian waste that reminds me of dreams I had as a child, dreams of being alone out in the fields and forests with a sun in the sky that gives you no warmth. It just sits there, illuminating the environment. Everything is washed out. The light is diffused, almost as if there was cloud cover, but there isn't. That's a sign of pollution. There's something bad in the air. It's muggy, hazy, and thick. Some people say the Combine do it. Others say it's psychological. I don't know what to think, because I don't have anything but guesses. What do the Combine want, anyway?
As far as I know, they aren't mining. They process us into stalkers, yes. They have militarized some of our populace, yes. But why are we worth turning into an army? What makes us better than those Striders? It is entirely inconceivable to me that they need us for their armies. I'd say their militarization of some of their species is psychological. It's not a robot alien cyborg that's oppressing us, but a human - albeit a human in a funny suit. I don't know. Maybe it's something else.
The time approaches.
10/2/2014, 1:22 AM
We did it.
The group went silent as a tomb under the twilight sky. The throb of the Combine APC's engines was heard, quite faintly at first. The throb turned into a whine as it picked up speed. We had set up the IED at a curve in the road. There was a pothole that we dug deeper, and covered with a thin layer of dirt. The gods of damaged roadways were with us. It was directly in the middle. The 105mm shell would do plenty of damage to a vehicle on either side of the road. We had concealed a wire over to my position on the cliff. When I touched the lead to the battery, the current would be completed and my device would explode instantly. I hoped.
The APC was going a good forty miles an hour or so when it came into view. Everyone inhaled and held their breath. People tensed. Some covered their ears. I smiled. They didn't slow for the corner. I fired off the IED.
It was a satisfying explosion. The instant before you set off a bomb, you can see it in your mind. You can see the explosion, tearing through metal and plastic and sending shrapnel into flesh and tearing people apart. It's sexual. It's fulfilling. To see your work come together and tear apart something is a wonderful feeling. When these people you tear apart represent something that you are diametrically opposed to, it's just that much better. It's better than shooting someone, and almost as good as killing with your hands. It's a feeling of power, you know. All you did was wire something up, dig a hole, bury it, and press a button. Lives are lost. Lives of your enemies. It's good, and right. It's not like those shitheads we fought in the old wars. They were fighting a people, not an oppressor. Ours is a war of absolutes. The Combine are an absolute evil. There is no good in them. Their intentions are unquestionable, even if the whys and wherefores are unknown. They are here to subject us to slavery. Wallace Breen is the head of a body of traitors. These traitors are worse than the people who betray their countries, ideals, or even their own families. These people have betrayed their very race. Not only have they betrayed us, they actively help keep us down. They have committed the worst evil. They are beyond redemption. Race, politics, none of that matters now. You're for us, or against us. If you're against us, I, and any other member of the Resistance, will kill you. And we'll enjoy it. Not like the fuckheads in the old wars enjoyed it. That was perverse. It was an exercise in senseless death. I enjoyed killing them. And I enjoyed killing those Combine.
Because they were dead. When the smoke and dust cleared, we couldn't find the APC. A smouldering crater was what remained of my IED. Trees near the road had been scoured by shrapnel. We quickly ascertained what had happened to the APC, and I got visual confirmation - the explosion had propelled it violently to the right, and that, combined with the speed of the vehicle, had sent it over the edge. They would drown. A fitting end. Roughly fifty feet of the cold, unforgiving embalming fluid of the Black Sea would seal their doom.
I ran back up the hill. People were murmuring softly, smiles for all. Our first kill. And not only was it a kill, it was a spectacular kill, on a tough target. May God be as merciful to us again for the second APC.
It was moving much more slowly. Doubtless, the destruction of the first APC had reached the Combine in some form or another. It stopped about a hundred feet from my first IED and disembarked six Combine. The sun was nearly gone. The witching hour was here.
Kenny told everyone to hold their fire in a harsh whisper. The troops moved forward alone, and peeked around the bend. This was going to be hard. The destruction of the APC was 100% necessary, or else it would drive us down and cut us to shreds. Kenny quickly thought of something, the same thing I did, and took two men with him down the other side of the bluff. I knew what he was going to do. It was dangerous, but necessary. By opening fire on the Combine that had rounded the corner and were now inspecting the crater left by my explosive device, they would likely coax the APC around the corner - and into my explosives.
And it worked. Kenny's distinctive sounding Kalashnikov was the source of the first shot. Or more of, burst. Kenny had an older model, but years of trigger discipline and firing weapons in general meant that he used full auto in a controllable fashion. The other weapons began to crack too, and one of the Combine went down, thrashing and probably screaming into his mic. The APC gunned the engine and moved forward. They had fallen for our ploy. I didn't spend much time thinking of my handiwork. I wanted to get some shooting time in.
My second device exploded, and it didn't have the spectacular effect of sending the vehicle off the edge. Instead, it enveloped the APC in a cloud of debris, smoke, and flame. I guess the other shell was in worse shape than this one, because this... this was beautiful. It was devastating. It's a testament to the Combine that the APC didn't disintegrate. It stopped moving though, after tumbling for a few hundred feet. We could deal with anything in there later.
I dropped the fuse mechanism and picked up my M91/30 PU.
The sound of the explosion and the sight of their APC flying past their heads had given the five remaining Combine up front a start. They had taken cover on the side of the road behind a large rockslide, three of them laying down suppressing fire against Kenny and his group, while two watched the other direction for whatever had destroyed their APC. The light was getting dim, but there was enough to see through a rifle scope. I flicked off my safety and began to descend the slope that led down away from the road. If I could get on the road itself, I could set up on a small rise and take out the Combine rather easily.
The two that were with me on the bluff I motioned to go down to Kenny and his group, and they complied. We'd have a withering hail of fire on one side, and myself and a sniper rifle on the other. I stayed low as I ran towards the rise. I could hear our bullets hissing over my head. I knew Kenny wouldn't be terribly concerned about fratricide, since I had taken tactics into my own hands, and it was my own risk to run. Not that great of a risk, really. Most of the bullets fired by my squad hit the ground far short of me. I crawled up over the top of the rise, and got a scope picture.
One of the two watching my direction had gone back to firing back at Kenny and his group. They were all armed with those wretched pulse rifles the Combine love to use. Blue muzzle flash lit them up, and gave me better silhouettes to target. You take three deep breaths, sort of hyperventilate a bit - then you take a breath and exhale halfway. This keeps you steady. Can't have the rifle wobbling. You take into account bullet drop and wind - there is no wind, and after enough years of shooting firearms, you sort of get a feel for bullet drop over range. I figured it was safe to assume the 7.62x54 round shot about as flat as a .30-06. Oh, for the bygone days of battle rifles.
I aimed roughly around the neck at one of the Combine. The drop would have hit him in the upper chest. He got hit by a bullet, and dropped like a stone. Fine by me. I leveled on the Combine watching my direction, waited for a half second, and fired.
I thank the Good Lord for that rifle. I thank Papa Stalin and the Communist war machine that made millions of them during World War II. I thank the people in the Gulags that put it together. I thank the Ukrainian officer in that armory for giving it to me, and the dead man without boots for leading me there. If detonating a bomb is the climactic end to hours of loving attention, firing a high-powered rifle is a "quickie". One that you can repeat many times over in a small period of time. The thing roars in the fast approaching light, a gout of flame shooting out of the end, and a good bit of recoil as the powder in the round is turned from potential energy into kinetic energy. I was rewarded with a sight I won't soon forget. He was lying there, on the ground, thrashing. His aqua vitae was draining out of him faster than if I had shot a barrel full of water. His tissues were horribly destroyed, if not directly by the bullet, than indirectly by the shockwave in his body the bullet had made. But this isn't a ballistics lesson.
I cycled the action, a smoking shell goes flying to my right. I regain the scope picture. Where there were four, there were now three. I made it two, but I jerked slightly and the bullet went awry and destroyed one of the Combine's shoulders. Another shell flew to my right. The next target I was going to shoot went down screaming and clutching at his neck. The last standing Combine surrendered.
My ears were ringing from the bark of the Mosin. The survivor walked around in front of the stone, into the open arms of my squad, and laid down his weapon and grenades. Mindful of an ambush, Kenny yelled something at me that was unintelligible, but I got the gist of it anyway. I stood up and started to run down towards the Combine. Kenny and his people swarmed up towards the survivor.
Blood. All over the place. And none of it was ours. Miraculously, we had not suffered one major injury. The gods of war were kind to us.
We met at the stones.
"Jack, take Liam and go take a look at that APC."
Liam was a big man, and he had a big gun. I nodded at him.
"That was fucking awesome dude."
"I know, Liam."
I set my Mosin down, and ran over to the smouldering wreck of the APC. The door was blown half off, so after we set up in position, I gave it a good kick and opened it with the tip of my boot, raising my 1911 and flicking off the safety as I did.
No survivors. There was a hole in the bottom, a long, jagged crack, and the Combine who was sitting on it was liquidated. Almost literally. Small chunks of him lay around the crew compartment. The second Combine was a lot more recognizable, but still very very dead. Liam grinned. I cracked a smile. We ran back to the larger group. Time was still of the essence.
Everyone had surrounded the standing Combine and Kenny was interrogating him. Liam followed me around the rockslide. The ones that were thrashing had died, or were on their last legs. The one with a shattered soldier was still alive, bleeding like an animal. I smiled at Liam, and stomped on the Combine's neck. After a few repeated applications, his breathing turned from labored to coughing and wheezing. If he didn't bleed to death, he'd die in about five minutes from lack of oxygen to the brain. Most people don't think about the trachea. It's like a fuel line to your body. If you cut it, or damage it, the body runs out of fuel. There are so many ways to snuff out a human life. 95% of them work on human cyborgs.
We applied one of the other ways to the survivor. When we were done interrogating him, we tore off his helmet and beat his head into a chunky pate on the road with the buttstocks of our weapons. I feel guilty about this now; we wasted precious time. Even at this point, I still don't know if we have any pursuers. Anyway.
We gathered up the weapons. Grenades. Pulse rifles. The occasional sidearm. Grenades are something I've missed dearly over the past several years. I hate the pulse rifles. They are ugly, short, alien. Devastating, but they look like ass and handle that way. I only had about fifty pounds of gear on me for the run back. It was more or less the same of the others. We looked at the scene of carnage we had created for one last time, and I wished so dearly for a Polaroid camera. This is the sort of picture-perfect moment you want to save for a photo album to give to your grandchildren. Your enemies are dead, lying in pools of their own blood and the blood of their friends. Or at the bottom of the ocean. Or coating the inside of an armored personnel carrier. You have wreaked havoc, and you have left your mark on the world with the blood of your enemies. This is the way it should be. This is the way it is. We have annihilated a technologically superior force, and a numerically superior force. We are the victors, the men and women who stand on the necks of kings and empires. We feel like a million bucks.
Nothing else happened, really. We were long gone by the time the reinforcements showed up. They took a guess where we were heading anyway. Even now, I have no way of telling if there's an entire platoon of Combine surrounding us. But even if there is, that was worth it. I bloodied my hands once again, and I am happy.
9:49PM 10/3/2014: Spice of life
A sleepless night was our reward for the efforts of yesterday. Too much adrenaline, and too many Combine in the area. We all collapsed when the adrenaline wore off, and started feeling like shit. Except for Kenny. He slept for a full nine hours, and then stood watch when we collapsed. The sun was already high in the sky when we woke up. Four hours is enough sleep. The drone of a Combine gunship was heard off in the distance. Sorta sounds like a lawnmower.
I hate the gunships. It's like an unholy conglomeration of a whale and a helicopter, complete with an impeller and loud cries of protest when you shoot it. With some sort of explosive, I mean. You can't harm it with bullets. Maybe with the plasma spewing weapons the Combine like. It has a cannon, like the kind you see on Combine APCs or helicopters, but in addition to that it has a second weapon - an energy beam that comes out of the bottom and transfers an energy beam to the target, before explosively letting it out. Bad news. I'm kind of confused as to how it works, but I've seen it destroy buildings, tanks, and armored bunkers, so I'm not going to question its effectiveness. They make them in the Citadel. When I was assigned to the City proper, I counted the gunships that go in and out. Unless they have a huge amount and never field them all, they are producing new ones, or opening a portal to their homeworld or something. I'm glad I'm away from that place. City 17 is depressing. There's a cure, but it doesn't come in bottles. It's having a rifle and the potential to kill. I think everyone was feeling a bit better today.
We stayed put the entire day. The Combine have night vision, but not thermal imaging. They have an advantage over us, but not the full advantage of being able to spot people a mile away - it's safest to travel at night. Relatively safer. They can still see us, and they can still light us up with spotlights, but that's better than nothing, which is what we have in the daylight. The gunship flew directly overhead at one point during the day. We also had an APC come within a quarter mile of our position. I passed the time by disassembling the pulse rifle I carried with me. It was a queer design. Very simplistic. The technology was a bit beyond my grasp I'm afraid. The small canisters you always found on the Combine were spare ammunition. I don't know how they compressed the ammunition down that small, but they did, and I'd probably put this in the system for delivery to Kleiner or one of the other eggheads who might be able to reverse engineer it or something. I don't know.
We're moving out in thirty minutes.
10/9/2014, 9:42 AM
We set out. Single file, moving quickly through the scrub and brush and mud. We'd be safer in the canals and waterways of Old Odessa on the outskirts of City 17. There are a lot more zombies out there, but less Combine. Life is about tradeoffs.
We were moving through a large, open ravine with gently sloping hills on either side. The crunch of gravel and dirt under our feet was accented by the far off whine of the gunship, and engine sounds of the APCs. There was no moon tonight. That was good, unless the Combine night vision equipment had IR illuminators, they'd have a harder time seeing us.
A blue laser lazily arced over us to a spot about fifteen feet to the front and fired.
The resounding echo of the gunshot had faded and all we could hear was the gurgling of a mortally wounded zombie. Combine snipers destroyed all the zombies they saw. Directive 33, I think it was called. It had been a long time since I had interrogated one. Well, I had only gotten a hold of one anyway. This was back when the Combine were deployed into the Old Odessa area to try to stopgap escapees. Instead of sending out squads to comb every area, they'd put up snipers, and once they had a group pinned down, they'd call in reinforcements to wipe up. The one I captured didn't. He told me many things before I broke the bones in his body, and he told me many things after that. I left a grenade under his body. The Combine developed a better process for weeding out the escapees after that, involving artillery shells full of headcrabs instead of explosives.
The problem with Combine sniper rifles is the ridiculously high powered laser module that they use in lieu of actual reticules on a telescopic sight. The dot will show up anywhere, but unlike most laser sights, it is visible without any particulate matter to interrupt the beam. You can see the thing in broad daylight. It's a giant line drawn from the target to you, and that's why I will never fucking use one of those rifles if I have a choice. The Combine sniper didn't have a choice, but the Combine are arrogant anyway. And he was perfectly safe. Or I thought he was. I was incorrect, however.
"Stay here, I'm gonna go kill that fucker."
"Mr. Argyle, that ain't a good idea."
"Wait here. When you see the laser aim at the entrance to the valley, move forward. I'll meet you there."
Kenny was a man who doesn't appreciate having his orders ignored. But James was gone. So we sat down and waited. The sniper scanned the valley with the laser and his poorly functioning night vision. He didn't see us, somehow. The scrub and grass broke up our outline quite nicely I'd imagine, but we still shouldn't have survived that.
And then the laser jerked in a funny way, and then lazily arced over to the place we had left. We moved, Kenny mumbling curses under his breath.
As we ran, I noticed in the distance that a second aerial search light had joined the first. The whine of the gunship was joined by the thudding rotors of a helicopter. They would make an excellent search team. The gunship could cover a lot of ground very quickly, and the helicopter could be excruciatingly thorough. They were off in the distance though. I had briefed James Argyll and the other new arrivals on the way the Combine sensoring system works. It doesn't monitor brain wave activity; it monitors heartbeat. If you don't sever the brain stem, you can render them braindead without alerting the Combine forces. Which is what I prayed James had done.
We were nearing the exit to the ravine when a new sound was heard - and we were suddenly blinded by a white light. A second helicopter had joined the gunship in its patrol.
James was ahead near a large boulder. We tried to split up, but it was too late. The distinctive voice of a Combine cannon sang to me as it tried to eat me. It chewed up the others. Kenny. Liam. Rodger. The pretty girl, whose name was Milla. The gun chewed them up, a fiery slap in the face for what we did to them on the coast. And me, too. It burned. I had been farthest to the right, and therefore was only hit once. Right through the lower left quarter of my abdomen. I don't remember what's in there, but I'm not dead yet and it's been five days. But it hurt. At least there was no blood. Plasma cauterizes wounds, and that's about the only thing that can be said for it. Other than that it hurts like a bitch.
I fell to the ground and feigned death.
The helicopter hovered above the area, sweeping it with the searchlight. Confident that no one had escaped, it settled over the pile of bleeding corpses that had been my squad. James shot the light out.
I wasn't dead. I was in pain, but not blindingly so. The Combine were coming for me. The APCs began to converge on my position. This place would be swarming with infantry soon. They'd shoot me, and when they found James, they'd shoot him. And Kenny yet lived too, five holes in him. But it would be okay. They'd never get the chance to shoot me. I had another IED. It was already wired up. All I needed to do was get a battery, even one from a simple flashlight, and touch the leads. It would send an electrical charge into the detonator, and set off the 105mm shell. It would be a somewhat ignoble end, but with glorious results.
This act of defiance was not to be my last, however, for the web that the Fates weave is complex and confusing. As I spooled the wire from the device out of my pack, James ran in and grabbed me by the collar. I'm not a little guy, but he dragged me about 30 yards away. The gunship and first helicopter converged on the position, three great spotlights on what was left of Alpha Squad. My batteries were in my pack, which James had cut from my shoulders. My vehicle for a small revenge was taken from me, and I hit him. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.
Until I saw his radio, which I immediately cannibalized. We were going to die anyway. No point in sending a transmission detailing it in our last minutes on this earth. Our earth. I still had my rifle. It had been in my hands when we had been attacked. The bolt was kind of sticky, but that small complaint aside, it was a perfect tool, an implement to perform a task. James had the SKS and his MP7. This would be glorious. Or perhaps they would zero our position immediately and tear us apart. Either way, I would stare into the face of my God soon. For better or for worse, this was pretty much the end of the line for me.
The radio I bashed against the rocks to crack open would never work again, but we wouldn't need to use it anyway. The APCs stopped around the bodies of my brethren in arms. Their contingents dismounted the vehicles. They approached my friends. And I connected the circuit.
And nothing happened.
This was very frustrating for me.
One of the helicopters landed.
A white suited Combine stepped out, and scanned the mountains before picking up someone by the neck. It was hard to tell, but I think it was Kenny. Even from thirty yards, I could see his red blood staining the white cyborg's uniform. The big, red eye glowed, even under the harsh white spotlights. Dirt and small foliage was flying through the air by the rotors of the chopper on the ground. I completed the circuit for the detonator again. Nothing. I swore vile oaths and picked up my Mosin, and then the scene was lit up like the Fourth of July.
I'll tell you a secret, Parabellum, about shit. Shit breaks. Or misfires. Or doesn't work as intended. My device didn't work as intended. It took a bit longer to go off. But that was okay. I destroyed the helicopter. I damaged quite a few of the APCs. Perhaps most beautiful of all, the platoon of Combine soldiers was turned into gristle. Figuratively, of course. Most of them remained intact, with a few dismembered limbs or bits of intestine or bone. It was glorious, and I hid behind the stone just in time as a piece of stone as big as my fist flew past my head. The mental haze that had fallen upon me cleared. Everything was sharp, distinct. I was alive. I was injured, and that hurt. I had killed many of my enemy, but still more remained, and with two aircraft. I stood up. My ears rang. I couldn't hear anything. I shook Argyle and pointed towards the west, and we ran.
I think that if my wound hadn't been cauterized, I would have pumped at least six of my eight pints of blood out of it. It hurt like the dickens, and was clean through. James was a bit better off after he buried his pack. We stopped for a breather two miles away. The chopper and the gunship were moving in ever broadening circles. My hearing returned. And I thought about something.
I have a tattoo on my upper arm. It's a quote from a man who some people say was great, and others say was horrid, and still others say was a victim of circumstance. Kenny had a tattoo like this; it was a tradition in my unit for all NCOs to do it. The day I got my promotion, he got me piss blind drunk and took me to a tattooist.
"In the absence of orders, go find something and kill it."
It's only half joking.
My team was dead. The pretty girl, my old friend, and two new ones. I was mad, and sad, and hurt, and afraid, and full of adrenaline.
"Do you know how to read a map, James?"
Our maps were unmarked, but I knew the location of most of the Resistance outposts in the area.
"See that hill near the edge of the woods? There's a barn there. Hoof it. Take my map with you too, I know the way back. If we split up, it's more likely that one of us will make it."
"That doesn't sound like a good idea."
"You're in the Army now, and as such, I order you to proceed to the location I am directing you to on the map."
"I never signed up for the army."
"You're in MY army. Go. Now. I'll be fine."
And so we split up the rations and the grenades and parted.
Later that day, the Combine gave up. And I began to make my way to Old Odessa. Since I am writing this, you know that I have survived this far. But I am weary. Blood stains my hands. My food is gone. And I must sleep. Tomorrow I will chronicle the events that brought me here to Old Odessa.
7:33PM 10/4/2014: Alecto and Tisiphone
I am too tired to remember the name of this outpost. It's at an old dock by the coast, near the Old Odessa railway system, and one of the entrances to Ravenholm.
Looking at my journal, it seems that last night I left off at the utter annihilation of my friends. I shall continue my tale.
Argyle and I split up. We both ran, far and hard. The helicopter and gunship that remained were closing in, quickly. I could run, but not faster than they could fly, and their ever-broadening circles threatened to overtake me and spell my doom. I was sweating - it's odd to sweat during a Ukrainian winter night. Adrenaline kept me on my feet. My wound didn't hurt, although I figured it was just the excitement. And yeah, it hurts now. But I digress.
I needed a diversion. I had thirty feet of improved fuse cord, and it would burn at roughly three feet a minute. It's good to keep a combination of slow and fast fuses with you. I took all but one of the flares I had wisely kept with me and wrapped one end around them in a big bundle. Night vision or no, it would be a great distraction, and I left it on top of a hill.
They push you hard in the Army. Supposedly, the Marines are even harder, and the various Special Forces harder still, but I found the Army's exercise regimen to be quite adequate. Years of it build up an underlying muscle mass that sticks around, even under flab or fat. Not that I was fat. There's not enough food to be fat. But I ran, and in retrospect, I'm thanking every last Sergeant that ran my ass into the ground in Basic. The rest of the night was something of an enigma to me. I know I woke up under a pile of brush, and that I wasn't dead or a Combine prisoner. Far in the distance I could hear the gunship droning. Apparently the search was not over. Persistent bastards.
I got my bearings as best I could. I figured I was roughly ten miles from the beginning of Old Odessa - less if I cut through Ravenholm - but that was obviously out of the question. I set out down the coastline, staying off the far too obvious beach, and instead walking along the bluffs. It went uneventfully, to be honest, and I had a lot of time to think.
I was angry. Very angry. The blood of my squad was temporarily silenced, not avenged. They would sing to me, soon, in my dreams and waking hours and out of the corner of my eye, sing about how they died like dogs in the dirt and underbrush. I had known Kenny for a long time, and I wept silently for the loss to the world manifest in his death. The others I had not known, but I wept silently for the loss to the Resistance. I wouldn't know about Argyle's fate. If you wanted to categorize them, you could say that they died for an ideal. The restoration of our existence before the Combine. Not before the Portal Storms, but before the Combine, when we were the masters of our own destiny. We were cuffed, but not beaten. We were the top of the food chain. Now we are not, and that is against the innate human desire to be free of chains.
You could say they died for their families. People crushed in the Seven Hour War. People executed. People sent to Nova Prospekt, and while I'm not sure what goes on there, I am certain it is good as death. Or even the AntiCitizens. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows an AntiCitizen. AntiCitizens are rated from 1 to 33, 33 being the least severe. Odessa is AntiCitizen 18. You can see posters offering tremendous rewards for his head. AntiCitizens, dead or alive, are shipped off-world. Details are vague. The people who know, if any, aren't talking about it.
You could say they died for purely selfish reasons. The desire for food, water, clothes, a house in the suburbs, a car. The desire for material possessions denied under this umbrella of totalitarianistic jackassery. There is nothing innately wrong with fighting for yourself.
And I heard something.
I was overlooking a large, exposed bay near the Northern Petrol building. It was a shipping facility for a small oil company, like so many others that rimmed the Black Sea. But the sea had shrunk. Warehouses and docks were high and dry. I often wonder what the coastline here looked like before the sea sunk. But I digress.
It was a Combine foot patrol. A pair of them, walking along the beach. I was well concealed.
"...requested to be transferred out of Sigma squad to this shithole of an outpost."
"At least you had a choice. Either way, Sigma is gone, so they'll probably put it back together again."
"It started with an attack on two APCs. It only set off a TAC-2 response. If I was running the show it would have been a TAC-3, and Sigma wouldn't have been wiped out."
"Too bad you weren't there to advise the unit commander."
"He was a dumbass. APC recorders showed him manhandling a survivor of a helicopter attack. RIGHT THERE, AT THE SCENE. That is not the way to command."
"I disagree. I was in one of the Old Earth armies. Our commanding officer was down in the shit with the men. We liked him for that."
"Look where it got Sigma Commander."
"I know. He should have been more careful. I'm just saying..."
"Whatever. Just pay attention. Air support didn't detect any more rebels, but some may have slipped through the cracks."
"Unlikely. Hey, did you hear about Ecking's promotion?"
