hecu_marine: (HECU)
Now, here is the story of the aerial part of the last great battle of Earth, and those who have survived it will swear that it is true:

Of old were the days | when the Worms lived;
Sea nor cool waves | nor green things there were;
Sand only, and rock | and foot-road and rail-road
And mighty pipes | that fed then the Beasts-

Fed fat on life | on men, on beasts
On all things living | fed by their masters
Took in the good | and gave forth ill
Spewed gas for maggots | that horrors breathed.

Long days I remember | years without birth
No children brought forth | by the conquered ones;
Years under yoke | of out-world horrors
Brought to an end | when the black tower fell.

The road to days | not yet known, not numbered,
Lay open before | the sons of Men;
Fog over the future | lifted, parted,
Hope came again | to daughters of Earth.

They came then to places, | arms gleaming, loaded
Five places there were, | one for each land
Each place that bore life | to slaughter the Worms
They bore the lambda | or fought on their own

And last came the fighters | to the Khan's country
In the high desert, | center of centers
Farthest from sea | of all places on land
Sixth of the Worms, | to the last place they came.

Its death they brought, | foulness for foulness;
A venom most dear | to lay it low;
Within a shell, | an enemy's likeness,
Meant not to be seen | until the end.

But the Worm's masters | knew venom coming
Threw their sky-eyes down | destroyed what remained;
The battle then fell | to foot-fighters
The Freeman must cross | the blood-painted sand.

And a second burden | be given away,
A second death | be brought to the Worm,
Warheads in plenty, | the ninety-second element
A weapon to use | once in a lifetime.

The Freeman would do it | would end the Worm
But the Worm's masters | gave order to stop him
Sent frog-things, crab-things | synths once called men
And whales of the sky | living guns, sky monsters.

Others have sung | of the land-fighters
Other tales tell | the way of that battle
I tell the sky-story | and what followed after
Of battle in heaven, | and then of the fall.

Black were the skies | with the Worm's masters
Throngs of steel beasts | both living and metal
Heavy with guns | with eyes blood-seeking
Death for the sons | and daughters of Earth.

Few were their foes | who could take wing;
Few the fighters were | who met them there;
A small band, a sky-band | took heaven's roads
Rose up from the land | of the Khans to meet them.

From below the dragon | mighty comes forth;
Kreyu the vast | she of great power
Once-dead, twice-born | returned to our world
To waste the Worm's masters | and crunch sky-whales' bones,
To scatter foul blood | and make fair the air.

Then in the south | another rises
Steel and engines' fire | missiles beyond counting
Its pilot Grimm | son of the right hand
To light the skies | with burning steel
To shower the land | with ruined machines
And paint the sands | in fire and foul smoke.

A third fighter, now | him who flies low
To dodge ground-thunder | and rescue the fallen
More sky-roads he trod | than any other
More times he sank | and rose again
Not once was he caught | no man could match him
Redondo the pilot | who never lost any.

One more remains | to be remembered
One more takes flight | against the Worm's masters
No stomach has he | for treading sky-roads
The Black Lion bears him | casts down his foes:
Shephard, unprintable | last Marine and first.

That sky I remember, | blue burning and black,
When air-battle joined | and hosts were split;
The sky full of fire | and foes uncounted,
Wolves of the clouds | sent screaming to ruin.

Smallest of hosts | to harry the largest
Three times outnumbered | and thrice more over,
Oft and again, | yet ever they lived,
Ever they fought | and no wound stopped them.

Forth from their halls | the Worm's masters come,
Not sky-whales now | nor only drones;
True masters, now, | death-breathing monsters,
Pain-givers, maggots | Advisors most foul.

Brave is Kreyu, | who lunges towards them;
brave also Grimm, | who falls on his foe.
Even the wave | of mind-pain, soul-pain
sends neither fleeing, | angers them only.

No strike of missile | harms the Worm's masters;
ground-thunder is flung | harmless aside;
here only one thing | avails the sky heroes:
death-breathers scream | when lasers rend them;
no power of mind | can turn aside light.

Dark now the skies | with smoke and thunder,
Darker the shadow | cast by the Lion,
Bright the war-bolts | that spring from its eyes,
Searing the fire | that slashes the foe.

Worm-masters fell, | vile maggots burned,
but one struck back | with mighty pain,
seared nerves, blinded eyes | of the Unprintable,
sent the Lion falling | as the death-breather fell.
Maggots in dying | gave their last breath,
struck at the Lion | and burned into ash.

Much do I know, | and more can I see
Of the fighters' fates, | the mighty in war.
Dark grows the sun, | and in summer soon
Come mighty storms: | would you know yet more?