I had already raised the rifle to my shoulder.
The safety on the M91/30 can burn. Yeah, I said it. That ill-conceived mechanism is worthless. I carry it in ready-to-fire at all times now.
I hammered the thing into "Fire", and raised the rifle again. The crosshairs lazily wandered over to the Combine who had been in the army of some nation, somewhere. Traitorous fuck.
I fired one 7.62x54 round into his abdomen. Gutshot. He dropped like a stone and immediately stood back up, looking down at his uniform. I fired a second shot which punctured his left lung. He began to scream. I know now why the Combine uniforms are that unique shade of blue. It covers blood. I swung the scope over to the other Combine, who was darting his gaze from every corner of the compass. I fired my third shot. Broken hip. The traitor would die. The other traitor would live. Such is my idea of justice.
The first Combine had torn off his helmet, and was drooling frothy blood from his mouth as he screamed, flecks of foam and spittle showering the ground nearby. Why kill them when you can horribly wound them, and give a few a slow, painful death? At that point in time, as I watched with satisfaction at my handiwork, I decided my goal in life was to be AntiCitizen One. I couldn't organize or command like Odessa. I could shoot people. And blow up things.
In retrospect, what I did was foolish. There was a gunship a couple dozen miles away that could be here in minutes, looking for me. I didn't know the composition or armaments of the Combine in this area. I lucked out. I didn't die when I walked down from the bluff and across the exposed beach. I have no idea what I was thinking at that time. I wasn't thinking. I was just angry. The Combine with the shattered hip was facing the sky, not me. I kicked him in the hip, eliciting a scream, and picked up his pulse rifle. The ex-military Combine was in bad shape. I took his weapon too.
I gave the less-injured traitor another kick and tore off his helmet and cut out his tongue. Bloodlust. Interesting feeling. To maim and mutilate in a world tinted with adrenaline on top of a haze of testosterone...I won't condemn it outright for this war. Every last one of our enemies has death coming. Whether it is slow and painful or quickly is completely arbitrary and up to the slayer. I felt like I had all the time in the world.
Unless the second combine bled to death, he would live. He would not speak and give away my position when the others came out in response to his distress message, if he broadcasted one. I pitched one of the rifles down the beach and ran towards the large building. There was already a response in progress. Four Combine were running down the dock to the ramp constructed to allow access to the beach. I hid under it.
Boots clomped on the ancient wood above my head, twenty, maybe thirty feet. The water had been deep here. My eye tics when I am angry. My eye was ticking. I could smell their suits, like polyester kept in a closet too long. My senses were both heightened and diminished - the Combine were all I could hear, all I could smell and even though they were not in sight yet, all I could see. I saw myself cooking a grenade off in the air to tear flesh and crack bone, or my knife sinking into a kidney or between vertebrae. But no.
They ran down the ramp and across the sand and dirt, over to their fallen co-conspirators. They set up a cordon, and began shouting at each other. A disciplined force would use their in-helmet radios, but apparently they didn't see the need. I willed myself to stop shaking, and in the back of the mind I acknowledged the stream of spittle running down my face, which I licked away. I got down in the muck, settled my crosshairs over the group, and fired.
I could really learn to like this Combine weapon. It had little recoil. The reloading system was fast and automated, with three small canisters of plasma or whatever it was. It was ergonomic and accurate. Beautiful weapon, really.
There was a short firefight, which I won. These Combine troops were green. They didn't work well together. They didn't start digging in as soon as I opened up, and when they returned fire, they were inaccurate. I, on the other hand, put down a withering hail of superheated slugs or plasma or whatever the bloody thing shoots. They all died, or were at least incapacitated. Five dead, one injured.
I didn't know how many Combine were left, but this certainly didn't dissuade me from running around to the ramp and going up onto the dock. There were two more Combine. I took cover behind a small building and emptied the weapon. Throwing it down, I unslung the Mosin and took them down rather easily. Another pulse rifle. I finished them both off with plasma in the head. A single Combine appeared, but this one was older, wiser. He took cover and laid down a hail of suppressing fire. I fired all ninety shots from the pulse rifle at him and then got out a grenade. He was hiding behind a trio of large I-beams stacked on top of one another. Roughly thirty yards away. Combine grenades have a five second fuse. I pulled the pin, let the lever snap up, counted to two and chucked it.
I was rewarded with a bang and the sound of a flurry of radio communication. My 1911 had not tasted burning cordite in too long. Even in my irrational state, there are things you do. Chamber check. Safety off. And I ran at the pile of metal between me and my prey. He saw me about the same time that I saw him, but I had momentum on my side. He fired wildly. I had injured him, or at least rattled his cage. I dived and hit the ground, hard. When I got a sight picture, I fired.
The Mosin has its charms. It's big, loud, and punches right through your target. The shotgun roars and spews buckshot. The Combine pulse rifle is a technologically advanced tool for destruction. But I love my 1911. I love the visible impact that the big, heavy, slow moving .45 bullet has on flesh. I bought it the day I got back from the Old Wars. It hasn't left me since. I burn through ammunition though. I left two in this excuse for a human being. I don't know why I didn't grab his weapon. I guess the door beyond grabbed my attention, because I kicked it open and entered.
The room was dark, save for one corner with a bank of computer equipment. And to my left, a red light. Circular. Scratch that, an eye. A single red eye, glowing in the dark. And as I fired at him, and he ran forward, the red eye was joined by a white body. He had a pulse rifle in his hand, and I think one of my shots hit him in the arm because he dropped it. Funny. My shots didn't drop him. He flinches when he got hit, and grunted, but no crimson stained his uniform. The 1911 clicked, the slide held back. Empty. The Combine had stopped to pick up the rifle. I threw the 1911 at him and ran.
My knife was only halfway out of its sheath, so I smacked him in the eye with my elbow. He grunted again and stumbled backwards, and I kicked the pulse rifle out of the way. I felt like a million bucks. I was the strongest man on earth, untouchable, invincible. My blood burned, my face was hot. Here was the enemy, at my mercy. I would break his body and cast him to the corners of the earth. His blood would seep into the ground, and the sun would burn his corpse until he rotted away. The rain would fall and wash him clean, leaving a gleaming, disjointed skeleton.
He wouldn't strangle, but he was wearing a suit, so that wasn't a great surprise. I grabbed him by the neck instead with both hands and slammed his face onto a metal table. The single, red eye cracked. After about three more applications of this, it shattered, exposing electronics and things I don't understand. The knife had remained in my hand, the hemp cord around my wrist, and I drove it deep into the cavity inside the helmet.
I was rewarded with a cry, and a trickle of blood down the white, impossibly immaculate suit. I applied it again, and he thrashed madly and I dragged the blade down, ripping through space age materials and wire. More blood. I could cut him a thousand times and drain all of it from his body, a eight pint slick on the floor. But no. Little warning bells were going off in the back of my head. Something was wrong.
I ignored them and gouged deeper into his flesh. I think I nocked the blade of my knife on a rib or something.
He was dying. I left my knife in his gut and went and looked for my 1911. It was under one of the tables with computer equipment on them. Reload. Rack slide. The computer equipment looked expensive. There was a jerry-can of gasoline or oil or something outside. This was an oil docking facility, of course there would be flammables. I doused it on the electronics, a thick, black, foul smelling brew.
One grenade left. There is a very old booby trap that's been around for as long as there have been grenades, and all you need for it is a nail and some fishing line. You secure the grenade next to the doorway, anything will do really. I used duct tape. Always carry duct tape with you. Same for fishing line, although I didn't need the hook. I tied the line to the Combine's leg. The other end went to the pin of the grenade. Didn't even need to tie it; the fishing line had a hook on it that went conveniently through the loop.
I struck the flare and torched the equipment.
I retrieved my knife from the abdomen of the crimson-suited Combine and carefully stepping over the fishing line, went out into the sunshine.
I could see them off in the distance, blue dots coming back home to see what was wrong. The other patrols had been out. They'd be here soon. I picked up the pulse rifle from the fallen Combine by the door, and ran.
I ran a long time. The cloudy vision slowly dissipated. My hearing returned to normal. I climbed up the bluff and ran along the top to avoid the antlions. As I ran, I thought of the Bible. Not of forgiveness or of mercy, or love for your brother, but of the last book, the book of Revelations. Some people say that the man who wrote it, being banished to a deserted island, went crazy and consumed hallucinogenic plants. I don't think so. Beyond a mere religious context, I considered it prophetic - behold, a pale horse. And he that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed him.
Fortune, The Fates, God, Luck, Alecto, or some obtuse combination of these smiled upon me. I evaded the Combine. And I made it here before nightfall. What a sight it must have been. Burned, bloody, starved, bloodshot eyes. The people here are so kind. They gave me food and sleep, and talked to Odessa so I didn't have to. Argyle made it back safely. I just pray a search for me does not lead them here.
And now I sleep.
Actually, I don't. Odessa is on the horn. He wants to talk to me. I'm tired, so I'll write about that tomorrow.
9:53PM 10/5/2014: Callypigian Woman
I have to leave this place today. It's not like I have any better use of my time, really. Odessa, oh boy, Odessa has asked me to do something I don't want to do. But hey, I have to do it. Good old soldier, all that sort of thing. I've shucked my good clothes for the standard blue jumpsuit. It's not very warm, but somehow, that doesn't matter. The thermometer is just below zero Centigrade. I don't know why it's not colder in October. Something ill is afoot. We've had no rain, no snow, nothing like that for months now. Clouds roll across the sky and an ill wind blows, but nothing falls from the heavens. Our earth is not ours anymore.
Odessa wants me to go to City Seventeen proper. Not to tool around in the Old Odessa zones, not to go and kill and break bones. In fact, if I kill anyone, I will have failed. Indeed, if I am stopped by a bored metrocop, I will have failed. I have no papers. If they take me alive, I will go to Nova Prospekt like the others. If a scared "Citizen" wants to move up in life a bit, they'll report me and I'll be hunted down like an animal. My mission, "Should you choose to accept it", is to retrieve something of interest from City Seventeen.
Not a weapon or a computer disk or a car or even a Combine APC. These things I could probably do. I'm not so sure about this though. I have to go find a clinic being run by volunteers which the Combine have allowed to stay open, and I have to bring a doctor back to N.L.O. If I can't convince the doctor to come with me, I'll have to force the issue. Gee, thanks Odessa. Because, you know, not only will I have to infiltrate this city, policed in a totalitarian fashion by besuited thugs plugged into a network that instantly tells every member of its force if one of them dies, or is attacked, or sees something suspicious, but now I have to exfiltrate the place, possibly with a hostage, but definitely with civvie baggage.
I'm taking my knife and 1911 with me. Cubbage told me to leave all armaments behind, but fuck him. If I am detained, I'm good as dead anyway, so I'll make sure to make a mess on the way down. This uniform they gave me isn't going to make concealing my weapons easy. I've washed the blood off my knife, and I'm stowing that in my boot. The 1911 goes in the belt, and my shirt is two sizes too large to help hide that. I can't effectively conceal more than two spare mags on my person - I get 21 shots, 22 if I add the extra round in the chamber before seating the magazine.
Cubbage didn't say what he wanted with the doctor. Code name was "Shakti". My code name was "Slag", and my contact was "Istanbul". I had actually met the guy before - he was one of the Resistance members with papers. I'd met him before personally, and I could pick him out at the Free clinic where he was volunteering. He would introduce me to Shakti and I would either use a silvery tongue or the muzzle of my weapon to convince her to accompany me. What a shitty situation. But hey, it's not like I have anything better to do with my life right now. I missed college to go kill people in foreign countries. It's not like I was going to contribute much to society anyway. And well, maybe this would work.
I'm leaving my journal here in care of a guy named Boris. Boris is an evil name. Look at Rocky and Bullwinkle. Or any James Bond movie. If you're reading this, Boris, when I get back Shakti is gonna have to take a look at you, and when she pumps your stomach she'll find half your remaining teeth and one of your eyes floating in a slurry of your own digestive juices. I've torn a few pages out of the back so I can continue to chronicle my imminent doom. I don't know how much self control I can exercise. My squad is dead, and I have a hole in my side courtesy of a Combine helicopter. I still need to scrub the dried flecks of blood on my face off from that officer. I relish the memory of that. To be in City 17, surrounded by bluesuits, with the opportunity again and again to do it and feel that warm, happy feeling again may prove too much a temptation. Not very soldierly, I'll admit. I'm going now.
Well, I'm here and I haven't killed anyone. The light is poor. It smells like rubbing alcohol in here, since that's the only substance in this building. One of the people working here told me it was because the Combine medicate the rations they hand out, and they refuse to give out any medicines whatsoever. Apparently, it's true since the people who eat it never get infections. Funny. That's how we used to keep cattle "healthy". It works really well, but as a lovely side effect, you end up with mutated strains that resist antibiotics. But I digress.
Getting here was a real bitch. The nice, clean building I was at (Outpost OO-Forsythe) was quite a hike from the railway system. Obviously, I am being vague in the eventuality that this falls into the hands of the Combine in one way or another, which is also why I am using our code names for the people involved. The best way to get into City 17 proper and avoid the more patrolled access points to the city is through a huge obstacle course/maze that is the railyard. It's always shifting around, and some days you can hardly get through at all. Not to mention the blue screens they have set up. Combine can run through them at will, citizens need to submit to a face scan and then their biometrics are punched in as being permissible for that particular checkpoint. Again, navigation in City 17 is a real bitch.
I wandered down the railroad tracks and through the tormented maze of shipping. It's a bloody mess. I had a few uneventful encounters with the Combine metrocops. Uneventful because they didn't detect me. I wished for my Mosin Nagant at least half a dozen times. I encountered a handful of zombies - most of them die horribly when the trains come through, but I used one in a cunning fashion to divert attention from myself. It hadn't seen me, and was wandering aimlessly around the switching yard, one arm dangling hopelessly from a tattered stump by a tendon and a small scrap of flesh. I threw a brick at the platform the Combine were standing on, and I guess they assumed the zombie did it, since they began to shout and fire at it in a leisurely fashion. I ran.
There's not much to tell. I finally made my way towards a temporary point of refuge - the laboratory of Izzy. I clambered up the back way, stacked some boxes up to get on the balcony and banged on the door. Maybe Izzy had finished his teleportation technology and could magically teleport me past every checkpoint in the city. Then again, even if he claimed to have finished it, I was at Black Mesa East when he sent the cat through. Alyx was out tooling around with her robot or something, and we never told her.
The heavy deadbolt "shlicked" aside, and I was greeted by the muzzle of a shotgun. I grabbed the barrel and pushed it aside as the door swung open further, and was greeted by a metrocop without his mask on. Izzy was standing in the back of the room, crouching behind a pile of junk. Izzy collected junk.
I quickly closed the short distance to the metrocop and drove my elbow into his chest. Most people don't anticipate or appreciate being struck in the center of gravity. He stumbled and fell, but still kept a dead man's grip on the shotgun. He threw his weight into it as it went down - meaning that I stumbled forward. He suddenly whipped the shotgun around, ending with the barrel pointing towards his head - and the butt of the weapon smacked into mine. I went sprawling, a sharp pain slowly spreading to the rest of my head from the point of impact. My 1911 was where I left it. I got a sight picture and pulled the trigger.
Actually, I had forgotten to turn off the safety, which was fortuitous. Izzy shouted something incomprehensible, and I ended up looking down the barrel of a SPAS-12. A fine shotgun it is.
"Slag, this is Fife. Fife, meet Slag."
"Uh, Izzy, he tried to shoot me."
"It's nothing personal, Fife. It's just my natural reaction to jack booted thugs."
"Hey, I resent that. Izzy, who the fuck is this smartass?"
"Such language, Fife. This is Slag. He was on the receiving end of... cat."
"Izzy, you mean to tell me you had this bastard in your lab when you were performing teleportation tests?"
"Slag, Fife, I'd like for you to both put away your guns. You really don't need to kill each other."
"I'll do that, Izzy, once you tell me who this blue-suited bastard is with a shotgun pointed at me."
"He's an old friend of mine and Harvard Man's. He is wearing a suit because he's with the Civil Protection as a mole."
"A mole. Right."
I lowered my weapon with a degree of trepidation. This guy was good, better than your average metrocop. He also talked with a distinctly southwest accent. He held the shotgun with a familiar grace, the way you hold an implement you are intimately acquainted with. Suddenly, he snapped the folding stock shut and offered me a hand up. He was stronger than he looked.
"So Slag," Izzy began. "Why are you here?"
"Secret mission, Wellington's orders. I have to get somewhere inside the City Seventeen proper. Of course, I have no idea how I'm going to go about doing this. I don't have papers or any sort of security clearance."
Izzy looked at Fife.
"Izzy, I don't wanna do this. He's a loose cannon. My jurisdiction is the train station and that's it. Also, he tried to kill me."
"Oh come now Fife, how bad could it be? You've got the run of the city, despite your jurisdiction. Besides, you'd get to rough him up a bit for the cameras. Just switch your ID transmitter over to the alternate setting. I didn't make that just so you could go to carnal houses without your commander's knowledge."
Fife sighed and put down the shotgun.
"Where are we going?"
I told him.
"Why would you want to go there?"
I told him again.
"I don't envy you. You've got quite a workload."
"Fife, you don't think I haven't already thought of this? Just get me out there, please. I'm begging you."
He sighed, and rolled his eyes.
"Okay. Uhh, your destination is sort of near a Civil Protection processing facility. That's your excuse. When we're walking, don't look at me and sort of shuffle your feet. I might randomly hit you with my stunstick, since I'm behind on my beating quota and it's always good to make a show. Also, if any of the other CP officers see you have a weapon, they'll shoot you and I won't stop them. My place in Civil Protection is too valuable to jeopardize."
"Great, I guess. Let's go."
And so we went.
Fife chatted with the Combine at the checkpoints as he went. I bristled under his patronizing tone, I jumped when he smacked me on the ass with his stunstick, and I felt like stabbing the other blue suits who laughed at my apparent misfortune. The blue barriers tingled on my skin as I walked through them. At one point he snapped the stunstick on about six inches away from my face. I don't know how the Combine have what's basically a taser club with infinite energy reserves, but they do, and it's scary. And then, there was a checkpoint manned by a single metrocop.
"You know the drill, Unit 2294?"
"Yep," said Fife.
The metrocop pointed at me.
"You like 'Dr. Breen's Private Reserve'?"
"It's okay, sir."
"Here, you can have the rest of mi- oops, I dropped it."
The can of distilled water splashed onto the sidewalk.
"Pick up the can."
What the devil?
"Put it in the trash."
I picked up the can and looked at him.
"I said put it in the trash."
Oh boy. I walked over to the trash can, looking at him out of the corner of my eye with my head hanging. I wanted to do nothing more than gut him and hang him from the iron fence nearby with his intestines and let the crows eat him alive. Or at the very least stab him in the eye socket. But I didn't. I pitched it. He and Fife laughed, and we walked on through the barrier. The rest of the journey was rather uneventful, and we arrived.
Fife pushed me through the door of the building, and someone with a red armband ran over and helped me off the floor.
"He was a bit too sassy for his own good."
Fife left, and here I am.
Istanbul was helping out around the place, tending to those small but important tasks that someone has to do. Shakti surprised me - first, it's a woman. I'm tired, so I'm forced to make the rest of this brief, but suffice to say, I am going to start working on her tomorrow. I think Fife cracked my skull when he hit me with the shotgun. I've got a terrible headache. I've been helping out around here a bit. It's kind of peaceful. I don't know why the Combine allow this place to stay open, but I've got to take one of their best and brightest away with me, and I've got to do it in under a week.
Sleep overtakes me. Goodnight.
11:41PM 10/6/2014: Hippocratic Woman
"The dusky night rides down the sky, And ushers in the morn; The hounds all join in glorious cry, The huntsman winds his horn, And a-hunting we will go."
This man singing was hunched over a bloody husk of a human being, whose ear splitting wails were drowned out only by the bellowing of the man I assumed was a doctor. He was running his hands over the ruptured and broken body, occasionally writing something with a magic marker. He completed this task and motioned for someone to come and assist him. A man wearing the Combine blue jumpsuit came over and they began to prod him some more, eliciting further screaming. I stood up and wandered over.
"Who the devil are you?"
I looked back at the doctor who had turned to face me.
"Name's Slag. New arrival in town."
"You ever set a broken bone Slag?"
"Once or twice."
"This guy's got about twelve, and he's gonna start thrashing when I set them. Apply pressure to his chest to keep him down, but mind the broken clavicle."
I somewhat gingerly applied pressure to the man's upper chest, and suddenly pressed down hard. He had indeed begun to thrash, and it took a lot of effort to keep him from flopping off the table like a headless fish. The doctor began to sing/bellow again, this time something about the Spanish Civil War and the First International Brigade, which, if I remember correctly, were a group of Irish who fought against the Fascists in Spain. Blood oozed from a puncture wound caused by a broken rib and puddled around his midriff. Blood spattered from his open mouth onto myself and the doctor. He was missing a few teeth, and had a large gash on his tongue. I prayed he didn't have Hepatitis.
The total damages ranged from his legs being broken in several places to a shattered clavicle and several missing teeth. He also had punctured a lung, but the doctor had managed to stabilize it and prevent a collapse. Most of the bleeding had been suppressed.
"He's going to die, most likely. He's suffered extensive internal organ damage, and second degree burns. He had no pulse when they brought him in. It's the stunsticks. I don't know how much you knew about weaponry before the Combine came, but it's a combination between an ASP baton and a taser. You could break a leg or crush a skull with a blow. Then you had tasers. The problem stems from having the two combined. You get a lot of blunt-force trauma, and you get a large amount of electricity entering the body. That, combined with how trigger happy those fuckers are, makes this entire city a potential medical emergency."
He dug around in the pocket of a blood-stained smock and withdrew a pack of "Dr. Breen's Special Select Cigarillos". He inhaled deeply, and leaned against a support pillar, exhaling slowly. A long query-mark of smoke wafted off the end of the disgusting thing. He closed his eyes and dragged on it again. The man on the table was asleep now, his breathing uneven, the fingers of one hand twitching as he slept a tormented slumber. Maybe he would live. Maybe.
The doctor had dozed off and his cigarillo fell from his lips and began to smolder on his filthy smock. I flicked it off and ground it out underfoot and began to explore the rest of the clinic. Last night I had done a few odd jobs but had not seen most of the facility, which seemed to operate with partial Combine approval. As best I could tell, it was composed partially of "immigrants", and partially of staff members of the old hospital, which had become a Combine control node. They would always use the civil buildings - city hall, banks, hospitals, fire stations. An odd thing it was.
There were many people here. Not all of them had been beaten. Broken legs. Burns from cooking. Zombie bites. I even saw a gunshot wound. "Accidental puncture wound from construction", they called it. Bullshit. If nothing else, they were at least not turning in people who fought the Combine.
Shakti was on the third floor. She was showing one of the Citizens how to change bandaging on her brother's freshly amputated hand. Without proper painkillers, he stared numbly at the wall and sort of rocked on his feet. There was a bottle of moonshine under the bed and a shotglass on the table next to it. Primitive anesthetic I guess. If I had the time, I'd have to have them show me the distillery and see how they did it. I have no idea what they distilled it from. I doubt they had corn or any other kind of grain in large quantities, but as they say, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Just like there's more than one way to make jungle juice, like we did in the sandpit, where entire nations were dry. It was better when we got to the Mediterranean states. They boozed us up. Real nice people.
I busied myself with a broom as the girl took her brother away and Shakti called an orderly in to change the sheets. She glanced at me in passing and walked on. She looked distinctly European - delicate features and small bones. She was rather haggard, however. Her black hair, cut short and chopped, was full of split ends and looked brittle. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she had shiners below them. The skin on her face was dry and flaking off, her fingernails dirty and stained. Her hands had bloodstains on them from who knows what. She walked with a tired, slow gait, turning to glance and force a smile at each patient. I wondered why Odessa wanted her instead of the man downstairs.
So I sought and found Istanbul, who was in the basement throwing tools and utensils on a large rack above a boiling vat of water. It was in an old furnace, one of the great big ones to burn trash in. Instead, they could seal the door and close the flue, creating an impromptu pressure cooker of sorts. One of the better ways to sterilize things, although honestly I think they would have had more success with just pitching the tools in boiling water. Buckets of bloody tools sat awaiting the steam treatment. Beside them were old bandages, bedding, anything flammable that could keep the furnace running, and coal, and wood.
On the rack was a cornucopia of grime and blood. A hacksaw, missing several teeth. Several Xacto knives, and many other kinds of cutlery. Forceps, tweezers, old fashioned irons for cauterizing. The stench of congealed blood was not new to me, but this was repulsive in its own way. Istanbul slid the rack into the furnace and shut the door.
"What can I do for you?"
"It's about the job Wellington wants done. Why does he want Shakti instead of one of the other doctors?"
"He didn't say."
"What do you know about her?"
"She's from one of the more easterly Cities. She despises the Combine and all that they do. M.D. from some prestigious British school of medicine. Mother and father dead. There are two plain clothes Combine operatives keeping tabs on her, but she doesn't know about that. Interestingly enough, she's had a degree of hand to hand combat training. Saw her beat the ever-loving shit out of someone who was causing trouble in the lobby. She's a relatively new arrival in town, but she's already taken control of most of the personnel here. Single. Has a tattoo of two snakes wrapped around a stick on her upper right arm with the words "Ovum Sinuosis" on it. I don't know what that language is or what it means."
Fascinating. She had the Hippocratic Seal tattooed on her skin, and "the snake's egg" or something like that to go with it. I didn't take much Latin in high school. Sue me.
"You are very observant, Istanbul."
"That's my job, Slag. And one more thing. The Combine have issued the doctors here special clearance to go to most of the zones in C17. I guess they figure anyone they take care of is one less person to drain off the Combine resources."
"You're a good man Istanbul, and I don't mean that in a patronizing way."
"Keep the faith, Slag."
That was my way out of the city with Shakti. Plans unfolded in my mind. This daughter of Hippocrates would come with me back to New Little Odessa, by guile, words, or the barrel of a gun in the small of her back. Of course I wouldn't shoot her. But she doesn't have to know that.
I spent the rest of the day helping out at the clinic. I scrubbed some floors. I haven't scrubbed floors since Basic. I mopped and swept, changed lights, washed sheets and windows. Usually, for me, work consists of either making explosives to rend and tear, fixing some broken piece of equipment, or walking around killing zombies. It was not an unpleasant change of pace. And at night, I went up on the roof. My gaze wandered over the conquered city of Odessa, The Ukraine: a city of slums, and conquered people to occupy them awaiting processing. And above it all, the grand Citadel, the very representation of suppression, slavery, death. It was blue, and lit up by its own spotlights, and stood as a glorious monument to an ideal, a race, an army that I hated with every breath I took. To incinerate it from the inside with a thermonuclear weapon, to turn the innards to scrap and radioactive slag, and yes, to leave the shell standing, an empty husk of an ideal destroyed, an enemy conquered, the enslavers overturned - these are the things of my dreams. To rip and tear and cut and shoot and crush and slice my way to the end of their existence, that was the desire of my heart. More than once today I have wished for my Mosin as a Combine patrol walked past, or as I saw a smug blue-suit threaten a "Citizen" with a cudgel. I have wanted my 105mm shells for every APC that has driven by. to shatter composite metals and grind Combine into a chunky pÃ¢tÃ© as they walked on our earthly roads. A Stinger MANPAD station for every gunship I saw leave the blue tower, and a load of buckshot for every Scanner. But these things are not mine to have. And right now, it is not the place or time for such things. I must do what Odessa has ordered me to do. I must take Shakti, with her cooperation or without, to him.
And now I sleep, to lay dreaming on the floor of this house of misery. I dream of destruction, and pain for my enemies, and the enemies of the people in this place. Those who separated families and those who beat men to death for no reason, and those who cause suffering for the people who have done nothing to them. This I swear for as long as I live, that I will do my best to make they who sow misery shall reap their reward ten times over, and may the Devil take his own.
2:31AM 10/8/2014: Bellicose Woman
It was a new day, and that of which I dreamed was not the downfall of the Combine. Ill omens clouded my subconscious. Today would be a day of ill portent.
Indeed it would, for today I was going to talk to Shakti.
The light once again had that filtered, ambient, diffused quality that casts the earth in a surreal glow. It was late morning, the sun a hazy sphere with no honesty about itself. The air was oddly warm, but it wasn't the sun. The mercury was hovering around zero Celsius. It just doesn't work like that in the Ukraine. There was no wind; the air outside was dead and heavy with no life or sound beyond those of the City. The droning of the APCs. The occasional fly-by of a chopper or gunship. "Combine Caitlin", as we took to calling her; some bitch who the Combine had running the loudspeakers in City Seventeen, telling the citizens to stay indoors, spewing doublespeak and mindless rhetoric, and on top of all that she would also occasionally direct police work. She was everywhere, her voice could be heard on every street and in every home. We had another name for her that also started with the letter "c", but I'll spare you our immaturities. Maybe she was computer-generated and there was no woman behind her at all, but it's the principle of the thing.
And how I longed for my Mosin.
But no. Unlike every other thing I have done for the past three years of my life, this objective neither involved violence towards the Combine, or a build-up to violence towards the Combine. I had to talk to a civilian, and take her, with or without her consent, back to Wellington for whatever he wanted her for. Happy day. First I have to go talk to Istanbul and get a few supplies. I already have a plan formulated.
That did not go as expected.
Istanbul had the things I needed. The handcuffs were fresh off the sterilization rack, having been used to restrain a head case who the Combine would have just shot if he had been seen out of doors. He had ultimately broken the window in his room and driven a shard of glass into his carotid artery. A few other things were there as well; most importantly, a pair of wire cutters. I made a small bundle of these things and shoved it under the blanket I slept on. I helped the loud, chain-smoking doctor for a few hours. Another "accidental impalement" came in. This wasn't a rebel at all, though - at least not part of Wellington's outfit. Technically, if you did not comply with the Combine, you were a rebel, and so in that way many were. They shot rebels. Good citizens just got beatings.
The bullet had actually entered at the neck at an angle and had drilled through his trachea and past that out the other side, nicking the jugular vein as it went. He had been intubated rather primitively, but at least he was getting oxygen. The doctor was piss-blind drunk, and the victim bled out on the table when the doctor kept fucking up with the cauterizing iron. Rather depressing. His wife sat in the corner of the room, staring straight ahead. She shed no tears and did not sob or moan. Rather, she cast her gaze to the drunken doctor, dashed over and snatched a long scalpel before running for the door. Both I and an orderly ran at her, I tripped her and we tied her to the long-cold radiator. She gazed at me balefully, hatred in her eyes, though I don't think it was hatred for me. She would have her day. It wasn't today.
Shakti was eating her lunch. Textured Vegetable Protein again. All hail the Benefactors. She cast an apathetic glance in my direction, and I walked over and sat down at the table.
"And what mortal supplicates from Minerva today?"
"I'm not looking for Minerva. I'm looking for Shakti. Is she around here somewhere?"
Shakti rolled her eyes. Deadpanning was something I've spent time talking in a mirror to perfect.
"Must you jerk me out of my delusions? What is so important that you must bother me at lunch?"
"I need your help."
"Other than your obviously stiff shoulder and funny gait, you are perfectly fine."
"The problem is not with me. It's with my wife."
"What exactly is wrong with her?"
"I don't know."
"Please don't tell me you're one of those idiots dumb enough to try to engage in sexual intercourse with the breeding suppression field up."
"Uhh, no, it's not like that at all. She can't move her right arm, she's sweating profusely, and she's vomiting."
"Whaddya want me to do about it?"
"Well... I mean, I was hoping you could make a house call."
"I'll send Dr. Lush"
"No, you won't. I just saw him kill a patient. You are not from this place. Who knows where Dr. Lush got his training, and even if it was good, he's drunk. You were born in Britain, or maybe France or Spain. Your education was likely good, since it's safe to assume you received your medical training in one of the First World countries. That's also why I refuse to let you send one of the Ukrainian people. I'm begging you, come with me. If my wife dies, I have nothing. My children are in the re-education camps, and they're going to come back to me as jack-booted thugs. If there's the slightest chance that you can help her, to ease her pain and maybe even let me die old with her, You'll be saving my life too."
"Your sappy and disgusting speech has torn at my heartstrings. We will go once I am done eating."
"I cannot express the amount of gratitude I am feeling to you, Dr. Shakti. Let me grab my things."
She bought it.
I had seen maps of this general area and I knew the best way to egress the area - into the canals. But first, we'd have to stop in a shack nearby - I'd need to sit down and talk to her.
We came to the first checkpoint.
"We're going to need to need to see some ID since you are not in the database as being authorized for this zone, Citizens."
"Hold on," said Shakti as she dug around for her card in her pockets. She found it. "I'm here making a house call on a medical emergency. My identification is here," and she handed the card to the Combine. He swiped it, and a tone was heard.
"Where is your escort? We will need to check your bags."
"I was hoping to pick up an escort here since there are none assigned to the clinic, and my bags have medical supplies, nothing more. You know what little I am provisioned with."
"Our Benefactors fulfill all of our needs, Citizen. You know that."
"Yes, of course. Now about that escort, Officer?"
An escort? This was not in the cards, and made everything much more complicated.
A blue-suited thug walked out of a nearby building, his USP holstered, playing with his stunstick. He occasionally flicked it on and off. I hate that. Way back when, people hawking tasers at gun shows will fire them off approximately every three and a half seconds. They are loud and annoying, and this was even more so. And what's worse, he did it all the way to my chosen point of egress. He frequently complained about the extent of the trip, complained about the fact that he had to walk all the way out to the ass end of nowhere, complained about the fact that he was out walking around instead of sitting on his ass in the apartment building by the checkpoint. Heaven forbid he do his job.
That soon became moot because we finally arrived at "my home", a crappy little shack sitting by the train tracks. I went in first, with the Combine taking up the rear. He had drawn his USP, which was a good idea on his part. It wouldn't matter though.
I flicked on the light switch. Of course no one was here. My original plan did not include having a member of the Combine Overwatch behind me with a loaded weapon.
"She must have wandered off. She had a high fever."
The metrocop was not amused by this new turn of events and began to complain again. I'd have to get rid of him. We walked outside and began to search the area.
"Officer! Over here, come quickly!"
The man in the blue suit wandered over, taking his time. How I hated him.
"Look down there, floating in the ditch!"
He was standing on my right. Which happens to be my dominant hand. Which is why it was easy to draw my knife, smack him in the back of the head with the butt and wrestle him to the ground as he staggered. There's a spot on the human skull where three of the plates come together - it's called the Lambda. In babies up to about two years old, that spot has no bone covering it because the plates of the skull have not grown far enough yet, which our friends in China put to good use for population control purposes. And I put it to good use. The human skull is not a fragile thing, and yet, if you have seen one human skull, you can understand its weaknesses. If you have a good sharp knife, with high carbon steel and a good tang, you can apply a lot of force to one small point. In World War I, they had what were called "trench knives" - a pair of brass knuckles with a long spike on the bottom, much like the bayonet for the Simonov. If you brought your fist down hard enough on the head of an enemy, it would punch right through the helmet and skull into the brain. Metal has improved vastly since then, and all I needed was a knife.
It slid easily through his helmet, and with a slight catch, just as easily into his brain. He dropped. His heart would beat, a false reassurance to the Combine monitoring systems built into his suit. Sure, he had no Delta waves, but who's counting?
I wiggled the knife a bit and drew it back out, satisfied with my handiwork. I wiped the bits of gray matter and fabric off on his suit, and frisked him thoroughly. Another handgun, and the stunstick, which probably wouldn't prove to be useful but I may as well take anyway.
Shakti was clapping. Fascinating woman.
"Oh, yes, very impressive Slag. Your act of bravery will surely help me get back to the Clinic and continue to operate under the Overwatch Protectorate, because you can just say he slipped. I'm a doctor, I'll say he died of blunt force trauma from hitting his head on a stone and they will ignore the gaping wound in the back of his head."
"I need to talk to you about something. I must confess that I do not have a wife. I have brought you out here under false pretenses, and this dead bluesuit is just a complication."
"No shit? This revelation both shocks and surprises me."
"You know he had it coming. You've seen what they do to people, innocent people. And I've seen even more than you have. Don't feed me the outraged medical professional act who treasures all life."
"What do you want out of me?"
"Dr. Shakti, there's a group of people who need your help. If there is a prayer of getting rid of the Combine, it's these people with the technology and willpower to get it done. Sometimes, we get hurt."
"I'm expected to help a band of revolutionaries, risking everything I've tried to achieve over the past three years, no, blowing it away as if it were nothing? Do you have any idea how much trouble I've gone through to petition the Combine to let me help people? I can do more good in City Seventeen. And then, you're assuming that the Combine truly ARE the Great Satan. What if they really are here to better mankind?"
She paused for a moment, inhaled sharply, and continued.
"And then you had the gall to take me out to this place under false pretenses instead of asking me in a reasonable fashion."
"Dr. Shakti, stop posturing. You know what the Combine are, and what they mean for people everywhere. For the world."
"Why did you drag my ass out here?"
"Because, Doctor, I have to take you back with me. With or without your consent."
She stopped for a moment and stared at me.
"I will go with you to this place. But I won't like it."
And so I grab her bags and we set out. With the Combine's USP in hand, we began to walk. This part of City 17 was extremely slummy. So much so that no one lives here anymore. The gentle embrace of the Combine was better than the zombies and headcrabs. We would go back to the outpost I deployed from, and from there, back to Wellington.
And then it happened. One second I am walking along, watching out for danger, and the next I'm on the ground and my kidneys feel like they are on fire. And Shakti has the USP, and it's pointed in my face.
"Get up, little man. I'm going back to my clinic, and I'm using you as collateral."
"No, I don't think so."
I stand up and begin to limp over to her. She pulled the trigger without hesitation. Click.
Click click click.
"You took the clip out didn't you."
"It's not a clip. The Heckler and Koch USP uses an internal magazine."
She throws it at me and it hits me in the face - hurts. And then she's trying to kick me. So I grab her leg and just sort of pick it up a bit higher than she intended. Works every time. She falls on her ass, but rotates around and kicks me in the leg - but I'm expecting that, and sort of rock with the blow. She got back up on her feet, and when she tried to punch me in the face, I backhanded her in the throat.
So now she's on the ground coughing, and while my kidneys still hurt from her blow, I have the upper hand. Funny about the trachea: the slightest blow can send you into a coughing fit, and a hard enough blow will crush it completely, which will eventually result in your death over a good while. But I didn't hit her very hard.
So while she was on the ground holding her throat, I got out the handcuffs. Her right arm, my left. This serves not only the purpose of keeping her attached to me, but it also disabled what is the dominant arm of most people. I sit down next to her and wait for her to stop choking.
"You know, I gave you two options, whether you knew it or not. We could do it the easy way or the hard way. You're an opinionated woman, and I knew you had some martial arts training, so I figured you'd choose the hard way. But hats off to you anyway."
She stared at me with a burning fury in her brown eyes. She was really quite a remarkable character, it would seem.
"You know," she began as the last of her coughing subsided, "If only it was a knife instead of the gun..."
"You would still end up in this situation."
"Let me go so I can castrate you with a piece of broken glass."
"Not in the cards for you."
"If my father were still alive, he would hunt you down and tear your spine out."
"I'm sorry to hear that he isn't. He sounds like a remarkable guy."
"He was in the European Union Special Forces division. The number of men he killed is ten times the number of women you have been within three feet of you, you mouth-breathing jackass."
"That's nice. It's gonna be dark soon and we don't want to be out in the open when they send a scanner to look for that Metrocop I left back there."
I stood up, and she remained sitting.
"Don't think I'm going to help you, Slag. It doesn't work that way."
"Dr. Shakti, you have one set of clothing. You are not a big woman. If you think that I either can't or won't drag you all the way to our destination, you are sadly mistaken. That will only serve to soil your clothing, hurt our wrists and slow down our progress. We have proper accommodations where we are going. Furthermore, there are two keys to these handcuffs. I have one. The others are at our destination"
I pulled one of the two keys out of my pocket and tossed it in the canal. She dug in her heels. So I dragged her, and after about ten feet of that she saw the light. It was kind of cute, actually. We walked a good ways that evening, and holed up in a dry storm drain. She's sleeping on top of the remnants of a wooden crate to keep off the concrete. I'm staying up all night. The threat of Combine scanners or manhacks is too great here for me to sleep. I wish we had some of those amphetamine tabs they gave us during the Great Wars. But I can write. And this was a long one.
1:11AM 10/9/2014: Knifey
For all my words of last night, I really did get some sleep.
Today, I woke up and had a knife - my knife - pressed against my throat.
"I have the upper hand, Jack."
"It looks like it."
"Unlock me, Jack."
"You saw me throw the key away."
"The key to the handcuffs we kept at the clinic? There are two keys, Jack, and one of them is most assuredly not at our destination."
What an interesting situation. I sighed and stood up.
"I said, unlock the cuffs."
"The key is outside. Fascinatingly enough, I feel compelled to go get it and remove these bindings."
She walked beside me out of the culvert, the tip of my knife barely breaking the skin of my neck. She was a doctor - it was in just the right spot to sever trachea, carotid and jugular with one good stab. Sure, I knew how to do that too, but I didn't learn about it in med school.
I made a decision, stopped walking on the bank of one of the canals, and took off one of my boots.
"What exactly are you doing?"
"I lied. Key's in my sock."
"Don't lie to me. I don't appreciate it."
I peeled off the sock, held it up with my right hand in front of her face, and threw it as hard as I could across the ditch and into the river beyond. Shakti just stood there, with her mouth hanging open.
"What are you gonna do now, cut my throat open and drag me back to City Seventeen? That'll look real good. Your assigned escort is dead. They found him with a knife wound in his head. I'm dead too. My throat is cut open. Even in Old Earth society you'd be shafted rather nicely. The Combine won't bother to run forensics on the wounds, and that's assuming you're stupid enough to throw away your only weapon. This is not City Seventeen, even if we are a quarter of a mile away from the patrolled zones. There are things out here that you have only caught a glimpse of during the portal storms, and not at all during the Combine's tenure here. Or maybe you do know, in which case you certainly won't kill me."
I stopped to catch my breath, but before I could began again she interrupted me. By striking me in the forehead with the butt of the knife. And then she did it again, and I fell down. She sort of fell on top of me, but you really have to wonder what she expected since we were joined with a two foot long piece of chain. And then she hit me in the temple, and that hurt, and then she hit me again and I sort of blacked out.
When I woke up, she had made a nice little row of my earthly possessions, starting with my boots and ending with the three spare mags for my 1911. She had the weapon in her hand, and was toying with it in an idle fashion. She held it in her left hand above her leg, and was hitting the magazine release. Click. Click. The mag would slide out, and she'd push it back in. Chkt. And then she saw me looking at her, slammed the weapon down to seat the magazine, and put it against my neck. She crouched over me, her face a few feet away from mine. She was livid. For a moment, everything was still - no crows called, no PA announcements in City 17, no breathing. I really thought she'd shoot me.
Instead, she placed the muzzle against the chain between our arms and fired.
I instinctively looked away, and that was good because it meant that all the injuries I received were to my left ear and wrist. I contemplated what Shakti had done. I know what she had done. Something stupid. So I told her.
"You've watched too many movies if you think that works with a .45 hollow point," I shouted at her.
The chain between the cuffs had been deformed, but by no means was weakened enough to break free. I sat up, my ears ringing, a small trickle of blood coursing down my face from a small gash in my right temple. What a wonderful day. First I get my skull fractured, and then winged by a ricochet.
Shakti just sat there, staring at the hole in the mud.
"You know what," she began. "Fuck this. At this point, I'm better off going, and I can run off when I'm not chained to a mouth-breathing mongoloid."
"Glad you see it my way. Give me my weapon."
She handed over the 1911 gingerly, and I engaged the safety before switching out magazines. I'd rather have eight now and six later than the other way around. I wish I had grabbed a double-stack instead of single, because having double the ammunition at once is usually preferable in my situation to concealability.
I put my boots back on, the knife back in its sheath, picked up my spare magazines, and we set out. It was probably a five mile hike to the outpost, and then I'd hand her off to someone else who'd fast-track her to N.L.O, and I could take a rest, and wait for the knots in my head to subside. Seriously, she gave me a concussion or something.
We trudged along in silence, the ever-present crows and City 17 PA system echoing through the abandoned canals and slums of Old Odessa. And then, near an old house with a caved-in roof, I heard something. Something I haven't heard in a long while, and hope to never hear again. It sounded like someone with bronchitis breathing. Clicking. Organic. Mucous. And through a crack in the wall, brown and purple, stunted, tortured.
And we ran. I don't know if we escaped detection, but we certainly escaped the nasty effects that were that bastard's trademark. Old Odessa is a maze of danger and all-around Bad Things that are hazardous to your health. It's hard to egress an area when you're tied together. Really, in retrospect, cuffing her to me was not a good idea, but it seemed to have worked thus far, seeing as how the closest to death we've come was Shakti's zany antics with my weapons. I slept last night knowing that she probably wouldn't slit my throat in my sleep. Today, I could sleep without a woman next to me, and maybe get some actual rest.
We stopped to catch our collective breath after fleeing that place of evil. And then, to add insult to injury as I gazed off at the wretched City we were leaving, I saw a Combine scanner.
It was slowly weaving around the ruins of Old Odessa, looking for us, probably. The Combine don't like it when their hatchet men turn up dead. And once more we ran.
The rest of the tale is of little import. We evaded detection and made our way back to the Outpost with little trouble. We were greeted at the door with the muzzle of a shotgun once more, but I was used to this process. After they used a pair of bolt cutters to remove our shackles, Shakti kicked me in the groin.
I am tired. My head is in a supreme state of agony, and my balls hurt. Women.
She left with one of the people here, in the little dune buggy type-deal that they put the laser gun on. Okay, technically it's a "Tau Cannon", but the specifics of space-age weaponry escape me. I must sleep and hope that she didn't permanently damage my testicles.
12:41AM 10/10/2014: Requiem
I hate Odessa.
I hate his smug air of superiority. I hate his resignation to the tribulations of command that allows him to send people to their deaths without shedding a tear or bowing his head. I hate his cock-sure attitude, and I hate his directives that have a "higher purpose" behind them that I am kept from knowing. In the Army, we knew what we were doing, even if we were not told. "Go and lay suppressing fire down on that hotel," they would say, and we would know that were are snipers in it, or people with RPGs who would challenge our armor. Or, "Stand ten kilometers outside a shitty Iranian town," and we would know that we are waiting for something or someone. And if it didn't show, that was okay since we were there in case it did. We could even understand the concept of Force Projection, and so when we guarded a bazaar composed of twenty people selling chickens or rugs or something like that, we still understood WHY, and that made it acceptable.
But Odessa, no, he does not give us a reason. Or a logic behind it. We have no "Doctrine" to speak of. No underlying guiding set of rules, stipulations, and directives to lead us. There was an odd certainty in knowing that whatever orders you received, there was a chain of command involved, There was a chance that your direct commanding officer was a thousand-yard stare headcase, or just had a screw loose in general, but there was a system. You could report him to HIS commanding officer. But out here, in this wasteland of what was already a shitty region and city, we answered to one man, and that's Cubbage. He could be insane. Completely off his rocker. The train has jumped the track. The cuckoo has flown.
And he is. He's a raving maniac, the likes of which I have encountered once before, and pray I will never encounter again. The man is completely psychotic. The orders that he gives, the things that he expects from people...I had a commander that gave orders like that. One day he sent us out to escort a unit of engineers who were clearing obstacles in preparation for an assault. We could handle that. The engineers were great guys, and they knew we'd be doing it under small arms fire. My unit could handle that. Not the best of conditions, certainly, but we had a bona-fide sniper sitting behind us and covering the entrenchments near the city. I was the Designated Marksman. Not a sniper by any means, but still, it's better to have two scopes than one.
It began well enough. Some asshole with a PKM was spraying at us from the rooftop, which ended quickly when I heard the reassuring boom of the Barrett-Fifty behind me. Today we would clear a string of anti-tank barriers which would prevent our mine-sweeping tanks from pushing through right to the city. The structures were of reinforced concrete. It would take shaped charges to clear them, not a simple artillery barrage. They would provide us with a modicum of cover to work under, and because of this and the suppressing fire on the building, casualty rates were expected to be low. In addition to the sniper and his spotter, there was a second spotter who was directing a pair of "Ma Deuce" mounted on HUMVEEs sitting behind an embankment, exposing only the gunner and his weapon. The thudding of the Browning M2 machine gun is a reassuring sound, to say the least. It cratered walls and sundered flesh. When it spoke, men listened.
We had suitable support for an operation like this, and we were making good time. Someone tossed an RPG-7 our way, but it fell short, as the first shot always does. The second went too high, and the third was stifled by the sniper. I had qualified for Sniper School, but failed. I envied him. He had a laziness about his shots, but they were always in time to save our asses yet again. He had a position in the shade, a cooler full of Mecca-Cola, and all the time in the world. He had been here for days now, picking off people from this walled fortress of a town. His kill count for this engagement was rumored to be around 45. Carlos Hathcock never had it this good. The kind of fighting we were doing, they had no jungle to hide in. It was all very open, at least until we got into the cities themselves. But I digress.
We finally arrive with no casualties when the engineers began to do their thing. We fired from the cover provided by the concrete and rebar barriers, and it was good. Going smoothly. Then, ever so barely, you could hear a whistling sound. We all hit the dirt, which was good because a few seconds later the first rocket exploded.
Then came the mortars, and at least one howitzer, and many, many more rockets. When I entered that village two weeks later, we found the burned out husks of no less than four World War II era Katyusha rocket launchers. But that didn't matter. What mattered was the explosions. Loud, and too close. I buried my face in the sand and covered the back of the neck with my hands. It continued for an eternity. And when it stopped, I sat up and looked around.
The scope on my rifle had shattered. Broken and bloody corpses lay out before me, a vista of blood and gore and lengths of intestine and lungs and bone. Fifteen men were dead, save the NCO and two engineers. The NCO was missing his left arm below the elbow. My remarkably good fortune was with me, for I suffered few injuries other than complete deafness for two weeks. I dug around in the sand and dirt and stone, and located one of the engineers. He was dead. I confirmed the status of what I could find of the others, and while the next events are something that skips my mind, the three survivors made it back to our lines, albeit under very heavy fire.
And then, an hour later, our as-of-yet unsedated NCO is screaming at the officer, who knew, KNEW about that artillery and had us go ahead anyway without anything in the area for a counter-barrage. A day later, our howitzers arrived. A week after that, I discovered something that infuriated me to an extent I've never hit before - we were scheduled to go clear those obstacles ten days after we did. When we had proper artillery support that would have already been working on the city. Why had we jumped the gun? The officer wanted to make a good impression before the regional commander arrived.
That night I "blood choked" one of the sentries into unconsciousness, took his knife, and slit the officer's throat open as he slept. I threw the knife into the minefield, and went back to bed. Sure, I could have opted for the more traditional "Fragging", but it's noisy, and doesn't ensure death. The regional commander was well aware of that officer's reputation, because he'd wasted lives before doing such things. The official report on his death was that one of the "Hashishin", an ancient sect of assassins, had broken in and killed one of our heroic boys. Worked for me, and in the greater din of the war, his dying whimper was not heard.