Fire then there came, | the Freeman's fire,
a thousand suns' radiance | burst forth at once
into the sky, | the Mighty One's splendor;
he was become Death, | shatterer of Worms.

Those who survived | beyond the fire's range
In number were few, | a handful, no more.
The returning pilot | who hunted the wounded
made one last flight | and one more only.

To the foulest place | where death-breathers' blood
Soaked the Khans' country, | sank into the sand,
He flew only once, | and came back shortly,
bearing with him | the unprintable one.

No more the Lion | would take to the skies;
its pieces scattered, | its parts destroyed.
Its pilot yet lived, | though not entire;
to free him from wreckage | sacrifice was made;
his wise right hand | torn off, left behind.

Speaks now the medic | to his patient,
"Do you hear my words? | How bad is your pain?"
The answer given: | "Aw, Doc, it's okay.
It ain't really pain | till the bones show."
Then he looks down. | "Oh. Well. Fuck me."
And wakens later | when two dawns are past...

Order 47

Nov. 10th, 2011 11:32 am
hecu_marine: (dress blues)
No. 47 (Series 1921)
Washington, November 1, 1921

759. The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

1. On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name "Marine". In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

2. The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation's foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

3. In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term "Marine" has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

4. This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as "Soldiers of the Sea" since the founding of the Corps.

Major General Commandant

There was silence in the room for a while.

"Ain't nobody left to hear it but me," Shephard finally said without looking up. "Not unless all y'all are still here with me. Wouldn't surprise me if you were, tell you the truth. Even if you ain't, I got all your names here. Reckon that's something."

"Wanted to let you know I ain't forgotten. I'm History Division by default, so that shit ain't gonna fly. Long as I'm alive, you and this and everything else about us gits remembered. And I promise you, long as I'm alive, the day's gonna come when I ain't the only one who does."

"Didn't know most of you. Never even met most of you, 'cept for that one night. I figure some of y'all were decent, and a lot of y'all were probably assholes- seems like I know a lot of assholes- but the point is, whatever else y'all migh've been, you were Marines first, and whether you like it or I like it or not that makes us brothers'n sisters. So if you can't make it to your own party on account of a little thing like bein' dead, well-"

He smiled, some.

"Well, fuck you for bein' too damn dead to get off your ass and get here, but I'll cover for you. Just this once. I owe you that much."
hecu_marine: (brotherhood)
“Hey. Hey, you.”

That’s never a good way to wake up. Especially when there’s a hand on your shoulder and the room’s completely dark.

“You better roll over and face me, friend. I got to talk to you.”

He pushed himself up on one elbow, squinting towards the voice. There was a glimmer of light from under the door, not even enough to see color by. Just enough to make out a general sense of helmet and lenses and sharp object. He started to slide his hand under his pillow. Then he stopped; the thin hard line of a knife’s edge had turned, the point coming around to face him.

“Smart man.” He heard a soft rasp. Filtered breath, swallowed laughter- something like that. “You just stay like that and we’ll be fine.”

“Who are you?” he began. “How did you get in here?”

“Might ask you the same question, friend, only I don’t imagine I’ll get an honest answer.” The hint of light on lenses flickered. “Far as who I am, I’m the United States Marine Corps. All that’s left of it, anyways. I was at Black Mesa, you know that? Made it out alive, and all by my lonesome.”

Briefly, he considered yelling for help. But that knife-

“Here’s the thing, friend,” said the Marine. “I was at Black Mesa. So were a whole lot of other good men. Gordon Freeman killed most of ‘em. Now, the folks I’m with, we got us a Gordon Freeman. Didn’t much care for him at first. Hated his guts, matter of fact. But I got to respecting him, eventually, and we got us an understanding. Don’t move, friend, it won’t end well- there you go, that’s more like it…”

The Marine leaned a little closer. He would’ve moved away if there had been room, but there was wall there.

“Now, here’s the thing. I hear you made a little speech this morning. Little broadcast to all your friends’n neighbors. Said you were Gordon Freeman, ‘n the man I know’s a fake. Thing is, I respect that man. I got me an understanding with that man. I’ve just about managed to forgive that man.”

Silence, and filtered breath.

“If he ain’t Gordon Freeman, and you are… well, now, that’s a whole ‘nother story. I ain’t got reason to respect you. I ain’t got reason to forgive you, neither. What I got is a whole mess of dead men whose blood is on your hands. If you’re Gordon Freeman, friend, you killed an awful lot of my brothers, and from where I’m standing you ain’t answered for even as much as one of those men’s lives.”

It was the calmest statement he’d ever heard, as bland and ordinary as ‘hey, you’ve got a thread on your shoulder’.