I wondered, ever so briefly after talking to Odessa, whether or not I'd do that to him. He is asking of me and others the one thing I would not do to further our cause. I am to go to Ravenholm.
I do not want to go to Ravenholm, and you can't really blame me. It is a helmouth. The biggest fresh infestation of zombies in the world, I daresay. Three thousand people were there. Nine hundred escaped. We can all do the math here. It's a disgusting place, a terrible place where the dead dream as they rot in the shell of what they once were. Only a terrible, terrible pain can awaken them from their slumber, and their dreams are more humane than their waking hours as they realize the horror of their condition as unwilling hosts to one of Satan's hookworms. I have friends who shuffle and walk there. I have seen children torn apart by their parents. Brothers who consumed their sisters. Old men who committed suicide when they had seen the horror bestowed upon their wives. I have seen and remembered once and again a man who shot his lover and left her slumped against a wall in a long alleyway. He stopped, and looked at her, blood and gray matter oozing out of the back of her head, for what seemed like an hour - his friends that yet lived dragging him away. She slept, but did not dream, and that was befitting in a way. She would never know about the dreamers, the mawmen who gnawed at her corpse as she rotted. The crows that picked out her eyes, when the crab eventually rotted off. The maggots and roaches that feasted upon her flesh. It did not matter.
To compound this, Odessa does not even know what we are looking for. Or claims not to. He says that Eli Vance does, and that is why I am here, at Black Mesa East, in his facility. It's kind of nice. Beds. Electricity. Heat. Food. People here are less militant and more... I don't know, intellectual. Enlightened? I had the resident doctor take a look at the place where the bitch kicked me yesterday. She laughed and said I'd live. Women know jack shit about testicles and such things. I don't even think she was a doctor of medicine. She's always making eyes at Eli over the dinner table and babbling about quantum physics or something. I didn't take that course. She's kind of hot, actually. An older woman, yes, but she's... refined? Is that the word?
I am here, waiting for the rest of my team arrived, since Odessa put me in charge. Oddly enough, he assigned Dragon and Jaguar. Oh, happy day. A fellow named Thompson, that Jerod sniper-medic fellow, a guy named Ivan and a final man named Oz. That wasn't his real name, obviously, but if you use a moniker for long enough, people forget what you once were.
These men were coming here so I could lead them to their doom. As they relived every waking moment they spent in Ravenholm on the night the Combine attacked with their headcrabs, they would slowly begin to crack. Hallucinate, perhaps. They would wonder, as they gunned down each zombie, whether or not that was one of their friends, family, or lovers. One of them will likely see something that identifies someone they care for to them - a dress, a pair of shoes, perhaps a necklace. We are going to die. Not even against the Combine, in vainglorious battle, but like a fox, chased until cornered and torn apart by a pack of dogs. There is nothing there but the promise of spending our last hours on this earth in hell. No survivors to rescue. No super weapon to use against the Combine. There is nothing to do but follow whatever harebrained orders Odessa spits at us like sheep. I hate myself for "volunteering" to lead these men to Ravenholm. We don't go to Ravenholm.
This will be my last entry. I am taking you with me in the eventuality that we don't die on our first night there, in which case I will tell you more about this place. Tomorrow, I die and take six men down with me.
I'm gonna go eat something, since I'm hungry and someone is making a soup of some sort.
12:24AM 10/11/2014: Science
I live yet.
I can think of many places I'd rather be than here. Jaguar is far too chipper for his own good. Dragon is brooding. Oz is reading a book he brought with him. The Sniper-Medic is poking at a puncture wound he received from a metal splinter. Ivan is sleeping, as well as Thompson. Good friends do not necessarily make for good company.
All of us in the room are cast in a faint orange glow, and the whys and wherefores of that shall be spoken of later. For now, I shall write of my descent into this madness.
I awoke in a close approximation to a real bed with electric heating keeping the room an uncomfortable 72 degrees. They were cooking something from another level that got sent in through the ventilation system. Food like we had in the old days. Apparently they had a hydroponics farm on one of the sub-levels. Quite the operation here: generators, closed air circulation, sleeping quarters, plus whatever electronic wizardry they had going on. I could live here, happily. Too bad I am destined to die within about fifteen miles of this little chunk of paradise.
There was a radio in the kitchen when I wandered in, and that Portuguese-speaking DJ was running his mouth and playing old Big Band hits. For some reason they had Vortigaunts in there cooking and wearing ridiculous-looking chef hats. I can't complain though. The food was excellent. Someone loaned me a razor, and I gave myself the first good shave I've had in a long, long time. In a bathroom that had indoor plumbing. And a mirror. For me, to gaze in a mirror is to beg introspection. I've heard people say I'm handsome. It's not true. When I look at myself, I see the thousand-yard stare. My eyes are clouded and filmy, like seafood a bit past its prime. I cut myself shaving - who uses straight razors anymore anyway? I was covered in dirt and grime, my body lean, my cheeks hollow. The charred puncture wound in my flank I had taken a knife to a while back to clear away the dead flesh - it was still nasty but I did not feel pain. I hadn't gotten an infection, eating the Combine rations saw to that. Then I saw the shower.
The water was hot, hotter than I thought possible. It felt like layers of my dermis were being burned away, but it was good like that. I watched the layers of oil and dirt slide away at my feet. Dandruff dissolved under the torrent. When all was said and done, I felt a lot better about my impending doom.
People stopped conversations when I entered the room and would smile at me. It's the same kind of smile you give to those Green Berets in the bar on base before they went off and did something bigger than they were and would likely die for it. Everyone knew what I was doing. Everyone knew where I was going. And I stared at each of them until they looked away, because, at heart, people felt guilty about being condescending assholes. I knew what I was getting into and I didn't need their pity for it. I found the Doctor and demanded to see Eli Vance.
Eli Vance is of late middle age, and went to either Harvard or Princeton, I can't remember which. He's smarter than me. He thinks about things I can't even begin to fathom. He made a teleporter, what happened to the cat notwithstanding. It was still the transfer of matter from point A to point B, and very sci-fi. He was a genius, part of the intellectual elite, and seemed like a nice enough guy. Doesn't change the fact that he ostensibly knows why I'm going to hell and didn't tell me.
So I barged into his lab and stood there, looking at him. He was playing with what, to venture a layman's guess, looked like a spectrometer. He turned and looked at me, following the gaze of the Vortigaunt in the room.
"That was certainly an unexpected entrance."
"That's my specialty. Hullo Dr. Vance."
"I normally don't go gallivanting about in laboratories, but I'm also normally told what I'm expected to do when someone sends me to do something, you know?"
He sighed, a short, throaty sound that whistled through his teeth.
"Yes, about that. Odessa deemed it necessary that we - should I say you - retrieve a cache of arms that we left behind in Ravenholm. Specifically, down the tertiary mine shaft in the Kolgueyev building. It used to connect with the main shaft, but a cave-in blocked it off. This not only had the effect of confusing any potential Combine search parties, but in the aftermath of...Ravenholm, there should be less of an infestation. The Kolgueyev building was boarded up, with all fortune there won't be anything at all down the mine."
"A weapons cache."
"Yes. Odessa wants you to retrieve eight crates, six of ammunition and two of launchers. They are heavy, very much so. We will address that problem shortly."
He pulled out a map of Ravenholm from under a stereotypical pile of loose folders and the odd book, and began marking with a grease pencil.
"You are going to enter here - I believe it's how you egressed the place - and make your way to the far side of town. I'd say it's probably safe to rest inside the Kolgueyev building itself, assuming it has not been compromised. You are then going to need to take the crates across town to the westernmost side, and load them into a truck we've parked there. When you've gotten all eight crates, you are instructed to stash them here," he pointed to a small cave along the coast, " and then return to N.L.O. Questions?"
"Yeah. How am I expected to move through Ravenholm with four men, because I assume these crates are as heavy as you say, tied up? We're going to be moving at a snail's pace through this hostile environment with only three men gunning. You've signed our death warrants."
"No, I have not. Only one man will be transporting the containers."
"And how exactly is that possible?"
"The wonders of science. Follow me, please."
He punched in a code on a keypad and I followed him down a long hallway to one of the air locks. The pressure equalized after about thirty seconds, and we walked out into a junkyard. Something that immediately caught my eye was a cylindrical piece of metal that looked rather like a weapon.
"Normally we have Alyx show people this since it's all but her little toy, but she's out right now. This," he said as he pressed a trigger and walked towards a pile of trash, "is the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator."
"First, I was under the impression that Zero-Point energy was an impossibility, but I am no scientist. Second, what does that mean?"
"I could explain to you the theory and physics behind it, but suffice it to say, we thought it was impossible too. We also thought that there were no parasites that took over the human nervous system. Science is about learning new things, not shutting ourselves into a vacuum. As for the device itself, it can manipulate and control a gravity field. We made it for heavy lifting and transporting hazardous materials."
The device hummed as an invisible hand grasped a large crate, and he moved it around with no effort on his part. He released the trigger and it fell to the ground.
The thing was heavy, and made the hair on my arms stand up. My fingers tingled, although the device itself was ergonomic and comfortable to handle. Little gauges that meant nothing to me trembled at a median. I picked up an old oil barrel with the device, but instead of releasing the trigger, I squeezed a thumb grip button. The device spat out a noise that roughly equaled "Shveoom" and gave me a good kick backwards. But the result of that was not what I expected at all - the oil barrel threw itself through the air and crumpled against a metal beam, wrapping itself partially around the hunk of metal. This was no tool for the betterment of mankind. This was a tool to destroy. And I could appreciate that.
"It wasn't originally designed to be one. I added that functionality when the nature of the Zero-Point energy source became more known to me, mostly for mine clearing."
"Mine clearing. I see."
"Yes. I suggest you practice further with it in its less destructive capacity, it takes some getting used to. First, as you may have noticed, inertia, centripetal force, gravity, and other such concerns are not in effect here. You can swing an object around as fast as you please and it won't get away from you. If it's light enough to pick up, then the only way it's going to leave the field is by releasing it or hurling it away. You can hold an object above your head if you wish. The laws of this universe do not apply within that field."
It was a fascinating weapon. It hummed and glowed, and the power of ten thousand suns burned within it. It was Science Fiction. It was Reality. It was new and strange and beautiful, and the destructive potential that became possible was apparent in my mind. I could take Ravenholm apart, board by board if I wanted to. Perhaps I could hurl a Combine APC into the sea. Think of what ten, fifty, a hundred men could do with such power at their fingertips.
"Doctor Vance, is there any good reason not to make more of these? Certain people would find these very useful."
"Yes. There is. I only have the supplies for three power sources. One was used in my daughter's guardian automaton. The other was used in that, and the third I am saving for something... very special. That's why we have generators running here instead of a reactor. We hope to acquire more samples of the necessary elements soon, but that is an impossibility for the time being. We will see."
We walked back into the compound, and I found the rest of my team there, armed to the teeth. Jaguar had two pump-action shotguns, one of which he handed to me. Dragon had an interesting anachronism from the Soviet days - a PPSh sub-machine gun. It was a fearsome weapon. It came with a 71 round magazine, and once that was empty a Soviet soldier would switch to 30 round stick mag. It fired the 7.62x25 cartridge - very hot, lots of penetration.
Oz had a nondescript Kalashnikov clone, Jerod the Sniper-Medic had the third shotgun, Thompson had another shotgun, and Ivan had an SKS - why he chose that I do not know.
"Good, the rest of you are here. Let me go get something while Sergeant Harper gives you the briefing."
And so I did. No one uttered a word of complaint once I explained the weapons use. No one complained either when Dr. Vance came out of a room carrying a flamethrower either.
"Uses pressurized fuel canisters. Whoever takes this one is getting about 30 pounds worth of fuel to carry, and I'd advise keeping a backup weapon with you."
Jaguar took it, as I expected.
Dr. Vance improvised a sling for the Gravity Gun, as Oz took to calling it. Jaguar and Oz's moods were infectious. I started to feel better about the entire affair. I had sixty rounds of ammunition for my shotgun. I had a laws-of-the-universe defying hunk of metal hanging off my shoulder. I had the aftertaste of good food in my mouth and I had a good sleep, a shower, and shave. Six men, heavily armed, would I lead into the maw of Hell and we would piss in Satan's eye.
We walked down a corridor, and down another to the second heaviest looking blast door I had ever seen. There was no visible way of opening it. Warnings were scrawled along the walls nearby. The feeling in the air was electric, and the visible area beyond the blast door seemed to be palpably evil. It was like looking through a window into a contaminated laboratory my unit found in the former Czech Republic - the air beyond the seal looked breathable, and seemed just like the air on our side, but the corpses on the floor spoke otherwise. No corpses here, but writing on the walls, impromptu barricades, and a general feeling of...dread. My mood was slightly dampened.
"How does this door open?"
"Hold on a minute and you'll see."
From around the corner came a large, lumbering creature that I immediately recognized as "Dog". It was the property of Alyx, daughter of Dr. Vance, and it was said that he/it could tear apart a Main Battle Tank. Its head was what interested me the most, for it looked to be part of a butchered Combine scanner.
"Open the door, Dog."
I don't really understand the mechanics involved, the pressure, the hydraulics and motors, but with great effort, the robot lifted the heavy blast door, and we took our first steps into the mouth of Hell.
The path wound down lazily, and we cleared away a few impromptu barricades with the gravity gun. Everyone was impressed.
After a length of time, we reached an elevator. Several dead headcrabs lay on the ground. Fine by me.
This shaft led up to a small shack within the confines of Ravenholm. It was an abortive attempt at a mine shaft before the company went bankrupt and gave up. The shack was to keep it from filling with water or having small children fall in. I remember when Vance's crew and the Resistance folk in Ravenholm helped advance the tunnel from there to the old hydro-electric facility that Vance was using as a lab. In the evacuation of Ravenholm, that was a good thing. For the invasion of Ravenholm, it was also a good thing.
Seven men stood on the elevator, weapons raised to the perpendicular. I hit a button and we began our ascent. The mechanism was old, too old, and groaned under our combined weight. Still, we made it to the top and fanned out inside the shack, grateful to have survived that first horror.
The second horror came screaming at us from the yard. Strange. Oz stuck his leg out after we all flattened ourselves against the interior wall, tripped it, and then threw it onto the elevator. The shackling broke, as well as the counterweight's cable, and the elevator plummeted to the ground, with the crack zombie on top of it.
I just kind of stared at Oz. It was the exact opposite of what I expected from him. He grinned, and picked his weapon back up. Our best form of escape should we fail was now lost to us. Regrettable. Still, that was quite the feat of strength, or reflexes, or what have you. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad.
It was daylight up top, and save for a dismembered lower torso swinging from a tree, still. The intestines were wrapped around a meat hook, and very blatantly done purposefully by someone. No maggot damage. It was only a week or two old.
"Great. There's some crazy asshole out here stringing zombies up."
To the left was a shed, which I assumed led to one of the main streets - it was tacked on like an afterthought to the main building, and full of propane and natural gas. Several giant saw blades lay on the table and floors. And the sound that could be heard was one of a horde of Dreamers, coming to talk to me. He stepped through the doorway, mumbling in his sleep.
I stayed the weapons of my men with a raised hand, and let my shotgun fall to my side on its sling. I picked up the "Gravity Gun", aimed what I figured was the general arc of the weapon at one of the saw blades on the table, and slid it off at just the right angle. It shot backwards towards me at an alarming rate, stopped mere inches away from my squishy, soft torso. I aimed it at the Dreamer, just as he turned to face me, and rudely interrupted his reverie by slicing him in half. The entire building shuddered as the blade bit into it, and the top half of the creature sat neatly on the part of the blade that stuck out. A slow grin spread to my face, and I grabbed another blade and peeked into the next room.
The Dreamers were there, and they knew I was here.
"Shove that table into the doorway. Mawmen."
My men did as I told them, and I fired another blade through the doorway at the throng. It missed and ate into the doorframe. Curious. The second one did the same. Looked like I had some practice to put under my belt before I could tear apart all of the Dreamers. Little matter.
"Too many in that room. Find an alternate path."
Before we left, I grabbed a canister of pressurized fuel from that room and took it with me.
The next Dreamer we encountered was wandering about the back alley, all lonely and forlorn. I fired the canister at him. It tumbled through the air, and when it impacted with a sickening thud, I heard bones crack. The Dreamer was crushed, and beyond a bit of twitching, motionless. My soul rejoiced. My knees trembled. I had found something truly wonderful in life. Something that brought me a savage joy that could be roughly equated to smashing the bones of your enemies with a sledgehammer. I had engaged in hand-to-hand combat before. I have felt my knife scrape against ribs and twist between vertebrae and wiggle around intestines and organs. I have beaten my enemies to death with the buttstock of a weapon, or a cudgel or a stone. It was cruel, and primitive, and bloody. But this was something else entirely. It was brutal. Wicked. Savage. It gave my heart wings. I lusted for more. And so, I continued to do this to everything I encountered that lived. Headcrabs with their intestines smashed out into a greasy stain on the pavement. Shattered skulls. Crushed bones.
My men fired their weapons too, at the headcrabs that I ignored to my right and left. But these were few.
My ecstasy was interrupted and then brought all the higher when the vessel finally ruptured and a spark from the pavement ignited the fuel, creating an explosion that brought cheer to my heart and color to my cheeks. A piece of cobble grazed the right side of my face. Jerod got a splinter of metal in his leg. The Dreamer screamed as I broke his slumber and brought him into the cold, harsh light of day. His cries reached a crescendo of pain, his body bathed in flaming fuel and his own liquids from the puncture wounds caused by the explosion. The crab itself was dead, a tear in its corpse three inches long and spewing yellow fluids onto the prostate creature. I put a booted foot on the chest of the Dreamer to hold him still, and took my knife from its sheathe. I then cut the two front legs that were sunk deeply into the face, and kicked the crab up like a flap of skin covering a hidden wound.
I showed the Dreamer the sun and the dim, blueish-grey sky, and the crows overhead, and myself. What gazed back was a putrefied, necrotic soup. But dull, cloudy eyes looked into mine. There was sentience. The Dreamer knew what it was, and what I was. The parasite was gone, and a shadow of the former person remained, yet even then it was better to kill him than to try to save him. Long claws. Split torso. Rotten flesh sloughing off. Horrible, gooey eyes, and a mouth contorted in an eternal, silent scream. Or not so silent, when the Dreamer wanted to make noise. The horrible sound of the Dreamer's agony died down and turned into a gurgle. A clawed appendage grabbed my leg and slowly raked the claws downwards. There was no penetration of fabric by the claws. Its strength was gone. The fuel was mostly burned, leaving smouldering, charred patches of flesh behind. The split chest still rose and fell. It was still alive, although not for long. The eyes still looked at me. They stared into my soul, watery and gooey and filmy, and did not like what they saw there. I flipped the crab back down over the face with my boot.
The rest of my day was uneventful for the most part. We had a minimal expenditure of ordinance. Ravenholm looks a lot smaller on the maps than it really is. It's huge. And there are so many blockages that force so many detours...man-made or natural I do not know. We wandered for most of the day, finally gravitating towards a seven-story apartment building. We are on the fourth, in Room 406. Tomorrow we will get on the roof and try to get our bearings. In the interim, we shall sleep here. The door is barricaded and barred. The Gravity Gun casts a gentle glow on us, like a futuristic night-light. And now I must sleep, or at least try. And so I shall. The Dreamers are moaning outside. I can hear them on the wind. Some scream, those are the fast ones. And then, the others, the unnamed horrors, they let out a deep, long call that chills to the bone. It's like a loon. Or a foghorn. And then there's other sounds, and I think I can hear laughing... but I must be wrong. There are none who live here, only those who Dream.
11:35AM 10/12/2014: Alice
I know what they who sleep here Dream of.
Because I can see their Dreams. Some Dream of people, some Dream of their homes and dog and car, some Dream of food and times before the Portal Storms. I Dream too. I have spent the last two days Dreaming in this wretched place. But when I look at my team-mates here I don't want to eat them. I don't wish to slit their abdomen open with my knife and feast upon their intestines, or not much more than usual. I do not have a parasite. I have not split my chest, or grown talons. I have decided at long last that Dreaming is a requisite of being a zombie, but that being a zombie is not a requisite of Dreaming. It is a state of mind.
I think everyone who lives outside City Seventeen or any of the other Cities is a Dreamer. Our existence revolves around the past because it's all we have. Dreams of family and friends, possessions, the tangible and intangible. I Dream.
I slept not at all that night that I wrote my last entry. Crack zombies clattered around on the roof. Agitation had spread through the city with every dispatched Dreamer another ripple in the proverbial lake. Around 0500, we had one finally sniff us out. I could hear him shuffling outside the door, stopping occasionally to bang on it and scratch and claw at the soft wood. I sat and listened to him until 0530, when I kicked part of the barricade in front of the door out of the way and fired my shotgun through it into the Dreamer. They don't make doors like they used to. Pathetic hollow cores are not the way to go.
"Time to wake up."
Oz laughed, everyone else grumbled, I opened the door, and we left our little home. Ivan tripped over the corpse and swore profusely in a combination of Russian and English. It's always endearing when they do that. It's hard to keep track of the flow of conversation.
The sixth floor had caved in on the fifth. Probably from the structural integrity weakening, as caused by the queerly-angled headcrab shell that punched right through the sixth floor and came out of the fifth. The wind blew through, and bird feces covered the area. The roof seemed structurally sound from below, there was little to change our opinion about that as we removed the Dreamer in the stairwell and let him tumble down behind us. It was lonely at the top.
A small shack to cover the stairwell, some air conditioning units, a few crates, the remnants of a cold frame and flower beds. And corpses, rotted in the sun and decayed over the summers, gnawed and picked clean by the Dreamers and crows. One was different. Remnants of a skeleton lay on what must have been an enormous slick of blood, stained into the concrete. A shard of glass from the cold frame lay within feet of the skeleton. Suicide?
And a little verse scratched into a wooden board, a stanza of ill portent, that spoke of skeletons dancing in the streets and warlocks and goblins walking the town, a burial ground for dogs and vermin and the creatures of the earth. It meant nothing to me, yet on this rooftop, with the wind whistling around my ears and the scattered remnants of nine people on the roof, it was foreboding.
Ivan asked to take potshots at the Dreamers from up here, and I gave him permission to do so - he was surprisingly accurate with the SKS. From our vantage point, we located the Kolgueyev building.
That was yesterday. It has taken two days to get here, to this miserable little building. During that time I have slain innumerable Dreamers, destroyed private property, started two fires, coated myself in ichor and the blood of my foes, crushed bones, cracked skulls, and in general carved my own little swathe of destruction. My men saved their ammunition whenever possible, contented to watch the Gravity Gun do its bloody work. In time, the Gravity Gun itself seemed to take on a life of its own. I was merely a carrier, a vessel for something greater. I pulled triggers, It rent the fabric of reality. My wonder at the infinite power contained within was akin to when I first learned of the cells that make up the human body - something incredibly complex and wondrous formed the building blocks of something greater. Zero Point Energy could power worlds. I was holding in my arms the prototype for the singular most wondrous discovery in the history of mankind. A weapon, a power source, a tool, it could be any of these things, and yet more, who knows what we could accomplish with the future?
A future with no Combine by necessity.
I had the cradle of social and scientific evolution entrusted to me. But within the cradle was no baby. It was a lion, and It roared as It tore through the Dreamers that infested this city. I was a harbinger of a new type of carnage, a new type of warfare - infinite energy means an infinite capacity for destruction. Why I could not toss Dreamers about like dolls I do not know. It could be refined. Tested. Improved. But for the time being, It was what It was, and It destroyed.
The first day we made good time, or relatively good time. Jerod the Sniper-Medic had cleaned his leg up nicely, and he barely limped. Jaguar wanted to play with the flamethrower but I told him to save it for the next time we found a huge group of mawmen. I caused another explosion, quite by accident - an unfortunate incident with a jerry can of gasoline. It was extremely volatile. The vapors exploded and I got some flaming gasoline on my face. Left a neat little burn.
We rounded a corner at one point and entered a long alleyway - one that was familiar. I remembered that alley, the way it smelled, the way the shadows were cast under the now-dead street lamps, the taste of the air and acrid stench of cordite. And the Dreamers were here too, just as I remembered them - one, two, three dozen or more.
"The rules pertaining to the conservation of ammunition are now lifted."
There were a few loose bricks I could use as a missile, but when they were gone I just resorted to the shotgun. It was good to hear. Loud. Reassuring. Something I was not used to was the sharp bark, and later, the constant clatter of the PPSh. It was loud. It was sexy. It pelted me in hot brass and spewed a gout of flame a foot and a half from the muzzle. The bullets overpenetrated each Dreamer and slammed into the one behind it. I wanted one. Dragon was firing in short bursts, flirting with the "mag dump" option. Little matter.
"Jaguar," I shouted over the din and the roar, "light them up."
It was what he had been waiting for. His shotgun clattered to the ground, and he grasped the nozzle extending from the small backpack unit. He pressed a small button on the side of the grip, and a tiny jet of blue and white flame extended from the tip. He squeezed the trigger.
The alleyway was lit up in a queer light, one that flickered and cast shadows in the alley. Its source was the six-second burst of flaming gasoline that spewed forth from the nozzle and bathed the Dreamers in the inferno. They screamed. They flailed their arms. They cried out for mercy. I could hear the people underneath the gooey shell crying out and praying and cursing their fate. The Dreamers awaken. They comprehend their quandary. A parasite is controlling them. They had no free will. Their minds were free, but their body was not. And it burned.
The flamethrower closed the portal to hell within, and all the flame that remained was that on the ground and on the Dreamers. A burning Dreamer loses his focus. They want less to tear and rend your flesh than they do to flail about and set things on fire. The urgency is lost. You take your time with each shot, making sure it connects. And within half an hour, all of the Dreamers were down, smouldering and oozing fluids. There were a few that came up from behind, but we dispatched them quickly. A good bit of work.
We strode down the alley, stepping around the charred husks and decaying corpses. This part of Ravenholm still had power. A street light cast a dull glow that spilled off the side of a building and onto the pavement. Something was underneath. Something out of place. Or perhaps it was something IN place, something I tried to remove from my consciousness, a memory that hurt. The skeleton had been picked clean, and was on the ground instead of slumped against the wall, but it was still familiar. There was still a stain where blood and bone and gray matter had garnished the wall. Holes, too, from buckshot fired at close range.
On the ground there was a blazer, a gray cotton shirt, a pair of fatigue pants. All torn and rent and cast aside in pieces, bones scattered around, gleaming and with no flesh on them. The skull was mostly intact. Long, spidery cracks ran through it, emanating from the gaping holes in the fore and back of the head. This person had been shot in the face with a shotgun.
And then it came back to me, and I remembered that I shot this woman. Her name was Alice. She was my wife. I divorced her in this alleyway years ago.
She had been beautiful, once. Very dark. Italian, maybe, she never told me and it wasn't important. She had sharp features, dark eyes, long legs like scissors that scythed when she walked. I met her in this miserable city. She said she had been a security guard. She wasn't very handy with a weapon, although I changed that later, but she was in good shape. She was a natural shot once I had her handling the weapons properly. Good reflex shooter. I taught her how to use a knife as well. Retention techniques. The simple and brutal martial arts we are taught in the military. The fundamentals of traps and bomb manufacturing. How to fight like a savage little animal, and bite and kick and twist.
We were married in the spring. We had no rings, so I gave her my spare set of dog tags.
Ravenholm was a swarming mass of sexual frustration. The breeding suppression field made sexual contact of any sort a painful endeavor. Doctors called it "Dyspareunia", a mental disorder caused normally by an extreme distaste for the other party - but under the Combine's thumb, it was artificially induced in the brain for anyone and everyone. Why they couldn't have simply rendered us all sterile, or interfered with the ovulation cycle of the female of the species was beyond me. Perhaps they meant to cause us anguish. It had that effect, either way.
And yet, without sexual gratification it was still good to be around someone you cared for. Most people who hate their station in life do so because they have none to think of but themselves - a pity to be sure. And during the cold Ukrainian nights, you lay your head in someone's lap and stare out the window or at the fire with them, and life doesn't seem so bad. When you find someone who is like that, you are meant to share. Your possessions, your fortunes good or bad, your very fate. You are to be coterminous.
I had this, and the Combine took it, just like they took every other thing I cared about in this wretched world. They took my men near Dallas. They took my home and family. They took my freedom and self respect, my car, my dogs, my books, my country...and then, worst of all, they took my love. There is no compassion left in me. No pity, no sense of common identity with the Combine. They may look like a human and talk like a human and think like a human, but they are not human. To me, they are animals. Less than animals. Let me mutilate and defile and torture. Tisiphone would approve.
My desire for vengeance is untempered by a vestigial sense of decency or humanity. The lust for blood is my fuel, and I savor every drop shed of it. This feud will end when I am dead, or when the corpses of the Combine soldiers are a carpet underfoot, their vehicles a cheerful blaze to keep me warm at night, their Citadels a pile of space-age rubble for children to play on. I am no longer a lover. I am a fighter. They made me this way. And I will fight, and burn, and kill, until I can do so no more. This is what seeing the remains of Alice ignited in my mind.
I stared at the skeleton for a minute and a half or thereabouts. As I turned to walk away, I could control myself no longer and I wept bitterly. The acrid stench of burning flesh tickled my nostrils. The moon was obscured by clouds. We should not be out at night. Something fell was in the air, and even as my tears chilled on my cheeks, we sought shelter. After clearing an easily defensible house of the Dreamers, we bedded down. Or they did. I sat in the corner of the room and sobbed with my head between my knees. I had gotten over the death of Alice before, but seeing her there reopened old wounds. Painful wounds.
The next day, we finally arrived at our destination, and spent hours clearing the debris and rubble from the mouth of the mine shaft inside the building. It had been sealed somehow, and even with the power of the Gravity Gun, was exhausting. But here we are. Tomorrow we begin the hardest part of this madcap plan. But for now, they sleep. I Dream.
9:14PM 10/13/2014: Nine and Five
My men are tired. They are sleeping as soundly as one can in Hell. Thousands damned, and their tormentors, their demons, ride about on their heads. I read "The Inferno" once. Dante was wrong. Hell is on earth. Hell is here. And I'm in the middle of it.
They woke up several times in sequence for their turn at watch, but I put them back to bed. I would not be sleeping. I am perpetually awed at our continued survival in this place. The fiercest elements of the unnatural have been hurled against us, and we yet live. But the easiest was past us.
Under optimal conditions, we would have scouted out a route from the Kolgueyev building to the truck. Sure, we could do it easily enough according to the map, but things had changed. Fences where there were not any before. Rubble, roadblocks, impediments. But we couldn't do that. We were surrounded by an ocean of Dreamers, and the longer we stayed here, the more they moved in. It was like a collective consciousness, a "racial" sense of togetherness that drew them together. They were cohesive, after a fashion. It was like fighting what we termed a "zerg" in Korea - Many hundreds, even thousands of poorly trained and ill equipped soldiers simply running at us. Two months of that, and North Korea had enough, since they hardly had an army left to speak of. But the Dreamers were not like that. Every crab that took down a human was welcomed into their fold, and in that fashion, their numbers increased. Instead of taking fourteen years, they had a new solider ready in fifteen minutes to nine hours, gestation period of the Headcrab varying.
I wonder what the headcrabs did before they came to Earth. To take over the Human nervous system is no mean feat. Was it sheer coincidence, happenstance that they could do this, and they found their own niche in this brave, new world? Or were they engineered for this, a biological weapon so insidious that each victim it claimed went to take more victims. And the crabs themselves could reproduce...
We barricaded the doors up well here; There would be no Dreamer incursions. They milled and roared and whined softly. They desired, lusted after us. We were soft, and warm, and squishy, and filled with meat and organs and blood. It's what I think when I see a cow. Delicious thighs. Ribs. Roasts. Ground meat, backstrap, the whole nine yards. I'd wager there were more humans in this world now than cows. Too bad cannibalism is not my forte.
I stood on a balcony off the second floor and looked at my foes below me. It would be a tough egress from the Kolgueyev Building. What I wouldn't give for an 81mm mortar on the outskirts of Ravenholm and a radio.
I walked back into the building and nudged each of my men with my boot. Thompson nearly shot me, but hey, you go around kicking people while they're asleep, what do you expect.
"Eat your slop and let's get this over with."
I'm sorry, but I can't call the Combine rations "food". I'd trade a weeks worth of the stuff for a steak. A great, big, bloody steak, nearly raw, rubbed with salt and gently placed upon a bed of onions and garlic with adulation by a six and a half foot tall Swedish girl named Inga. My thoughts turned to booze, and my dangerous reverie was interrupted by the fact that I hadn't had a drink in 32 hours. Dehydration was setting in. A bit of lukewarm water, and I felt a bit better.
The maw of the mineshaft was as we left it last night, the boards and stone and rubble scattered around the entrance. The shaft itself was angled down at a forty five degree slope, which would definitely make for treacherous footing. It was damp, and dark, and dreary. Once there were men here, men who toiled under the earth for metal and coal and precious stones. Now they are gone, and who could know what replaced them?
"Throw a flare down that shaft."
Someone ignited a flare. It was bright, too bright to look at. Thompson hurled it far and hard, and the flare tumbled through the air, streaming luminescence behind it. It hit the ground and began to bounce, sputtering on occasion only to burn brightly again. It came to rest roughly a hundred meters away. I know this because I counted it off when we stepped into the mine.
Muck and slime encrusted the walls, and the skeletons of what I assumed were bats crunched underfoot. Possibly they starved when they were trapped inside after the entrance caved in. We were now roughly 550 meters down into the earth.
They arced over the muck and dirt and grime, and bounced to a stop.
"See that just out of the radius of the flare's light? Let's go."
Just beyond the flare at the edge of the darkness was what looked like an old metal box. As we approached and chucked another flare, we could see that it was what we were looking for. And there was something more beyond the crates. Blotched and hunched and tortured. I cracked another flare and chucked it at the creature.
There were nine of them beginning to stir, nine of the unnamed horrors that inhabit this world, they who are even more eldritch and fell than the Dreamers. They began to rise up, tasting the air for our presence. And then they saw us.
We turned tail and fled, slipping and tripping over ourselves up the long incline. But it was too late. They had smelled our flesh and blood, and wanted a taste to feed their brood. The children were on our heels, hairy, disgusting and bigger than the other headcrabs. And there were hundreds of them. More than I could count.
Jaguar had refreshed the canisters on his flamethrower, and before I could even say anything, he had already hit the ignition button.
I closed my left eye to preserve my low light vision and began firing into the pack. They were almost within leaping distance. The others turned too, and began hosing lead into the mob with the knowledge that we would soon be enveloped by the horde. But then, you could hear a tremendously loud roar, amplified and echoing through your head by the walls of the mine, and then night became day as a long stream of flame scythed lazily through the darkness and washed over the crabs. Eleven seconds later, and the fuel was gone. But that was okay. We fired into the writhing, squirming, screaming mass of hairy torsos and long legs, charred flesh split open by our bullets. They bled. By the Grace of the God Almighty, we were delivered from this screaming pack of wolves. And then, above the din of the flame and the dying crabs, we heard the long, low foghorn moan of the horrors that were even slower than their brood, arriving too late to save them, but in time to cause us trepidation. The sound echoed between the walls of the mine, a sound that makes you feel filthy and queasy and unworthy to live. Dragon had dropped the drum magazine out of his PPSh and was fumbling for a stick mag. The flamethrower was completely out of ammunition, and Jaguar dropped it at his feet before reaching for his shotgun. The Sniper-Medic was busy hunched over Ivan, who had a crab on his face. Oh Lord.
The fire cast shadows that danced on the walls like some sort of debauched Faustian festival. The stink of burning flesh was in the air, and the horrid, damp smell of the Dreamers. They were covered in crabs, their little babies that gestated externally. This was how they reproduced. The other headcrabs were civilized at least, they laid eggs which you could destroy or even eat if you were so inclined, but not these. They stunted your body, twisted it. And then, the young would sit upon you until they were fully grown, where they would detach, and if they were in a position without hosts available, would hibernate. These were hibernating no more.
Dragon's PPSh began to fire again, in short spurts. There was no need to spray here. Of all of us, his weapon would be most effective if he hit his target. The bullets would punch right in. The shotguns would meet a little more resistance. Little matter.
The Dreamers began throwing their crabs at us. Thompson batted one away with the butt of his shotgun and crushed it underfoot. I managed to catch one with a few buckshot. The Sniper-Medic had gotten up from Thompson and began firing his SAIGA. The semi-automatic shotgun was quickly emptied of ammunition, and he began to reload. Oz was spraying with his Kalashnikov - a bad habit, to be sure. The flares were sputtering. Soviet produced shit they were. All I could really hear was the sound of the PPSh. It was loud, and friendly in this dark night, spewing fire and the final death for the Dreamers. Click. Click. Click. Shotgun was empty.
I let it fall to the side and drew my 1911. It was beautiful in the firelight, blued steel and old, worn walnut grips that my hand wrapped around as if they were liquid. It was elegant and familiar, and I had eight shots in the weapon and 21 more on my hip. I could reload the shotgun later.
I leveled the sights on the closest Dreamer, who was busily attempting to come and hit me. I suppose it had tired of throwing its young about, or perhaps those remaining were not fully gestated. The only important crab was the one on the head. I emptied my magazine at it.
I don't know if I even hit it at all, or if someone else was watching out for me but the Dreamer went down and the remaining crabs detached. They were even slower than the others, and they didn't immediately register our presence as they swarmed over the corpse of their incubator. We could deal with them later.
The empty mag clattered to the floor, and I slapped another one in. Three of the other Dreamers were down, leaving us five. They were almost to us. Thompson slipped while attempting to back away, and got a good claw swipe for his troubles. And then another. Two Dreamers tore him to pieces in front of me as I emptied my mag at them. Neither went down; their attentions turned to me. Two more mags remained. And then it was one magazine. And then the first one went down, leaving four. Then Dragon emptied about 20 rounds of 7.62x25 into the second one, and it fell. I shoved my pistol back into the holster and stomped on the adolescent crabs that were skittering about as I reloaded the shotgun. Three left. Make that two. And then I saw a detached hand fly past my head, and Oz was screaming something I couldn't quite make out beneath the din and the roar. I fired my shotgun. One left. The other one went down, and we set to work on the adolescents.
Thompson was dead, or at least almost there. His eyes were rolled back into his head, and he was gurgling and wheezing with his ribcage split open and his entrails strewn about. Oz's arm was horribly torn, and blood was spurting from his wrist. It spattered onto the mud and silt and grime, and oozed downhill. Jerod immediately had pressure applied to the stump, and in about half an hour we had the bleeding stopped. We ended up cauterizing it with the propellant from a few shotgun shells, much to Oz's discomfort. We still had to deal with Ivan.
He was lying there, muffled sounds emanating from the crab. Even now he was beginning to change. His skin tone had shifted from the pale you associate with Russians to a darker, deeper color. Ivan was curled in a half fetal position; he'd be hunched forward if you stood him up. He was beginning to Dream. The response was nearly automatic now. I drove my knife down through the crab and punched through Ivan's skull, rendering him braindead instantly. The body would soon follow.
Our ammunition was mostly depleted. Thompson was dead. Ivan was dead. Oz was crippled. I hardly had the capacity to care. I was tired, and dirty, and my mind was and is running low. I look at his mutilated corpse and see a slab of meat, nothing more.
We located the crates, and it was easy to move them back up to the surface. I am so tired. Thompson's Kalashnikov is my burden now, and it slaps against the Gravity Gun as I walk. I retrieved my empty mags for the 1911 - they are impossible to find out here. I broke the locks off the crates, and they are what was advertised. Rockets. Dozens and dozens of them. Launchers. Long, fat tubes with a laser module tacked on. I didn't recognize the make. Possibly European. I resealed the entrance to the tomb of Thompson. He can rest with the fallen Dreamers, and Ivan. And now I must sleep, because I am hallucinating. I heard if you go four days without sleep, you go insane. Your mind plays tricks on you, and your friends become your enemies, and walls become gaping maws that swallow you, and death comes for you on gilded wings. I see none of these things. Just skeletons, dancing around us. Their eyes are gone, and in their place is fire. They burn, and they want me to go with them to the Land of the Dead, as per Mexican mythology. But no. If I sleep they will go away. So I sleep.
8:34PM 10/14/2014: Rex Necropolis
Some people say that dreams are a portal to the subconscious. If that is so, I am a very disturbed person.
I awoke from my Dreams with a start, the sort of awakening one does where you open your eyes and are immediately hyper-aware of your surroundings. You can hear the individual breathing of each person in the room, hear them roll over or whine softly in their sleep, and mumble things under their breath. Shadows cast from old street lamps danced on the walls through the window. Ravenholm still had power. Probably siphoned off from the hydroelectric dam that the Combine guarded but didn't use. I don't know why they guarded it. Black Mesa East is just under their nose. But for our situation, it would be laughable. No such luck for the wayward children of Earth.
"It's time to wake up."
The men stirred and shuddered. I hadn't gotten up for my turn at watch. Jaguar was asleep, but he had pulled a double, and I felt like too much of a dick to reprimand him since I was equally at fault. Besides, we were well-barricaded in here. It stood to reason that, with proper supplies, we could stay in here a long, long time. But none of us wanted that.
Dr. Vance had marked on the map where the truck was, and I marked where we were. Now all that needed to be done was to plan the best route through Ravenholm, or at least try to do so. The rubble and cobbled-together walls made that hard. Someone had turned Ravenholm into a maze, a quite confusing maze at that.
"I said it's time to get up."
I could hear Ivan and Johnson trying to claw out of their tomb. I left them ensconced in stone down the mine shaft. But they were dead. One had been disemboweled, and the other I killed before he could Dream. They sang to me in that room, dark save the soft glow cast by the Gravity Gun. I had the means to get them out of their grave, but I didn't, tempting though it was. Because I knew, in the small part of my mind that uses logic, that they were dead, and they weren't actually trying to get out. But at night, things are funny.
I took Ivan's SKS and fired it out the second story window at one of the Dreamers that had assembled there. It was ear-ringing loud in the close confines of the split-floor room.
"Good, you're up. Eat your mush and let's get this over with."
There was cursing and gnashing of teeth, and they ate their food in relative silence. Morale was low. Ivan and Johnson must have been weighing heavily upon them. The Dreamers outside wanted to eat with us. I believe I forgot to mention yesterday that among the crates of rockets, we also found a crate of hand grenades, probably stolen from the Combine at some point, so I broke the lock off and tried a few of the grenades out on our adoring crowd. Thinned them out a bit. Practiced cooking them off, amazing the things you remember. I don't care for the way they frag. It just doesn't seem...substantial. Sure, it does what it is supposed to do, but it just doesn't seem to do it well. Better than nothing.
While the men ate, I sat hanging out the second story window taking potshots at the Dreamers with the SKS. It's an okay weapon, I suppose. Hard to miss with at close range; I wouldn't want to use it as a Designated Marksman's weapon. The ammunition was plentiful out here. I made good use of that fact. And after I missed once or twice, I gave it a rest and went back downstairs.
My men had finished eating.
"I'll be brief. I propose we totally ignore the original plan of moving the crates one by one to the truck. Inste-"
"Instead we get the fuck out of here?"
"No. Instead, we clear the road of debris and take the truck back here. We load up, and then we leave. Thoughts?"
The sniper-medic had been silent since yesterday afternoon, and he elected to speak up now.
"Stupid. We can't take Oz with us when we go to get the truck, meaning he'll have to stay here alone. We could blow a tire on the rubble, assuming we found a clear road. Or a fluke engine breakdown could trap us in a swarm of zombies."
"Objection noted. Anyone else?"
Jaguar stood up.
"Let's get outta here, Jack."
"I like the answer that gets me far away from here as fast as possible."
"So it's settled. You two are coming with me, Jerod is staying with Oz to both secure the site and render medical attention as needed."
I sat and thought for a minute. The grenades we could definitely use, but the RPG rounds were something of a tossup. If they were armor piercing or incendiary, they wouldn't be so great for what we were trying to accomplish here. I had great faith in the ability of the Gravity Gun to clear the vast majority of obstacles that we would encounter, but just because you expect to have a long life doesn't mean you wait until you're 70 to buy life insurance.
"Let's check out the munitions."
The locks were rusted, but the crates themselves were pretty solid.
"Open it up."
We were in luck. High explosive rounds. I didn't recognize the manufacturer. The rockets themselves were rather small. European pieces of shit, with that much internal space you either have low fuel, low explosive charges, or both. I opened the crate of launchers I checked last night. Long, laser emitter, what looked like French scrawled on the side. Probably a product of the EU's weaponry program.
"Let's try this out."
Once again, the second floor window provided a platform for destruction. I was actually shocked. The rocket not only had a lot of propellant, but the detonation was impressive, to say the least. I immediately warmed to the munitions. The launcher was ergonomic and relatively easy to use. The laser tracking module made it better than a simple "dumb" RPG. We each fired a few shots, getting accustomed to the laser tracking system. The miniaturization of technology and efficiency of fuel and explosives amazed me. These could extract a terrible toll on the Combine.
"Dragon, you hump the launcher. Each of us will carry four rockets."
Oz was crying again. His stump must have hurt like a bitch. His arm would be next to useless for the rest of his life. I didn't envy him that. To remove your means to make war... it was a cruel thing. But he was not useless. He yet had things to live for.
"Let's get out in the shit gentlemen."
We had nothing but our weapons and ammunition with us. The parking lot of the Kolgueyev building was slick with the blood of the Dreamers, and several yet lived. We ran past them. Jerod could deal with them from the second story window, which he had begun to. Dreamers are funny. Their threat prioritization is very fickle, but today they decided that we were more interesting than the loud noises emanating from the Kolgueyev building, and therefore we took down a few ourselves. That was a decent number of kills for today without breaking a sweat.
I had gone over the map with them, and we had chosen three routes that were likely the most efficient. The street was relatively clear, a pleasant deviation from the norm.
"Don't get careless."
Burned out vehicles lined the road. Old corpses, half-eaten scattered the streets, both human and Dreamer. A body hung from the eaves of a roof by the neck. The rope creaked, barely audible over the distant sound of the SKS. It was old. Rotted. Dried out in the sun, picked at by birds, eaten by maggots. Someone had hung himself. What horrors had he seen? What horrors had I seen? He was weak. His mind could not comprehend the awful reality that was life in this age. He cracked. Perhaps his wife had begun to Dream, and killed their children. Or perhaps he was a loner, and when the shells came, he locked the door. He heard the screams, saw the smoke, the carnage, the blood- gunshot. Jaguar dispatched a Dreamer.
Whatever had happened, he decided that he had lost all hope and took his life. And I hated him for that. His selfish act had denied us, Man, Humanity, of another warm body. Maybe he was a doctor. Or an engineer. Or a truck driver, or a school teacher, or a mechanic. Even if he had no skills, he could have been trained. Or if nothing else, he could have died instead of Kenny, or Ivan, or anyone else. He could have left this world meaning something, helping, contributing. Instead he left it in the most selfish fashion imaginable. The coward dies ten thousand deaths, the valorous die but once. Someone said that, or someone made that up and thought it sounded witty. He cheated. His cowardice killed him just as sure as the claws of a Dreamer would have. He deserved to hang there. Let the wind and the rain flay his bones clean, and the ravens pick out his eyes. He would be a testament to the weak.
Sometimes my mind wanders. That's not a good thing.
The wind had been whistling over the rooftops, but there was something else whistling. Wait, not whistling, whirring. Pounding. Two-cycle engine. The shaft coming out of it had a piece of sheet metal on one half and a counterweight on the other. What?
"It's an engine with a spinning blade on top blocking up this alley."
"Search me. There must be survivors here then, because these engines haven't been running since the Fall."
My attention was diverted from the device to what Jaguar was gesturing towards. Corpses. Half a dozen at least, all Dreamers, most of them cut in half, some cut more. Then I noticed the spatters and sprays of dried blood around the device itself. This had been here for a good while.
"I like his style."
"Jack, don't you realize what this means? If there are survivors..."
"We've been neglecting them for years. Why haven't they tried to contact us?"
"Maybe they couldn't?"
"It's not that simple. There's a deeper story here. Make a note of it on the map, and let's keep going."
I dismantled the device with the Gravity Gun. Grabbed the device from a safe distance, and hurled it away. It shrieked on the pavement. That was a powerful engine, a lot of torque to slice through Dreamers like butter. Someone had to be refueling them. It certainly wasn't the Combine, who would have used hopper mines. No, this was something else.
There were more of them further down the road. The area was remarkably devoid of Dreamers, albeit not for a lack of trying on their part. They were everywhere underfoot, sliced into bits. A beautiful carnage. The map followed our trail with a long series of dots representing each trap. Someone had a lot of time on his hands.
And then, an impasse.
"Why would someone put a big wall blocking the road?"
"I haven't a clue."
It was indeed big, over 11 feet tall, and thick. There were Dreamers here, slumped against the walls, sprawled across the ground, stacked like cordwood - entry and exit wounds covered them. Shotgun. There was a ladder up the gate - and then I understood, for it was not a wall to keep people in or out at all, but the end of a trap. Some enterprising fellow, using himself as bait, would stir up Hell - and run. On top of the wall was a platform with a folding chair and a few crates, with a ladder going upwards. I scaled the ladder, and on top found what I expected. Old Soviet ammunition tins. Food. Water. Empty shotgun shells. A folded up umbrella.
"Someone is using this city to kill off the Dreamers. This is the end of a gauntlet, where whoever it is who is doing this sits in the shade and shoots the survivors."
"Jack, what's a dreamer?"
"Err, zombie. Don't know what's gotten into me."
I sat down to think. We could demolish this wall, perhaps. Weaken it up a bit, pull it apart with the Gravity Gun. It would be a shame to ruin this man's work....
Far off, I could hear the echoing pop of the SKS. The Sniper-Medic was keeping himself busy, if nothing else. But then, I heard another noise join it, a deeper sound that came in twos and carried with it the cries of the Dreamers. Fascinating. Perhaps the creator of this trap was here to check on his devices.
"You hear it?"
"Let's go conceal ourselves in that storefront. Just because he's human doesn't mean he's friendly."
"Is that entirely necessary?"
And then, from my left came another voice.
"It is not. Greetings."
I jumped at the familiar voice, and swung my shotgun around. And there he was. Father Gregori, from so long ago. Same balding head, same cross on a chain. A dumpy little Ukrainian man who looked more like a cheap Mafioso than a Reverend Father. The shotgun didn't help, either. But he was one, ordained by some church or another. That didn't matter. He was there for us and the citizens of Ravenholm. He laughed with us, cried with us, cursed the Combine and drank and went on hunter-killer missions with us to help keep the headcrabs and Dreamers away from Ravenholm. He married me. And when Ravenholm Fell, we all assumed he died.
"Hello Jack, Robert, Joshua. It's been far too long."
I was really at a loss for words.
"We broke your traps. Well, I did." Really at a loss for words.
"It matters not, for to see that you are well is recompense enough. What brings you to my...necropolis?"
"Vance and Cubbage sent us in after an arms cache."
"Weapons, eh? I see you've acquired a new toy, Joshua... you did not go to the Kolgueyev building, did you?"
"At every turn, you undo my works. But that does not matter. I am a man with a prerogative now, a mission. Salvation for all, from the clutches of our Enemy. The traps are a holdover from a time when I had too much time on my hands... now I have not enough."
He paused a moment, and I mulled over the cryptic words. The initial shock of seeing him alive had not yet begun to fade away, when he continued once more.
"Is there anything at all I can do to help you in your journey?"
"Yes, Father. We need to get a truck to the Kolgueyev building and back out of Ravenholm again. We have no idea about the lay of the land, and we have a badly injured man who needs medical help very quickly. If you could just tell us the best road..."
"I'd be delighted to, and more than that, I'll guide you to your vehicle from here. Show me your maps."
And so we sat down and had a conference right there. As it would turn out, there were two roads that were relatively clear from one side of Ravenholm to the other, but Father Gregori had built gates which he could raise or lower as he pleased. We would take the truck to one of these entrances, and with his guidance, make our way to the Kolgueyev building and back again. And so we did.
It was an entirely different ball game with Gregori along. We nearly avoided the Dreamers entirely, and man, did we move fast. Gregori must have learned every path, every alley and byway of Ravenholm, or at least it seemed that way. A bewildering array of traps and snares we did pass, more of the rotary cutting blades, falling objects, swinging objects, crushing objects. Impromptu landmines. The good old "tripwire and shotgun" trick. The exploding door. The snaking pressurized gas canister. Quite an ingenious fellow.
I hate to trivialize it, but we made it out to the truck in what must have been record speed, and nothing really happened of note. The way back was a bit more interesting, because Gregori and Jaguar insisted on shooting all the Dreamers we saw. I was driving, albeit poorly. It was an old Ukraine Army URAL. Great big 6x6 truck, roughly the Soviet equivalent to the Deuce and a Half. The cargo space was covered, albeit tattered and worn. Dragon sat in the front seat with me and rolled his eyes at the triumphant cries of Jaguar and Father Gregori. The man had marked my map well. I ambled around the corners, occasionally bumping over a corpse or a yet living Dreamer. We attracted a few of the fast ones. They kept up with the truck easily, which concerned me, but then I heard an explosion and the laughter of Father Gregori. The poor man must have lost it. Then again, I'm the one who is waxing philosophical about an old slab of meat hanging from a building. I suppose life is relative.
We pulled into the Kolgueyev parking lot about an hour later. The Sniper-Medic was in the window, and there was nothing left alive on the ground. I honked the horn at him, and we backed into the loading dock.
Jerod removed the barricade at the side entrance, and we entered the building. I immediately began to move the heavy crates around, and with Jaguar and Dragon providing security, began to load them on the truck.
"It's good to meet more of your friends, Jack. I don't get much company out here."
Oz was sleeping, but he awoke when I dropped the first crate into the truck. He and Father Gregori talked about something I wasn't really paying attention to. I was thinking. We could take Father Gregori with us. His flock, scattered and torn, could still use him. He could leave this place. It was not fitting for him. A Reverend Father should not be in Hell.
The last crate slammed into the bed of the truck. The Gravity Gun did its job well.
"Father Gregori," I began. "Are you the only survivor here?"
He paused for a minute and considered the question, and then laughed.
"Father, come with us. We are leaving this place."
"No, my child. My work lies here. I continue my ministry."
"To the dead? There are survivors of this place, more than you might imagine. We are scattered, broken, hiding like a beaten dog. We need morale. You were a community leader, and everyone assumed you had fallen here. Come back with us."
"No. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
I was somewhat flabbergasted. Father Gregori not only stayed here by necessity, but he wanted to. This was his city. The traps, the rubble, the shattered hopes and ambitions of the Dreamers. He belonged here, by his reckoning. And then I comprehended. At this point in my life, there was nothing I'd rather do than fight the Combine. Father Gregori hated the Dreamers just as much as I hated the blue suits. That's what his work was here. Salvation for the damned.
"I understand, Father."
"Good. Give my regards to Eli."
"We can give you a ride."
"Quite alright, my child. I have work to do."
And thus we left.
We drove out of that city, the truck laden down with munitions and the surviving members of my team, past a nightmarish war zone of entropy, decay, and alien interference with the affairs of Humanity. We rode in silence. The engine droned. And at long last, we were out of the confines of Ravenholm. I will return there, some day. And when I do, I will burn it to the ground and speak an eulogy as the light of the world's biggest funereal pyre sends smoke into the sky. This I swear on the grave of society.
We made it back to the rendezvous point with little difficulty. I gave one of Dr. Vance's men the Gravity Gun. I am so tired. We rode with him back to Black Mesa East. I took a shower. Thompson is dead. Ivan is dead. I killed two men. Eventually three, if you count leaving Father Gregori to his vendetta. Two names to a list of men and women alike that I failed. The list grows longer every year.
I'm going to bed.
2:34PM 10/21/2014: Return to the River
It's been too long.
I came back from Ravenholm and went to sleep. They burned the sheets while I was taking a shower. I guess it was kind of asinine of me to not clean up before going to bed, but I was tired.
The first three days afterwards my life consisted of sleeping, eating, and sitting curled up on my bed thinking. Ravenholm was a catastrophe. Ravenholm was a success. I lost men but gained materials. Life, war, and military are about judging loss against gain. We now possess a not-insignificant supply of weaponry. We had lost Thompson and Ivan. Thompson had been a real-estate agent. He was good with numbers, and in good shape to begin with. Years of cheap food and physical exertion had him in excellent condition. Ivan had been a policeman. He had walked the streets of Odessa back when it was Odessa. He knew people, both in the civil and emergency services and in the city itself. He also had a wife. They never had any children. He had been forty five when he died. He had been married since he was eighteen and she sixteen. Back in the old days. I wonder what it was like back then. The Soviet Union had fallen. The Iron Curtain was no more, and suddenly these Ukrainians were exposed to Western culture, foreign foods, David Hasselhoff. And they were married at a time when the world seemed perfect. The world could be your pie, and even if you stayed in Odessa, just the knowledge that you COULD go to some backwater country and get wasted on cheap booze made it almost the same.
And life only improved over time, and he probably got a few raises, maybe got shot at once or twice. And then some scientists in a lab ruined it, And then suddenly his life was a lot more hectic. He still had a beat to walk, and still the criminal elements of society to deal with, but beyond that, his friends and acquaintances began to Dream and it was his job to put them down. And then the Combine came, and he and his wife fled. To Ravenholm.
Life was different in Ravenholm.
He did what he had done all his life. The beat changed, and there was a lot less crime, but the job still had to be done. And then Ravenholm Fell. He and his wife escaped again. She lived in one of the so-called "Vortigaunt Camps". Well secluded, well defended, and well administrated by the Vortigaunts themselves. If you asked them why, they'd speak of a debt to humanity. I owed Ivan's widow a debt. I took her husband to Ravenholm and killed him there. Perhaps they could have grown old together.
Alice and I never knew the bliss of a pre-Portal Storm world. Ours was a marriage that began and ended in the forge. We never knew peace or solitude. We never even had sex, which is possibly the greatest crime of the century. The true evil of the Combine is their methodology. At times it is blunt and straightforward - house to house searches for contraband. At times it is insidious. The Shriekers they create at Nova Prospekt. And then, they can be subversive. Their breeding suppression system, for example. It prevents us from reproducing, but not only that, it prevents coitus. And then doesn't take away the desire.
Dr. Helsi was a shrink we had out here before he was killed by an antlion swarm last year. I wrote down what he said about it. It's a chemical induction of a psychological disorder that makes sexual contact extremely painful. There is no reproduction because there is no intercourse, and we certainly don't have in-vitro fertilization labs. We all walk around in a haze of sexual frustration that eats away at our psyche. You pass a woman in the corridor, and she's sizing you up and you see a spark in her eyes that quickly dies and you just keep walking, and you want to shoot yourself. Unless you are Mandel or one of the others who goes out on a six day caravan, and if the man in charge of organizing the caravans has a personal axe to grind with you, that doesn't happen. Ever.
At least I don't have the opportunity to feel guilty for violating the memory of my dead wife. Always look for the silver lining, right?
I'd say there are some seventy-odd personnel here. They all perform various functions. Janitors, engineers, grunts, eggheads. The resident PhDs are Eli Vance and Judith Mossman, who have degrees in some sort of weird science which I do not remember. They are the brains of the facility, and designed the core of it. Supposedly, they were an item of sorts and Vance's wife offed herself with a bottle of vicodine and a steak knife because of it. We don't say that around Alyx.
Alyx herself, the poster child for "spoiled brat" wanders in and out of the facility. She's at once beautiful and just plain weird looking. She walks all over the people here and treats them like shit while playing daddy's girl when Vance is around. She and Mossman don't get along either. I suppose if nothing else, Alyx can shoot - she has some weird, riced-out Glock 18 or something. She's a decent shot, I suppose. I really appreciated the indoor firing range here, but Alyx kept irritating me. She was perpetually giving me dirty looks. I don't know why, I assume it could be about me taking her "toy" to Ravenholm. Snotty bitch.
Vance himself is cheerful enough. The personnel of this facility say it's atypical of him, so I assume he's making a breakthrough with the teleporter. Good. When he does, I will wander this Eurasian wasteland for the object to execute my vengeance. Nuclear fires will burn the interior of the Citadel white, like a bone. A tomb. And then, as long as we find another weapon, we can do it again and again until there are no Combine left, and the world will be Ours again. And They will never return. Or maybe they will. We can kill more of them. We can do it again. With the Teleporter (possibly the worst-kept secret in the world), we can defend our planet. Maybe it will work this time, and we won't do bad things to another cat.
The food here, as I mentioned before, is excellent. They have a walk-in freezer. I used to cook, you know. I mean, it wasn't my job, but I like to think I did it decently enough. The kitchen was nice in here. Stainless steel counters. You don't find those every day.
My writing was rudely interrupted by a radio message for me. I walked into the communication room on the bottom floor, where Eli's lab was, and went inside.
"Jack, this is Odessa."
"Good work on Ravenholm. I've got another job for you if you want it."
"I was actually hoping I could stay here."
"I'm pretty sure you want it, Jack."
"I'm pretty sure I don't."
"Don't make this hard on me, Jack. At least hear me out."
"I need you and a Vortigaunt to go camp out in one of the drainage ditches near the Railyards. You will be one of the first on the Underground Railroad system. We think a Combine infiltrator is going to try to make his or her way into the system. Your job is twofold - report on Combine movement, and weed out potential Combine moles. This is a vital service to the Resistance, Jack. I'm not trying to shove you into some backwater post-"
"Who would be the Vortigaunt?"
"He's my friend."
There was a long silence on the other end of the line, and a sigh.
"Fine. We need you in place ASAP, so start packing. I'm sending out an airboat for you. Cubbage out."
I sighed, aloud this time. Back in the shit. Where I was going, there was no river. Just standing water in trash-filled pits. Back when it used to rain, they would carry overflow from the City into the canals. In addition to such poor conditions, the Combine would be walking practically above my head. Everywhere I have been for the past several years was better than where I was about to be. At least Oscar would be there.
I walked out of the comm. room. Eli Vance was pounding away at a keyboard for Science or something. I coughed, but he didn't acknowledge me. I coughed again with the same results, and finally just tapped him on the shoulder.
"Dr. Vance? Sorry to interrupt, but I need access to the armory. I'm shipping out."
"I'm sorry to see you go young man. From what Odessa Cubbage tells me, what you did in Ravenholm was very brave, and vital to the resistance. I was hoping perhaps you could stay here and be my chief of security for this facility."
My eye ticked. I don't do that much. It means I'm mad. Odessa probably caught wind of Vance's offer and just wanted to keep me moving so he could hold on to me.
"I would have liked that very much Dr. Vance, but duty calls. I am needed elsewhere."
"Good luck, Sergeant Harper."
I went to the Armory and retrieved my Mosin. It was friendly and familiar, and all my ammunition was there too. They had a decent supply of .45 - someone had been harrying the Combine. I took more than I needed. Life is about preparing for the unexpected.
I stopped by the infirmary to bid Oz goodbye. He was looking better, but that wasn't saying much. He shook my hand, but said nothing and tracked me with his eyes as I left the room. I think he hated me. I did take his hand and mangled his arm, after all. I'd resent that too.
Here I am, sitting on top of the few things I own in this world. I am waiting for the airboat. I don't know how it's getting here - I never learned the vast winding waterways. They confuse me. I navigate from point to point, not from waterway to waterway. But some people have a mind for that. They man the airboats. I'm a "shooter". I blow things up. Such is life.
I probably won't make another entry for several days. After moving into a new area, I tend to stay on my toes for a while. Vigilance means weariness. I'll get back to my journal sooner or later.
1:44AM 11/01/2014: Upheaval
Here I am, on the cusp of City Seventeen. The Combine alarms and monitors invade my sleep. The trains rumble and roar on the trestles overhead. You get used to the trains, each one taking a handful of humans to their doom. Without the knowledge of their cargo, it could be considered soothing. The alarms, and the police dispatcher... those not so. When we destroy the Combine, I think that I would not be alone in calling for the stoning of the dispatcher, if she's even a real person at all and not synthesized by a computer. What sort of idiotic system has a police dispatcher over loudspeakers directing the Metrocops around?
I hate it here.
Last time I was out in the sticks I had a river. It was probably full of heavy metals and PCBs, but the water moved. Now I have a ditch, filled with trash and oily water. It quivers like a disgusting soup when the trains go by. And yet I hear something else. Something new. There are alarms whooping again. And the Vox. "Civil Protection teams, reinforce, intercept, engage." Some poor bastard is getting the business.
There's a television in my shipping crate. And a chair. I sleep on the rug in the middle of the room that also covers up my storage compartment. Dr. Vance gave me a Citizen's jumpsuit, like I wore in City Seventeen. I kept the 1911 with me. She deserved to be out, instead of in a sealed plastic tub like the Mosin and my supplies. It was a familiar weight, a bulge on my hip that what? I think I hear gunshots.
An incredibly grueling sixteen hours has passed. What has happened in interim I can't really say. The ramifications are vast. The consequences are possibly dire. I don't know. But a long chain of events has been set into motion, one that spells the complete obliteration of the Resistance if we fail.
I am at N.L.O now. The stretch between my hovel and here is filled with dead and dying members of the Resistance. We have been struck a terrible blow, but I will begin at the beginning for I fear when this is over, there will be none to tell the tale.
Shortly after I heard gunshots, I heard another sound - Oscar was channeling electricity to the unplugged television. I had already drawn my handgun, and what I saw on the television confounded me.
It was a man, sharp faced, shaved, manicured. Blue suit, but a business suit. Not like the Combine. He adjusted his tie, and began to mouth things, but the sounds he made were not speech to me. They varied in pitch and tone, but were mostly on the high end of the spectrum - sometimes the sound faded out entirely. Perhaps he was making noise on a level above my hearing range. And then, Oscar responded with that flux-shifting thing he does. I hate it when he does that.
Just as he ended, I heard a noise on the roof, and something fell through the hole. Orange. Glasses. Short hair and a beard. Very confusing. I resisted the urge to shoot him outright.
Oscar broke the ice.
"This is The Freeman. The Combine's reckoning has come."
Gordon Freeman. Antihero of the Vortigaunts. Interesting.
"Who are you, and what did you do back in the City?"
He did not respond to my question. He just stared at me with green eyes that seemed to not really care if I was standing in his way or not. He held the USP at a low ready, the weapon pointed towards the ground but still in my general direction. His suit, I now noticed, was weathered and worn. Dings and scratches - caused by bullets? - covered the suit. Tough stuff. Reminded me of the experimental Combat Powered Vest the Marines developed in the old days. The gloves were bloody, but not as if he was wounded - looked more like spatter marks.
"Where are you going? Are there Combine following you?"
Oscar chimed in again. "Stand aside, The Harper."
He extended his right arm and gave Freeman a jolt of energy, but not the kind that he uses to melt faces. It was blue, and strange looking, and I had never seen him do it before.
"That is all for now."
Some of the scratches in Freeman's armor began to repair themselves. Fascinating.
"Talkative bastard, aren't you. I assume you're trying to reach Black Mesa East, N.L.O, or both. Head on a little bit further down the canal. You'll find a larger Resistance outpost, and they can help you go from there."
I slid open the door that led to the other half of the canal. Freeman nodded at me almost imperceptibly. As he exited my crate, Oscar gave him one last parting shot:
"We serve the same mystery."
I had no idea what was going on, but I assumed it was a safe guess that some changes were going to be effected around here.
And then, the noises of a firefight broke out. Or at least, a somewhat one-sided firefight. I heard no weapons other than the USP of the metro police and the rattle of the Combine weapons emplacement machine gun. Just before I began writing in my journal, a small group of Resistance people who had been helping Dr. Kleiner out came through, making their way back to Black Mesa East. Perhaps a scanner had spotted them and the Combine had descended upon the outpost?
"Oscar, pack it up. We're getting out of here."
I grabbed my Mosin and some cold-weather gear, and we left. The Combine were going to come down hard on the Underground.
I saw no scanners, but heard several loud explosions coming from the outpost ahead. And a helicopter somewhere up in the sky. And engines roaring. And when I arrived to that terrible scene of carnage, I saw an APC pull away up on the road. What I saw down in the canal made me ill.
Bodies. Dozens. The people who had come through before Freeman did were all dead, splayed out in the mud with their corpses aerated by the fixed gun, the smoking remnants of which sat on top of the bunker. It had a Combine energy barrier, or the remnants of one, in front of it. They must have killed or captured everyone inside the outpost before these people came through, and used it as a stopgap.
But it was not only our men and women that lay dead. The corpses of Combine, about ten of them, lay tossed about the area. I checked the bunker - several more were inside. Freeman's body was not here - he must have been captured, or in a best case scenario, escaped. Most of the weapons the Combine had been wielding were gone - perhaps scavenged by a resourceful Freeman. A few had been unlooted. I grabbed two USPs and as many spare magazines as I felt like carrying.
I followed the canal, past the rubble of the tunnel and into the next area on the other side of the overpass. I jumped and nearly emptied my magazine when someone hissed at me.
It was Eliza, from the outpost that went down.
"What's going on?"
"Combine came for us around 4:30 in the morning. Took everyone else prisoner, I assume to be processed at Nova Prospekt. I was out taking a walk."
"Without a weapon?"
"I have a knife."
"And you sat and watched them haul away the others?"
"Fuck you Jack, not all of us have a death wish. I tried to warn the people YOU sent blindly into the trap the Combine set up. They put a gun emplacement up and cut them down. Then Freeman arrived. He's amazing, Jack. He killed the two manning the gun, with a pistol no less, and then killed many many more until he was driven off by an APC. I sent him further down the line."
"The Freeman is most resourceful. He will reach his destination."
"Your faith in Freeman's ability is most touching, Oscar. But if the Combine knew of the outpost here, they probably have a good idea about the others. I'm considering the Underground to be down for the count. I'm not sticking to the route."
"You could have at least scrounged a weapon."
I gave her one of the handguns and a few spare magazines, and sat down to think about how to get out of here.
There was one route, the one that Freeman took. It led further down the Underground route, and as such, it would be best for us to avoid that. But our other options were limited. We were boxed in quite effectively. Ahead lay more Combine. Up top were Combine. They were crawling over the area. I was not pleased in the slightest with the situation. And then, back from the direction of my former home, I hear a muffled explosion. I was the first stop on the Underground, so I had left an improvised booby trap made of a grenade and some string. The Combine were now behind us, too. This was a bad situation all around.
"Give me a boost up."
"Boost me up to the top."
"You're too heavy Jack."
"What about you Oscar?"
"My internal skeleton is of sufficient size and strength to support your weight. You may safely stand upon my back."
We got to the highest point in the area. Oscar's back is indeed quite strong, and I poked my head up to take a look around.
More bodies. Combine were dead up on the surface near the canals. An APC was roaring off into the distance. A helicopter buzzed high overhead, following the path of the Underground. Somewhere, a fire burned. The Citadel was opened, and small dots swarmed out of it - scanners probably. Larger shapes. Gunships. Alarms, the Combine dispatcher condemning Freeman of crimes against State, and far off, gunfire. Freeman was certainly making a splash, but at the time I had no idea he would survive even as long as he did. I figured his fate was sealed.
"Eliza, help Oscar up and we'll... never mind."
Oscar was surprisingly limber, and very strong. He had pulled himself up quite easily, and with no assistance from either of us. It was a simple matter to pull Eliza up after that, and we sprinted towards the cover of a burned-out building. The canals and storm drain overflows were peppered with buildings destroyed by neglect or the Seven Hour War, creating a maze of detritus and decay that would be quite depressing if it didn't provide such good cover. The second story was somewhat intact, and from there I charted out our next move. Most of the Combine had left the area, chasing Freeman I assume, but there would be a cleanup squad around here in short order. You could track the Underground route off to the east by the swarm of activity and noise off in the distance - we would have to find another way.
Towards the west was the City Proper which we wanted to avoid - the sewer system was filled with mechanical abominations unto God and Man that pretty much kept it from being used as a traffic route. Across a good bit of open ground was another storm drain system - open ground that was probably being watched by scanners. Indeed, I could count two to begin with, in a long, lazy arc about four hundred feet up. There was no way they could miss a man, a woman and a Vortigaunt. There were other paths we could take, but those lay even beyond the open ground being watched.
"We're gonna have to make a break for it. There are two scanners out there watching the roads. I'm gonna knock them out, and then you two run for the drain, designation AIEI-3. Watch for crabs before you jump down, I'll be taking up the rear. Objections?"
"An excellent plan."
"Good. I'll give you a shout."
The Mosin-Nagant was back in my hands. An anachronism from the Second World War fighting a very different enemy this time around, one of synthetics and metal and electronics instead of flesh and bone. And even then, the Great Enemies of old were yet human. Mine were very different, and at the moment, entirely mechanical.
The scanners moved slowly on a patrol route, and after watching for a bit, in a mostly predictable fashion. I chambered a round into the Mosin, and fired.
It was a good shot, one that caused smoke and fire to spew forth from the scanner and arc lazily down to impact with the ground. I had forgotten how loud the Mosin was. It made me cringe to think about how far the sound would carry, albeit distorted from echoing off many buildings and walls. It would be entirely for the best to leave as soon as possible.
I acquired the other scanner. It had detected the sound of the gunshot and had gone to investigate its downed companion, moving in an erratic fashion. My first shot missed. That's not so good. The second was better, and knocked the scanner out of the sky.
I shouted down at them to get going, and began to reload the Mosin. They had made it a good three quarters of the way across the open area before I saw no less than a full squad of Combine enter the area. Metrocops. A real joke compared to the Bluesuits with the plasma weapons, but they all had radios. I could probably kill them all at range, but not before they called the entire sector down on us. Best case scenario, they don't spot Oscar and Eliza and they leave. Worst case, they would. All there was to it.
Could have been worse. They didn't see Oscar and Eliza. Shitty soldiers. I'd gut anyone in my unit who missed those two out in the open like that. The Combine never cease to amaze me with their incompetence. They have the best technology seen on the face of this earth, heavy weapons, a huge support network, and yet, people like me can slip through the cracks. Now that it's small scale, I would love to take my old chalk from the 'States up against these fools. Without their mortars and striders and gunships, they are pathetic. But soldier, do not underestimate your foe. You'll lose your life. And so, I waited and watched.
They immediately went over to inspect the downed scanners. They were armed in a very inferior fashion, more USPs and I think I saw an MP7 or two in there. Even if they saw me at this distance, odds are good they wouldn't hit me. So, I took my rifle and ran.
It would be no good to lead them to Oscar and Eliza.
I was nearly three quarters of the way across before they noticed me and immediately opened fire. Tracers whistled by. Metrocops are notably bad shots as a whole. Unless I was hit with an incredible stroke of bad luck, I'd be alright for now.
I pounded over the walkway that spanned the canal Eliza and Oscar were in, and continued forward. Oscar would likely get the idea, and he and Eliza would egress the area. I hoped. I came to a stop just before the brim of the chosen drainage canal - mud and sludge filled the bottom. Cold, messy. But no Dreamers. I turned, shouldered my weapon, and fired at the first Combine I targeted. I hit him at least. That should slow them down. I shouldered the Mosin, drew my 1911 and hopped the 15 feet down into the muck.
My options were limited. It wasn't really a multiple-choice question. I wanted to get to Black Mesa East. That lay in one direction. More canal lay in the other. I don't like canals.
I had studied the area extensively. This canal ran parallel with Oscars, as well as Freemanâ€™s. It emptied out into the river - sadly, the river that the Combine had a supply dump on. Locks, canals, docks, they all contributed to the inexorable march of water to the Black Sea (and the vestigial remnants of a Cold War demand for oil). The fastest way to Black Mesa East was by water, and Freeman would have to deal with these things. He's a man, not a machine. My land will kill him.
Where the drainage ditches enter the river, we have an outpost with a few of our airboats. The pontoons slide easily over water or mud, or grass - it doesn't matter. That was still the plan. Get to the outpost and cut overland. It should work.
The Combine had splashed down into the muck behind me just as I was about to round a turn in the pipes - I holstered my 1911 and raised the Mosin up again for another delaying action. Shot too low, impacted just above the groin. The transmissions he'd make on the radio would be demoralizing, either way. Funny how when you threatened them, they began to spray bullets as fast as possible. That's one thing the Army did, you know. When you're angry, don't be irrational and lose control. Stay calm. Focus. You're better trained than they are. Either you have better equipment than them, or you're good enough that your shitty gun doesn't matter because you can still make the bullets go where you want. You represent the culmination of thousands of man-hours. Your Sergeants screamed at you in Basic, because they knew better than you. They knew what they wanted you to be, and they knew how to make you become it. Just like their Sergeants before them. And then, in A-School, you learned how to make war in your own way, from scouting to operating radios. What you learned was the concentrated culmination of all of those radio operators, Scouts, Medics, and whatever else came before you. Their ghosts sang to you, and taught you the things you should know to wage war.
And then, when the time came to hump a pack forty miles, place a claymore, and pitch a tent, you knew you were at the forefront of warfare. Millions of men and women had done this before you. It was the Right Way, and so you did it That Way. And when the time finally came to fire your weapon at a hostile target, you were doing the same thing those men and women had done. And you had learned The Right Way. And it worked. When you are so at ease with a weapon that you can aim and fire without thinking, without putting deliberate thought to it, you knew something special had happened. You had come full circle. And for those people who came when you were gone, you would be a voice in the choir, singing to those who came after you. They would become the spearhead of the greatest military force in the world, just like you were. Just like I am.
And as those who came before me sing, discretion is the better part of valor. That is why I was running away from a handful of metrocops. I knew what to do. I could have killed them all, easily. But not quickly. And time was of the essence. But then again, I was taking a gamble - I get too far ahead, or the Combine feel like they actually don't want to chase me into a dark, sparsely lit canal filled with ankle deep water, they'll flood it with manhacks. I can kill men easily enough. Even the Combine are flesh and bone, underneath. But odds are poor for me to defend against two dozen manhacks. It's a gamble I took. I'm here writing this, so I think you know how it went.
I had gained some good ground, but was met with a sudden dead end. Not so good. This was one of the smaller pipes, only about nine feet in height - and there was a skylight. Remember, it's not just the people who taught you to shoot and eat insects that made you who you are. It's also the people who screamed at you in the morning and sent you to PT - The men who made sure that you could do pull-ups and crunches and hundreds of pushups. I am grateful to them too. It took some work, but I clambered out of the pipe before the metrocops could nail me. They'd be getting up soon, but I'd be long gone by then. I took my bearings - it shouldn't be too far.
And then, something horrible. Something I had heard before, that conjured horrible memories of things I'd rather forget, a whistling, a hiss, long metal tubes scything through the air. Headcrab shells. Landing near the airboat docks.
I really picked up the pace from there. The outpost was less of a military mission and more humanitarian - they had a good supply of weaponry, but whether they were of the right mind to use their weapons was an unknown. So I ran. I ran a mile. It was very tiresome, but the scanners ignored me, and I grievously wounded the remaining Combine chasing me.
Indeed, the vast majority of the Combine's assets were directed elsewhere it would seem - Freeman. The helicopter gunships could be seen blossoming out to cover the canals, APCs being carried away by dropships... the arrival of Freeman signaled the end of the Resistance. From this point on, either we would die like dogs, or rise up and become something larger, something better. There would soon be no places to hide. Nowhere to run. Backs to the wall.
I became worried as I got closer to the outpost. I could hear gunshots, and the sound of something else, something I hadn't heard in a long while. Crackling, popping. I was nearly there. An overpass had collapsed over the main Underground route out. Smoke wafted from the camp. And then I remembered what the sound was, and I sprinted as fast as I could over to the edge, drawing my 1911 and hopping down.
Eliza was busy trying to nail a brace of headcrabs with the USP. Her stance was pretty poor. I'd have to correct her on that later.
Oscar, on the other hand, was doing an excellent job of turning irritable headcrabs into a gooey paste. How I envied his natural weapons. He melted faces. Blood boiled. Skin sloughed away. Ozone filled the air. And I added the bark of my weapon, and soon the crabs were dead. The camp was wrecked, and it seemed there were no survivors. Freeman had done an A job on the former inhabitants. He must have gotten one of the MP7s because the corpses of Dreamers lay all about, aerated and bleeding. There were still a few holdout crabs hiding in the nooks and crannies, like they always do. We got by them okay though.
And then to the airboat shed. Where there should have been three airboats, there were none. Where there should have been a mechanic, there was a slick of blood. Where there should have been jerry cans of fuel, there was a woman splayed out.
"Barely," she said
Dead people tend to not be very vocal.
"Are you okay? What happened?"
"Does it look like I am okay? Freeman took the last airboat out. I saw the shelling of the camp, and so I stayed here to see if any survivors came through. Mawman got me."
"We're the last. Can you walk?"
"Yeah. Don't ask me to run though."
"We'll see. Let's get going."
I armed her with the other USP and sat down for a spell. We had a problem. The river here was toxic and rather caustic. Don't want to be wading through that. Freeman took the last airboat; our fastest way of getting to Black Mesa East was gone. We had a big problem.
"We'll have to go overland as best we can. Scrap Black Mesa East, we could probably get to Flint and take a car."
And so we did.
I could tell you of what we did to get to Flint. Dreamers, crabs, Combine. I could tell you tales of watching Oscar light up the dusk sky, of the bluesuits combusting and bleeding and of how the mechanic whose name I still don't know collapsed from blood loss and we dragged her two and a half miles to Flint. At Flint, we found nothing. The outpost was deserted. All the vehicles were gone. Eliza wept, and I was angry, and Oscar went into his telepathic trance, and we saw subdued lights on the road. The last vehicle to leave Flint had a Vortigaunt in it, and he had them turn around and pick us up. These tales and more I could weave for you.
But I am tired. I have the shakes. Not of the terror I felt in Ravenholm, but of the knowledge that the morrow would bring blood, and luck, fate, God, serendipity, the Furies or any number of nameless things could condemn me to die. It's what you feel in the pit of your stomach before going to a place where you know your friends will fall. It's the foreknowledge that you're going to be part of creating new graveyards in this world for those who make war.
Black Mesa East went off the network. Maybe it's just radio silence. Maybe something more. I'm taking a team there tomorrow to check it out, assuming the Combine do not slay us in our sleep. I could stay up for days, it feels, but that's foolish. I need to sleep. Lack of it dulls the mind.
9:43PM 11/01/2014: Maw
I slept ill last night. My dreams were of our future - bodies in the streets, bodies in the ditches and canals, bodies laying in fields and in buildings. They were blurred to me. I could not tell if they were human or Combine.
I awoke with a start. N.L.O was already up and humming. Weapons were being passed out to refugees from the other outposts. Wounds being tended to. Bodies being carted away. It was as if someone had dredged the bottom of a pond, and the detritus and particulate matter was swirling around the nexus of this place. I noticed Bogdan in the far corner of the room. He was hunched over an old, beat up Kalashnikov, taking it apart and putting it back together again. Oscar taught him well, it would seem.
I walked into the command center to find Odessa and Mandel on the radio with Alyx.
"...terribly sorry to hear that."
"Gordon's heading your way, and he's going for Nova Prospekt to try to rescue my dad."
"Excellent. Beyond this minor setback, everything is proceeding as planned. Mandel out."
"Sergeant Harper, reporting."
"It's good to fall back into the old habits, isn't it Jack?"
"I'd rather be doing so under other circumstances."
"Little matter. News. Gordon Freeman made it to Black Mesa East alive, and the Combine attacked. Alyx and Gordon escaped, Gordon through Ravenholm no less. The man is brilliant. He survived that, and then the primary mineshaft before surfacing at the edge of C17. We just gave him one of the vehicles, and he's going to stop here for a short while en-route to Nova Prospekt."
"So Gordon Freeman went to our biggest and most important stronghold, and the Combine attacked immediately after that? You are asking for trouble, Odessa. And what do you think he's going to do at Nova Prospekt? Kill a few guards? Set a fire?"
"Gordon Freeman is most competent."
"Your blind hero worship sickens me. I'm taking my team to Black Mesa East to search for survivors. Give me a note for the armorer, I need a shotgun."
Odessa sighed and started scribbling something on a scrap of paper.
"You'll see the light, Jack. Freeman is different."
As I left the command post, Mandel, who had been silent for the duration of the discussion, started screaming at Odessa about insubordination or something. I didn't really care. Odessa, Alyx, all of these people are wrong. One man cannot make that much of a difference. It takes many, working together to do anything noteworthy. So Freeman had killed a few Combine. There would be more. As soon as you kill one, another steps into his place. And the more persecuted the people are, the more join the Combine. In all honesty, there is no hope for the Resistance. The drones may not know it, but I do. Odessa does. Mandel, Keith, all of them. Why do we fight? Because it is better to die in a field with six slugs in your gut over the period of several hours than it is to be crushed under the heel of an oppressor using you as a footstool. I fight to kill, not because I think one day we will restore the Old Ways. We are all headed for the abyss, the challenge is to see how many you can drag down with you.
I had my Mosin and about 25 rounds left for that. I got a shotgun from the armory - another 870 pump action. 50 shells should be enough, but you never know, so I took 70 instead. Heavy, but if this turned into a messy situation, worth it.
I assembled my team outside of Odessa's headquarters. Four other than myself - Dragon and Jaguar again, Yevgeni, and a man named Wyatt. Yevgeni was armed with a Kalashnikov, but Wyatt had an interesting weapon he later told me was a Bizon-2 sub-machine gun. Fascinating.
We took the car that I arrived in from Flint. There were overland roads to get to Black Mesa East; it would just be a gamble as to whether or not they were guarded or being watched. The car was a piece of shit that I couldn't get over 40, but it got us to where we were going around 10 in the afternoon.
We dismounted the vehicle about a mile and a half away from the facility, approaching from the east. If the Combine left a picket, we'd probably spot them from above; the rocks and bluff gave us a good vantage point. We'd stake out the area, do a head count on the Combine, try to rescue any survivors, and interfere in general with their dismantling of Black Mesa East. Hit and run, all that sort of thing. We low-crawled the last quarter mile to the overlook, so as not to silhouette ourselves, or provide an easy image for the scanners. And there were scanners. About half a dozen of them.
I would have used a pair of binoculars, but I only had my rifle scope, so I used that as a glass to survey the area. What I saw was moderately distressing. A Combine container transport was hovering over the water near the dock, and several bluesuits were loading computer towers and data storage devices into the container it carried below it. There was no way of telling how many more were inside the smoking remnants of Black Mesa East.
"Dragon, you take Wyatt and head south, and cut around at the river. You'll have to scale or cut the fence. Jaguar and Yevgeni, follow them. Split when you're inside the fence, and engage separately. Try to take down the scanners first, but not at the loss of personal safety. I'm going to be the Designated Marksman from up here, and join you when the hostiles outside are neutralized. Then we can enter the facility. Objections?"
Four people shook their head.
"Let's go. I'm going to wait ten minutes and open fire. Conceal yourselves until then."
They slipped below the ridge line and slinked away to cut around. It was a good plan. I had teamed up two people with combat experience with two I trusted, and having multiple points of engagement would be a psychological force multiplier. Snipers - dare I call myself that? - are extremely demoralizing in the fact that for the first few shots, you have no idea where it's coming from. And I'm a good shot.
I didn't have a watch on me, but with practice anyone can keep fairly accurate time by counting mentally. At seven minutes, the container ship dusted off. Four Combine sat outside, doing absolutely nothing. The first shot was a good one - tore through the heart-lung area. The shot echoed in the gulley and off the nearby dam, making it nearly impossible to gauge where the sound came from. They froze. Rookies.
The second shot was also good. A bit high, but it still struck the target, entering near the clavicle. A debilitating injury, even if I missed major vessels or arteries. They were both on the ground thrashing before the remaining two split and flattened themselves against the building where I couldn't fire upon them.
But that was okay, since I needed to take down the scanners.
My first two shots were bad, and missed. My third took down one.
25 shots remaining.
The ammunition was on convenient stripper clips. Line them up, slide them in, throw the clip away. Doesn't work like that on the model I had - the scope mount is in the way. I had to strip the ammunition off and put them in one by one, which was a hassle. It took six more shots all told to take down the remaining scanners. Someone below got a lucky hit on two of them. The scanners were being erratic today. Perhaps they had been reprogrammed since my escape.
I could hear shouting below, the clatter of the Kalashnikovs, and the funny, queer sound of the Bison. Time to shift positions.
What I saw below was rather depressing. Wyatt was slumped against the wall. I didn't want to sweep him with my rifle, so I instead looked for bluesuits. One was left, because I could see three bodies, and hear the fire of his plasma weapon. There was another problem. Four more Combine were running out of the facility, bristling with grenades. An ill omen.
Someone, I think it was Jaguar, was watching the other corner of the wall. He hit one with the first burst, and then let loose with a hail of suppressing fire. They fell back and took cover as green and blue tracers ricocheted off rocks and metal. But then, one of them got a grenade and pulled the pin out. No good. So I shot him. He collapsed in a heap, his grip on the grenade still quite firm. The remaining two had seen me, though. I immediately planted my face in the dirt to avoid the plasma slugs they threw at me. I prayed they would not use that opportunity to get a grenade over to my team.
And then I heard exactly what I didn't want to hear - a sharp explosion, and the screams of things that live. I immediately pushed back up over the small hump, and exhaled in relief. Jaguar had gotten a hold of a grenade somehow and riddled the remaining combine with shrapnel. Two more appeared in the doorway past their fallen comrades; I snapshot and hit one in the gut. He was dragged back into the room by his companion, to stay put for a while I assumed.
I made my way down the hill, slipping on the loose rock and shale. Little waves of pain went up through my boots and into my feet when I hit the ground; I needed better boots.
I sprinted over the short stretch of open ground and made my way to my team. I could see Wyatt's injury now, a crimson bloom spreading out from his thigh. He was lucid though. Very much awake. Good, not going into shock.
"Just a flesh wound, Sergeant."
"Doesn't look like that to me."
"Maybe you're wrong, Sergeant."
"Keep pressure on that."
Dragon was taking his shots very carefully. And then, he ducked back behind the wall.
"I hit him, Jack. He dropped."
I set my Mosin down and unslung my shotgun.
Sure, it was tactically unsound, but I slowly crept my way along the front of the building. He had dragged himself into a small cul-de-sac, a trail of blood screaming information in his wake. His weapon lay out in plain sight. A fine catch.
I shouldered my shotgun and snapped around the corner.
He was lying in a ever-broadening pool of blood, a horrible tear in his blue suit in the abdomen telling me about his end. I thought about interrogating him. He could give up valuable information. But then again, time was of the essence, so I shot him. I took his weapon, and rejoined my team.
"Neutralized. There's a dead Combine down the alleyway holding a live grenade. Furthermore, there's at least one mobile and one wounded target inside the doorway. We're going to move around the corner and set up firing positions. I'm going to take that grenade and bang the room. The other bodies in the alley have grenades as well, We are going to stock up. Wyatt, can you walk?"
He tried to stand up, and hobbled back and forth a few feet.
And we did it as planned. It was far too easy though. Armed anew with hand grenades and Combine weaponry to conserve ammunition, we cleared three rooms with little excitement. It consisted of cooking a grenade for three seconds and hurling it into the room so it explodes in the air, blossoming into shrapnel that tears through the room at roughly chest height if you do it right. It's a fine art, and one I learned well. After the bang, you run in and shoot everything twice. The old, familiar ground floor - supplies laying around in complete disorder. Rubble now, too. They had breached the airlocks. The heavy blast doors were blown out onto the ground. A fire had burned up here, consuming wood and paper and other inflammable things until there was nothing left. A few bodies too, charred beyond recognition as Combine or Human.
"No survivors up here."
The elevator was at the bottom level, down where Eli's lab was. The call button didn't work. You could hear movement down there, though. Any Combine would be well aware of our presence. And yet, I could hear the sounds of torches, the crackling of an arc welder? They had not stopped their work. And five stories below, I saw movement.
"Oh shit, give me a grenade. NOW."
I yanked the pin out and threw it down the shaft as hard as I could. It exploded, and when the ringing in my ears cleared, I was rewarded with screaming.
The mindless automatons that you get when you put humans into Nova Prospekt. Whenever you see one, you alternate between abject horror and pity for the at once contemptible and pathetic creature before you. They take out your organs, replace your hands with the tools that they need... I could go on, but I digress.
"Elevator's out. We'll take the access shaft."
The door was unlocked, thankfully. The access shaft was a long ladder that plunged down into the depths of the facility. Little closet rooms on each floor gave you mobility to the other floors.
"Wyatt, I don't think-"
"I volunteer to stay up here and guard the shaft."
"Good man. The rest of you, we'll take it one floor at a time. Destroy sensitive equipment, files, anything. If there are no survivors, we'll burn the rest of this place down. Time is of the essence."
The floor below us. was devoid of life, and Combine. The rec room, the barracks, the bathrooms, all empty save corpses. Congealed blood formed slicks on the ground. Nude people gunned down in showers with the water still running. Bodies in strange contortions all around. Combine energy weapon fire had scarred the walls.
We actually encountered Combine here. But they were dead. That was encouraging. Someone had taken a shotgun to three of them, but not before being mortally wounded. He bled out leaning up against one of the many generators, and the boot tracks of other Combine had come through here, leaving bloody imprints leading towards the elevator.
Kitchen and medical was depressing. This time there were the bodies of Vortigaunts in with the humans, and electrical burns on the walls. I wondered when the Combine cleanup teams were due.
Medical had a cave in that blocked three quarters of the room off. Funny thing about Medical, actually. The exits are only on one side of the room. And on the other side, I could hear talking, beyond the great slabs of granite and reinforced concrete.
A stump with no hand snaked out from under the rubble.
"Da, I am here."
"How many of you are there?"
"Combine attack. Roof fall in and trap us back here. We can't get out."
"Let us try."
We probed the wall of rubble for weak spots, thin spots, places where it was loose and easy to move. There weren't any. This was a bad situation, one I wanted anyone but me to be in at that moment in time.
"Ivan, we cannot move any of it. Let us clear the rest of the building, and then we will come back and try again."
We ran out of Medical, and went to the bottom floor with great caution. Perhaps the Combine didn't know of the access shaft, because no one was guarding it. No mines, energy fields, automated turrets...nothing.
I was the pointman and got there first while the other three stayed up on Medical. The closet was clear, as was the room beyond, and I beckoned the others down to me.
The Fifth Sublevel basement was where Eli's lab was located, as was the route to Ravenholm and several other points of interest, including the secondary elevator shaft. That had an extremely large and heavy steel cap. Sublevels 6, 7, and 8 were flooded. And there were rumors about strange creatures living down there, and Dreamers. I have no idea what this facility was originally for, since most of the levels in here were not used for hydroelectric purposes, but it served us well. And now, we were going to burn it.
The Combine had no pickets. We did find a dead end where rubble had caved in from the level above, spelling the doom of Ivan and the others with him. It cut us off from the Ravenholm exit, which was my alternate plan of egress. Shit.
"Time's a wasting."
We were kind of reckless in the way we assaulted the lab. We just threw about five grenades in and ran in after they went off. Stalkers. Combine. And oh shit, the Stalkers were paying attention to us. The ones that weren't injured or horribly mangled started walking towards us with the intent to tear flesh and break bones. I didn't need to tell my men what to do, because I set an example by immediately shooting the closest one. And then, I felt unbelievable agony as a plasma weapon's fire scoured the side of my head and burned away part of my ear. Rookies, everywhere. Me for not clearing the communications room before engaging the Stalkers. Them for missing me at such a close range. Or perhaps he was being careful to not hit the Stalkers. I don't know. But I dropped to the ground and swung my weapon around. Whitesuit. If he was loathe to hit the Stalkers, maybe he wouldn't use the plasma grenades. The scorched nerve endings in my face screamed at me and clouded my mind. So I just sort of pointed the plasma weapon and emptied it at him. Hit him a few times. He ducked back into the communication room.
The plasma rifle was empty, and my team was taking care of the Stalkers (and man, there were a lot of them), so I dropped the plasma weapon and unslung my shotgun. This would be hard. I had no grenades left, and I'm pretty sure no one else did either. I stood up (and as I said before, I wasn't in the most lucid of conditions), and simply ran into the room, firing into the prone form of the Whitesuit once, and once again to ensure his death. By the time I came back out of that room, the last Stalker was down and writhing on the ground.
"Good work. Trash this shit."
I went back into the communication room and retrieved the Whitesuit's weapon. It had a plasma grenade inside. Excellent. He also had a sidearm, another USP which I retrieved. More grenades from the dead bluesuits. We set the grenades up, and destroyed everything. Communications. Computers. Files. Lab equipment. Someone found a jerry can of gasoline and we burned the electronics we could not easily destroy with hand grenades.
"Let's get out of here."
I had to go back to Ivan.
"You men still not found a way out of there?"
We tried a few things, even detonating grenades near the rubble. Nothing. I was afraid of what I had to do. I had to leave them. The decision was expedited by Wyatt upstairs firing his Bizon at something and yelling.
"Ivan, we have to go. I am sorry."
I slid the USP under the small crack where Ivan had initially stuck his hand out.
"What's this for?"
"In case the Combine come for you."
But I knew they wouldn't. They would leave them there to starve. They would die a slow and painful death. Or maybe not.
We scaled the ladder as fast as we could. Wyatt was there, and had no injuries beyond his original. He was surrounded by empty shells, and three dead Combine lay out in front of his field of fire in the room.
"Cavalry arrived, Sergeant."
"We're getting out of here."
We crept and Wyatt limped along as best we could. They had brought 12, which is a full squad, and maybe more. Plus the gun on the transport, which would tear us to bits. We had grenades though, and when we made contact, we used all of them. I split off with Dragon and went around the other side of the building and we flanked them near the entrance hall. Six down. Six more, at least.
These were outside, in the alley, holding defensive positions. We were completely out of grenades, and there weren't any to scrounge off the dead Combine. We had a problem, a serious problem.
I set the plasma rifle and my shotgun down, and unslung the Mosin, which I had earlier left on the ground floor with Wyatt. If I didn't get shot, they'd probably cook a grenade and blow me to bits, but it was worth a try. It would be an offhand shot, a tough one to make. As I edged towards the doorway, I said a quiet little prayer, and as soon as a bit of blue appeared in my scope, I squeezed the trigger.
They opened fire, but I had already ducked back out of the doorway. And then, I did it again.
Then the grenades flew, and I ran back behind cover with the rest of my team. And then, I repeated it once again.
I know I've said it before, but despite having the best technology on the planet, the Combine are terminally stupid. When there were three left, they ran back to the cover of the transport that I could hear buzzing around out there. We'd have to walk into its field of fire to leave.
"We've got a problem."
Watching for an ambush, we moved out to the corner of the building. More grenades, which would do nothing against the transport. I still had the plasma grenade from the Whitesuit though.
"May as well try it."
And so we did. The plasma grenade has a slight delay before firing, maybe one and a half seconds. But when you're standing in front of three Combine and a plasma cannon, it feels like a very long time. I don't know why I was so lucky today. The device not only hit the transport, but burned right through it, causing it to scream and fall into the river, thrashing like the wounded animal it was. We took down the remaining two Bluesuits, butchered the whitesuit, and left the area.
A heavier response descended upon Black Mesa East, but we were already in our vehicle speeding away at 40 miles per hour. We made it back with little excitement. Wyatt's wound started bleeding again, but we stopped it. Shakti took a look at my burn before cussing me out and screaming at me to leave her "office". Apparently it will leave a lovely scar. My fortune is incredible. Serendipity smiles upon me. Some days I wish it didn't, and I'd just die.
I am tired. Gordon Freeman came through when we were gone. He shot down a Combine gunship, with one of the launchers MY men died to retrieve. He tore ass up and down the coast, annihilating all the Combine in his path. The man is a walking arsenal now. He breathes, and something or someone dies. To listen to these people, you'd think he was Ares reborn. Gordon Freeman will die though. Nova Prospekt will chew him up and spit his mangled and broken body back out, and they will realize the futility of hope.
11:33PM 11/02/2014: Knight takes Castle, Check.
I slept fitfully, and down in the command post no less.
"...flares seen over Nova Prospekt"
"...series of loud explosions"
And then. Odessa's voice cut through my dreams.
"It's time to go to work, Jack."
N.L.O was thrown into chaos. If I thought that we had a large influx of refugees yesterday, I redefined my definition of "large" today. Lighthouse Point was annihilated. The entire Underground along the canal system had been torn from its moorings. We lost Kappa, Theta, Slate, Granite, Marble, Delta, G8 through G19, and even the three observers at Post 113. The infrastructure of the Resistance was devastated. And here we were. Hundreds of us. All this I knew within five minutes of awakening, by the X'es drawn on the map and by looking out the window.
"What do you mean, Odessa?"
"I have an announcement to make. Come."
He climbed the stairs and went out onto the balcony.
"HUMANS, VORTIGAUNTS, CITIZENS OF EARTH AND THE HEAVENS, I HAVE GOOD NEWS."
The din and the roar of the crowd died down.
"LAST NIGHT AT 4:33 AM, NOVA PROSPEKT WAS BROUGHT DOWN BY DR. GORDON FREEMAN."
I was suddenly dizzy, and sat down.
"We must strike while the iron is hot. We are forming platoons for military action against the Combine while they reel from this terrible blow struck to them. If you wish to take part in the liberation of your world, talk to Marie in the barracks. Our officers will pull from the pool of candidates."
"Make your mark on history. Do not go gently into that good night, but let the funereal pyres of the Combine light your path, and the rubble of their Citadel give you materials to rebuild your homes. Our purpose is right and our goals honorable. Good luck."
Odessa had a lot to learn about speaking to integrated groups of people, many of which did not learn English as a first language. But still, even those who did not understand the majority of what he was saying apparently got riled up, and a flood of humanity poured into the barracks as he climbed off the balcony and back down into the command post.
"I don't like being kept in the dark about things Odessa. Did you just randomly decide to launch a major offensive against the Combine with no input at all from anyone else?"
Odessa sighed and looked at me.
"Jack, you have to understand that even though you are reliable to a fault and I trust you with my life, there are some things I have to keep you and everyone else in the dark about. There are things going on in this world that I am very small in relation to. Just a cog in a machine. And you are the grease that keeps my cog turning. Grand things are percolating, Jack. Have a bit of faith."
"Are we making full platoons, or smaller units? You have enough for maybe six at most out there."
"They're actually about half the size of a regulation platoon. And while you are technically not qualified to lead a platoon, I'm giving you an acting promotion anyway. Go get your team together. I have work to do."
Mandel was in the far corner busy shuffling maps and files, and said not a word of objection, so I left. I was rather disappointed, in fact. I hate being surprised. Somehow, it was all okay in the Old Wars. You had a chain of command, and you had idiots within the chain of command, but there were competent people too, and somehow it all worked out. It was less tangible here.
And then there were the tactical matters of this plan. Having 20-odd men was an invitation to have a single mortar directed by a scanner take us all out at once. Or a sole helicopter annihilate us. We also didn't have enough NCOs or equivalents to keep everything in working order. But it's too late for that. It was time to assemble my team.
The hopefuls had assembled in front of the barracks, and I had gotten my pick of them because I had looked at the list before my peers did. There were well over one hundred assembled, and from them I would choose the brightest, the seasoned, those who were at ease with weapons and the rending of flesh. But not the eager, the fresh-faced, those who wanted blood at any cost. They were liabilities, and their emotions were prone to endangering their fellows. They are the proverbial sand in the engine. Let someone else deal with them.
And thus I chose my team.
First two choices were Dragon and Jaguar, obviously. I was hoping they wouldn't receive their own commission, because I wanted to use them as squad leaders. I don't know if they were scheduled for it or not, because I immediately snapped them up.
Third was James Argyll. Anything he lacked in combat experience he made up for in cunning or perhaps blind luck; escaping the scene of carnage when our raiding party was demolished was no small feat on his part.
Fourth, fifth and sixth were former Ukrainian Army personnel.
Seventh was a Finn who jokingly went by the name of "Nokia". Yeah, like the former cell phone company.
Eighth was a Spaniard named Juan.
Ninth and tenth were two brothers from Poland.
Eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth were the remnants of a Swiss platoon. They might be trouble later, because groups of people who stick together for a long enough time may challenge authority, but their experience and ability could possibly be worth any trouble in that department.
Fifteenth was an American named Mike, a former helicopter pilot. No military training, but those who worked with him said he was resourceful and capable with firearms.
Sixteenth was Wyatt. You might question the wisdom of recruiting a freshly injured man with a leg wound, but I saw him moving about at a great pace despite his wound, which had also been neatly cauterized the day before by Shakti. It caused him pain, but he was motivated and in my judgment he was not a liability.
Seventeenth was another American who went by the name Olly. He had spent time in a military prison for beating a prisoner to death, but I liked the way he was handling his Kalashnikov. Besides, we weren't going to be taking prisoners.
Eighteenth was an Iranian named Navid. He was a seasoned guerilla fighter, having engaged in some "questionable" activities during the Iranian revolution of 2009. Older than me, and probably just as capable at improvising munitions.
Nineteenth was a very earnest German man, soft spoken and lugging around a genuine US Army M14 battle rifle. Part of a NATO stockpile I suppose.
And last, Bogdan.
Why I chose Bogdan I don't know, and I have the nagging feeling that I will regret it in the future. Oscar had been cracking the lash, but he was still inexperienced, green, untried. I guess I felt sorry for him. Officers (or acting officers) should not feel pity and then do something that jeopardizes the entire team.
Mine was the first team to be fully fleshed out, and thus we were the first to hit the arsenal. A rainbow of the same things poured out of the shed - Kalashnikovs for everybody. Except me. I had excellent long-range capability, so they gave me a shotgun once again. Someone found a battle pack of 7.62x54 ammunition in a sealed tin somewhere, so my supply of ammunition for the Mosin shot up a good bit. That was comforting. Overall, we had a good stockpile of ammunition here - Odessa's little elves must have been working overtime. That, or in the collapse of the outlying outposts, some enterprising folks must have taken their station's supplies with them. It was rather heartening in a way. We'd go to our deaths with weapons firing, at the very least.
Because that's what this is. Mass suicide. But we have no other choice. We can wait calmly at the edge of the abyss to be eaten, or charge the tiger with rocks, sticks, and kick a little dirt in its face. Better than getting eaten by a Dreamer, or drowning like one of the guys did at 72 Theta.
My men assembled. An interesting mix of the military and civilian. Discipline, and probable lack thereof. I led them away from the main group towards the motor pool that had assembled.
I had talked to Dragon and Jaguar beforehand, when everyone else was at the armory. They had already begun herding their charges apart into separate groups. When I held up my hand, they both silenced their respective groups.
"I am your commanding officer for the duration of the Combine occupation of earth. For those of you who were not in the military, that means this:
I am the single highest authority in the land. Your job is to obey my orders. You have no morals while you are here, and you will take orders from no one else but me. Do not think about the repercussions of what I tell you to do - I will answer to both Man and God for the sins you will commit under my command.
Your orders are this, in this priority:
To protect and further the causes of unaltered Humans.
To protect your teammates and other members of the armed Resistance.
To thwart and interfere with the Combine.
And finally, to kill all altered humans you encounter.
These orders will be bent and broken, but only by my direction or the direction of your Sergeants. They are my hands. Anything they say should be treated as if it came from the mouth of angels. We three are the first, the last, and the only people in the world you should concern yourself with beyond the other members of your squad.
Finally, if you harm an unaltered human without a say-so from myself or your Sergeant, I will put a bullet in your gut and leave you to die somewhere, alone and in excruciating agony.
You have been divided into two teams. Each time has been given a radio. The brass inside N.L.O has given us our callsigns - the first team is Alecto. The second is Tisiphone. My callsign is Megaera. We are the Furies.
Alecto will be led by Acting Sergeant Walsh, callsign Dragon. Megaera by Acting Sergeant Bower, callsign Jaguar. In the event of my death, leadership will be taken by Acting Sergeant Walsh. Know your Sergeants. Love your Sergeants. Your Sergeants are your emissaries to me. If you break the chain of command, what you have to say better be worth it. Any questions?"
The throng was silent.
"We have marching orders to take four vehicles and make our way to the remains of Nova Prospekt. Preliminary reports indicate that there are antlions swarming the place - Brass says they have a way of dealing with that. Some of you will be experiencing combat for the first time, and I have this to say to you - it won't be like what you expect. Keep a cool head and don't go spraying at shit on full auto or I'll break the fire control selector off and leave you with a gimped weapon. Any questions about this mission?"
No one spoke.
"Dragon and Jaguar will assign drivers. Go back to the barracks and pick up your remaining gear. Be back in fifteen minutes."
They were excited. People ran around the camp, looking busy. People were stoked, fired up, anxious. Everyone was, it seemed, but me. I simply could not generate the hooah gung-ho necessary. But I would try to whip these people into a frenzy, because that was my job. They needed to feel like the baddest motherfuckers in the universe... but not invincible. They needed to feel like killers, men who destroy and rip and tear... but cautious killers. A lust for violence must be tempered by reason and experience. The desire to destroy your enemy must be held back by the desire to keep you and your squadmates alive. A fine psychological line must be crossed between demoralization and the destruction of your unit.
Usually, the feeling of invincibility ends the first time you see someone with a gut wound bleed to death, and his lunch is oozing out of his abdomen. When it is extinguished that abruptly, it is very bad for morale.
How to deal with this was the primary focus of my thought when everyone reassembled.
Dragon had gone and talked to whoever was in charge of the motor pool to find out which vehicles we were using - his work as a Sergeant had already begun. Five vehicles. All of them were broken-down pieces of shit, but if they ran, we could use them, and so we did. My Sergeants gave them the rundown on engaging targets from the vehicles. There are always two ways to do something - the wrong way, and the Army Way. The Army Way is always right because the Army Way became that way after hundreds of years of functionality. My men must be taught the Right Way and the Wrong Way. And that's what my Sergeants are for.
To teach, and to act as intermediaries, and in essence, to play Good Cop/Bad Cop. Many of these men have no idea who I am. Unlike in a conventional army, I don't have time to garner respect from these people. They'll distrust me, wonder what they were doing taking orders from me, and probably revile me. My Sergeants mitigate that. They are on a more personal level. By befriending the men and then telling them they have faith in my ability, I am left without concern about whether my orders will be followed and can concentrate on more important things, like trying to keep the entire unit alive.
The vehicles were noisy, but as we drove we sang. Cadence is a surprisingly important part of unit psychology. There are many different songs to sing. Pop tunes, the very traditional songs, the one-hit wonders, the formulated cadence ditties. We all know about Eskimo pussy, right?
I disliked the branch-specific cadences. One of my old Sergeants used an anti-war song from the seventies, "War Pigs". He was enthusiastic about his job, mind you, he just liked the way it sounded. So did I. Yet, that was back in America. This was not America, nor were most of the people here Americans. Such things must be factored in when choosing a cadence. Jaguar cut to the chase and chose one for us.
Load another magazine, in my trusty M16. Cuz all I ever wanna see is bodies, bleeding bodies. Throw another hand grenade! Should have seen the mess I made. Cuz all I ever wanna see, is bodies, broken bodies. Stab em with the bayonet! If he squirms you're not done yet! Cuz all I ever wanna see, is bodies, cut-up bodies. Call some more TACAIR. On that bunker over there. Cuz all I ever wanna see, Is bodies burnin bodies!
Sure we didn't have M16s or TACAIR, or CAS, or anything capable of raining fire from the sky, but it was catchy, and they picked it up quick. There are other verses, mind you. Then we sang the Napalm Song, specifically about how it sticks to children. That one is pretty much universal. Then, in one of the other vehicles, the Swiss started singing something in German. It sounded old. I could make out something about broken bodies and severed heads.
You might question why you would sing songs about immolating children with napalm, or parading someone's head around on a pike. I was mystified before going into Basic too. But then I realized something in the sandbox. We sing about killing people in horrible ways because frankly, that's our job.
To shatter bones and tear flesh and burn and destroy and widow and to spill blood and guts out on the earth. We sing about these things because our lot in life is to visit violence upon others. We signed up for it (in most cases anyway), we trained for it and screamed "kill!" during bayonet practice, and let the system mold us. And mold us it did. All your training goes towards making you not hesitate when you have some bastard in your sights to pull the trigger or press the button and end his life.
This is what the ex-military had going for them.
The civilians I tried to avoid, with few exceptions. Mike, for one. You don't give an idiot the controls of an expensive aircraft. He said he had been a recreational firearm owner to begin with - eyewitnesses confirmed his ability with small arms. He was perfect for what I needed. My desire to take competent people have to be tempered by my desire to not leave the other unit commanders with big problems - like an all-civilian team.
But between the military and the civilian, from Bogdan up to myself, there was one common tie - hatred. It burns you up from the inside. These men, these women, these humans in the Resistance, we hated more than any one race hated another, any religion hated another, any person or creed or revolution hated. We all hated, and when we entered combat the bloodlust would fill us and even if we wanted to it would be next to impossible to take prisoners. Later, once we've had our cup filled, would we be thinking on a more tactical scale. A good guess was that most of my casualties would occur within the first 36 hours of combat.
We were approaching Vortigaunt Camp.
Smoke wafted overhead, Alarms blared, echoing off the strange geometry in the area. Nova Prospekt was a prison set upon a bluff overlooking the sea. Towards the land was a series of rolling hills with dead grass that they burned every year in the Old Days to destroy cover for escapees. To the sea was a huge drop into now alien-infested waters. It was worse now, with the auto-turrets and the hoppers and the Dreamers and the gunships. Supposedly Gordon Freeman had taken care of those.
I radioed in, yelling above the sound of singing.
"Megaera to Wolverine, come in."
"We are receiving you."
"Furies approaching Vortigaunt Camp, please advise as to orders."
"Megaera, your orders are as follows:
Take on Vortigaunt at camp who will be assigned to you. Perform Search and Destroy mission and sterilize the area. Do not enter the facility, remain on the surface. You will be joined later by a special unit, and will form a perimeter for their defense. Scavenge any usable weapons. Wolverine out."
Our job was to kill any Combine left in the area, scavenge any arms and ordinance, and secure the area against further excursion. Fair enough. Later, a new team would arrive, probably led by a more "capable" officer leading a team more elite than mine, and would enter the winding tunnels and cavernous spaces beneath, likely to search for Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance, neither of which had been sighted. A good mission for a newly formed unit. I did wonder how they were going to deal with the antlions though.
We ditched the cars in front of the winding trail to the camp. To the right, the old rotting houses and accoutrements of the beach seemed ominous in the mid-day sun, concealing shadows in their entropy-touched grasp. Shadows that could contain a sniper. Or a spotter, ready to call down artillery or a gunship on our position. But I didn't think so. The corpses of antlions lay strewn across the beach, gunshot wounds spattering their bodies. What fool walked the beach? The antlions were in full spawn this time of year.
"From this point onward we are operating under silence."
All talking ceased, all singing cut short. That's the power of command.
Jaguar took point, Dragon took rear, and we made our way through the trail to the Vortigaunt Camp.
Once again, I cannot stress how uncomfortable I am with these untested and untried people. Perhaps others gave them good ratings in action, but I haven't. The ex-military moved like you're expected to - backs straight, heads swiveling, absorbing as much as they could of the surroundings. Mike and Bogdan did not, and Mike should have known better. There were others as well, and I made a note of this.
A container ship whined overhead, and we all immediately hit the deck. Better.
Vortigaunt Camp was aptly named; many of the Vortigaunts that desired a modicum of isolation chose to live out here, near Nova Prospekt than with the humans. Still, we trickled in, and like a cancerous growth our numbers spread. Vortigaunt Camp is juxtaposed between dangers - the very real, very cruel one of the Combine, and the insidious swarming one of the antlions. Indeed, after losing several of their number to antlions, they began experimenting with them - and beyond that I know nothing.
Half a dozen rifles welcomed us, their muzzles wide and black. This is nothing new in a post-apocalyptic world full of paranoia.
"Acting Lieutenant Harper with Fury Platoon. We're here on orders from Wolverine to pick up personnel and proceed to Nova Prospekt."
One of the faces behind the rifles stepped forward.
"I'm Strevinsky. This way."
I followed him across the shoddy camp to a small fortress made of old crates and tables. A radio sat on it, along with some other gear that I was unfamiliar with. A Vortigaunt was spewing gibberish at another, a strange and unpleasant sound that grated the nerves and made you feel nauseous.
"This is Harper. Colonel Cubbage wants him to take someone with the bugbait to Nova Prospekt."
The taller Vortigaunt turned from the conversation and gave a baleful glare to the man named Strevinsky.
"We have been informed of this ahead of time. You are dismissed, The Strevinsky."
He strolled away, leaving me with the intimidating fellow. Some people say Vortigaunts look and act all the same, but that's just sheer idiocy. They are all different. I think the Vortigaunts at Vortigaunt Camp harbored more than a little resentment towards the humans for invading their turf. Little matter.
"We are assigning Grakdesh to The Harper's unit. He will explain the nature of the pheropods. You are dismissed."
I walked away and returned to my men. A Vortigaunt was already there, and from the way he spoke I could tell it was going to be a long day. Cheerful. Chipper, even. Irritating.
"You are Grakdesh?"
"And you are The Harper."
"Greetings. I have been assigned to your unit for the purpose of protection against the antlions. Their nature is-"
"Hold that thought just a moment, Mr. Grakdesh."
I muttered something in Jaguar's ear, and he left the main unit and made his way towards Nova Prospekt.
"Continue if you please."
"As we were saying, they are taken from the corpses of brood mothers. The pheromones they give off drive the antlions into a frenzy, but protect the brood mother. We have ascertained that this is replicable in humanoids. Indeed, there is strong evidence that they assisted greatly when The Freeman destroyed the facility."
"So what you're saying is the bugs won't attack us."
"Good enough for me."
"Make note of this - they lose effectiveness over time. These have been in storage. The freshest we gave to The Freeman."
I gave a talking to about the way things are done to Bogdan, Mike, and the others. In private, mind you. If they did not mend their ways, I'd just do it in front of the rest of the unit. Bogdan wouldn't make eye contact with me. We'd have to address that later.
After about half an hour, Jaguar returned.
"Several bunkers along the coast are empty. I managed to get up the bluff, and saw the container ship unloading troops. There's about a platoon's worth that I saw up on the surface, and they've got an APC with them. They cordoned off the area surrounding a large crater. There may be more down there."
Each team had one of the RPG launchers we took from Ravenholm and a dozen rockets. We went over the plan.
"The exit from this camp leads out to the beach. We could proceed along the beach and find an entrance to the prison from the shore, but we would start from the bottom and we do not want to do that. So, I propose a dangerous maneuver. We're going to climb up the hill and attack from the level. There are no pickets, so we should not be spotted. From there, we will split into two groups. Follow your Sergeants. Your Sergeants will also find the men used to these rockets the most and you will be assigned to take down the APC. It's EU, at least one of you must have used one before.
If we are not spotted once we've gotten into position, the attack will begin by rocketing the APC. No sooner. Do not engage until after the rockets are fired, and make sure we don't catch each other in our fire. If you have any questions, ask your Sergeants. You're fighting with the best of the best. That's why I chose you. Let's go kick some ass."
Sure, it was a little hooah, but soldiers need that. It's their job to shoot, not think. It's my job to worry about the troops and heavy weapons that Jaguar may have missed, or the possibility of them calling in a gunship, or the antlion bait not working, or a group freezing up when they see a grenade, or both the rockets missing, or a gas leak somewhere causing a huge explosion. And so on, and so forth.
We made it up the bluff with some difficulty. We were not spotted.
The area above reminded me of footage I saw of the aftermath of a nuclear weapon being detonated. Trees bent over. Buildings scoured of paint. A fine layer of dust covered everything like talcum powder. It was actually concrete, remnants of debris flung far and wide from a large explosion. In the distance, a huge pillar of smoke rose into the sky, occasionally scythed through by Scanners. Explosions sounded off, muffled and faint.
The outside of the compound itself had some tertiary structures surrounding it. It made for good cover. The debris thrown out of the crater by the blast created a small rise, and it was from this we would engage the Combine. I was the Designated Marksman, so after giving a thorough inspection of our lines, I adjourned to a rubble-strewn second floor for anti-personnel work. The springs were tensed. The coils wound tight. The hour of desolation was nigh.
"Megaera to both units. Go."
I noted a three second delay between the first and second rockets, but little matter. The first went low, and impacted the ground just short of the APC. The second hit the turret, and shattered the clear bubble, showering the occupants with molten metal. That's called a K-hit - it implies a "kill". We want to avoid M-hits, which destroy the mobility of the vehicle but not the systems, leaving an armored, stationary pillbox.
Doesn't matter. The APC was out of commission, and the Combine were in chaos.
I was in the middle of the two units, each about 30 yards away from the building I occupied. It was too obvious a target if they had any heavy weaponry. Perhaps if they didn't notice I was sniping out of it, they wouldn't fire upon it. The berm of earth was good cover, and exposed only part of the upper torso, arms, and head. Sure, you were in a bad spot if anyone hit you, but the odds of that are low with the notorious Combine dedication towards mediocrity. Still.
The earth erupted as we opened fire, a 21 gun salute to death. I didn't get to take any shots for the first 15 seconds because every Combine I had in my sights was hit by other fire. We took down ten in under thirty seconds, the rest scurrying for cover. Inadequate cover. One had his back to a twisted washing machine that must have been vomited out of the underground. He must have thought it was solid, but it had a hole in it the size of my fist. Through it, you could see his back. My first two shots missed, but careful adjustment of the elevation and windage, and I managed to put a slug through. To the left, someone was trying to lay suppressing fire for his retreating fellows, and I managed to tag him on the first shot. Someone started spraying plasma into the windows of the house, but before I could get a sight picture he got nailed by what I later identified as the German man with the M14. Fair's fair.
I got five more Combine. The last I tried to use the old guerilla sniper's trick on - grievously wound someone in your field of fire, put him in a lot of pain, and wait. After about five minutes of listening to him scream once the gunfire quieted down, they sent two to retrieve him - one made it back. They only fell for it once.
We were at a dangerous impasse. Our numbers were about even. They had better weapons, but a disadvantage - at least for now. When we left our berm to go sterilize them, we would be severely outmatched. In the old days, this would be the time to call in MLRS and liquidate the area. Or TAC to drop napalm. But we had neither.
Dragon's group had more experienced men (to the best of my knowledge anyway) than Jaguar's did. They would be the bait. We did have grenades - each man had two. One of the many advantages of raiding the arsenal early. There would be a good stretch of open ground before they could get into throwing distance. Perfect for a trap.
Then I saw something out of my peripheral vision, something small and brown flying through the air. Vortigaunt probably did it. They are surprisingly strong. It splatted against one of the walls of a burned out building. Fascinating. Vortigaunts fool you into thinking they are a superior higher form of life, and then they start throwing shit at people.
Just as I was about to give the order for Dragon's group to move into grenade range and Jaguar's group to cover them, I heard the buzzing of wings, many wings. And from the pit behind the rubble, flew antlions. Dozens. They swarmed over the buildings, and soon you could hear the cries of the Combine, the hissing of the antlions, and the sound of plasma fire. The plasma fire went on after the hissing stopped.
And then something strange happened. A flash of white in a window. A red glow. And suddenly, out stepped a Whitesuit, his uniform spattered with green and yellow and red, flecks of antlion fused to his glove. And then, as I lined up a shot, he fired.
Somewhere to my left I heard someone yell something about plasma grenades, and I heard far-off gunshots. Crimson stains appeared on the whitesuit as a myriad of calibers pierced his shell. Another flash from his gun, and another grenade, this headed towards my window. As he fell, he fired another.
The plasma grenade he fired at me chewed through the windowframe and came right into the room. I made myself as small as possible. I didn't want to die. It cratered into the well, hit the ceiling, and burned a hole through the floor. It hit the ground floor, bounced off that, and began to eat back through the second story before exploding.
The floor buckled and thrashed, and splinters peppered the side of my face. Nothing in the eyes. Good. Then the floor fell, and I hit the ground hard.
My first thought was "Oh shit, now I'm going to have to realign my scope." My second was just "Oh shit."
I immediately stood up and looked to the left. Everything was good. I looked to the right, and saw one of the Swiss soldiers defying the laws of gravity. He was up off the ground, floating in mid-air, and being thoroughly consumed by the plasma grenade. His Kalashnikov had fallen out of his hand, and it too was being turned to free-floating ash. He was letting out a weird half-scream, and then he was gone.
Everyone was fine except our poor Swiss man. There was nothing left of him but the stench of ozone, and a few memories in the minds of his companions. That grenade had flown low, ricocheted off the rubble at the base of the berm, and come up to hit him in the face. Combine weapons were cruel. At least with a normal grenade you are given a corpse.
The two groups merged into one again.
"Let it be known that his death was not in vain."
Someone from behind me asked why it wasn't.
"Because he died fighting the Combine. He took seven down with him. An admirable number."
Of course I had no way of knowing if he killed seven Combine.
We spread out, advanced slowly, and sterilized the area without further incident beyond a handful of wounded which we dispatched with incredible efficiency before rearming ourselves.
The gaping chasm was interesting, to say the least. It was as if a huge plug of facility had been blown out, leaving a hollow shell. Remnants of Combine were everywhere. And one man did this. What an incredible man.
A perimeter was established, both from outside threats and anything more that came out of the hole. Grakdesh told me that the pheromones would protect us. He said that the antlions would not turn on us, even if we attacked them, so I put a kill-on-sight order out for them. Gunfire has been popping throughout the evening.
I found a small building we missed, built into the earth. A ramp led down to a door, a bloody handprint festooned upon it. I got Mike and Olly together, and we entered it.
The light was on.
We split up and cleared around large machinery;, it was a generator building. Behind the last, I found an injured Combine.
His eyeplates glowed yellow in the poorly lit room, and he gazed balefully at me, clutching his torso. I shot him.
The generator room is now my command and control area. Sure, I'm spending most of my time out with the men, waiting for what I think are inevitable Combine reinforcements, and the special team, but it still has its uses. I'm also using it as a weapons dump. We'll see what happens.
I have work to do. This is my last entry. I am leaving this journal here, on an overturned bucket next to the dead Trans-Human. The cover is blank. This room is dry, no humidity at all. Maybe I'll come back for it. Maybe not. Either way, I'm going to try my hardest and my best to ensure that when it is found, it's not under a Combine ruled Earth. I'll sacrifice all these men if that's what it takes. A hundred men, if it takes that. A division. Millions. If it takes all but one man and one woman to die, that is acceptable to me. We will not remain under the thumb of these men in blue suits. That's all they are. Men. Men bleed. If they can bleed, we can bleed them dry, crack their resolve, burn their vehicles, slaughter their resources, execute their collaborators, destroy their hatcheries, exterminate their young, and if we cannot do this we will salt the earth and throw ourselves on our swords. If we cannot have Earth, no one will.
The line must be drawn, not in the sand but in the hearts and minds of those who hate oppression, tyranny, and injustice. The line that says "We will do whatever it takes, fire through any human shield, destroy ourselves if necessary. No compromise, and no defeat until every last one of us is dead."
We must be fanatical, unreasonable, unfearing and immoral. We are going to be doing things that would turn the stomach of any sane man. Brutal things. Torture. Murder. Our resolve is strong. Our will unbreakable. Our cause just, and the ends justify the means. May God have mercy on my soul.