“We got us a whole lot of fightin’ to do tomorrow and I ain’t got time for the kind of mess it’d make if I claimed justice for those dead men now, but I reckon you ought to remember that the next time you go sayin’ you’re Gordon Freeman,” said the Marine. “The man I know’s paid his price already. You ain’t paid nothin’. You just think about that, and go back to sleep. I’ll see you in the mornin’.”

Oh, shit, he thought. And the Marine was gone.
hecu_marine: (Default)
You see a lot of things when you're a Marine Corps recruiter. You see all kinds of people come through your door, with all kinds of cockass expectations. Some of 'em you turn away on sight. Let's be honest, there's no way a fella with a guinea pig on his shoulder's gonna hack it in the Corps. Sometimes you get folks who lean way the hell the other way, like the woman who walked through the door with a Cape buffalo behind her. When your own daemon- a full-grown bloodhound bitch- hides behind your chair at the sight, you know some DI's gonna be in for a hell of a time. Sometimes you get the ones who're so damn young they have to bring a note from their mommas saying it's okay, and you can't help but wonder just how long ago their daemons stopped changing shape...

But one thing you don't get a whole lot of is would-be recruits that you hear before you see. Staff Sergeant Eddie Nieto thought at first there was something wrong with the fluorescent lights in the gym. Preston County High School didn't exactly have the biggest budget in the state, after all. And hell, he'd long since gotten accustomed to nasty acoustics in the schools where they sent him for recruiting work. Just about anything other than the kids themselves would've come to mind for the source of that buzz- except that Pistis sat up sharply when she heard it.

"Eddie," the bloodhound murmured, "bees."


Sure enough, there they were. Dozens of 'em, looked like. All of 'em buzzing and swarming around this one kid, must've been seventeen maybe, coming straight towards his station, not a care in the world- Jesus, were they crawling on him? They were! That one went into the kid's ear!

It took Nieto a minute to realize the kid was sitting down in front of him. Not saying anything, you understand, just sitting down on the opposite side of the card table, grinning, teeth all crooked and eyes all bright, and all the while there was that buzzing.

That was about the only sound in the silence that followed, at least for a little bit. Nieto cleared his throat eventually. "Uh," he said, "son, you got- uh- you got some-" He made a flickering gesture at his own right shoulder region. "Got some bees on you there. You get in some kind of a honey spill or something?"

The kid's smile broadened. "No sir," he said, "that's just Imre."


"Yes, sir," said the kid. "My daemon."

Nieto blinked. "Which one?" he finally said, looking for- well, he didn't much know what a queen bee looked like, but he figured maybe he'd know her when he saw her.

"Oh, they're all Imre, sir. Imre's the whole swarm," the kid said. "Girls, you mind quietin' down some for the sergeant?"

Instantly, the bees on the kid's shoulder stilled. The ones in the air landed and took their places beside them. The buzzing sound died away almost entirely- not quite, not totally, but enough. Nieto pursed his lips a moment. "Got to admit," he finally said, "I don't see that kind of thing every day. You got a name, son?"

"Shephard, sir," said the kid. "Adrian Shephard."

"Don't call me sir, Shephard, I work for a living," said Nieto. "Now. What can I tell you and-" He almost said the girls, but bit it back. "Imre there- what can I tell you... two... about the Corps?"
hecu_marine: (brotherhood)
There's a lot of beat-down used-up mining towns in West Virginia, or there used to be, before the Combine. Shephard's seen a good number of 'em. He's clear on the other side of the planet now, in another climate, in another kind of landscape altogether, but he can't help but look at the remains of Andamooka and see every mountain town that came out on the wrong end of its mineral rights deals. This was opal country once. The Combine don't have much use for gemstones, so it's not much of anything now, just a bunch of rusted buildings that could've come from some old military base and a bunch more houses dug into the side of the hill.

Oh, and the buggy at the town gates, straight out of Mad Max. He's been sitting with his back to the thing writing his letter to Eleanor for a good while now. The people who live here came out to see who'd heard their signal and went right back into their houses again. Turned out they'd seen Mrs. Wilson, according to the guy they sent up to pass messages. They're talking over what to think about the little beast now- well, okay, she's not so little any more, she's near as big as the houndeyes he saw at Black Mesa. Still gets all wriggly and happy when he scratches her along her first stripe, though.

"Sergeant Shephard," says one of the other Resistance folk suddenly. His name's Mari- okay, it's something longer, but Shephard needs prep time to pronounce it right; he's from one of the Amazon tribes. Learned English years ago, from refugees who stumbled into the forest trying to escape the Combine before Xen things could eat them. "They're coming back."

He scrambles to his feet, Mrs. Wilson pressing up against his leg. There's three Australians coming their way, and they've all got the same wary, close-faced look. Their leader, a small, dark woman with her hair pulled back in a bun, nods to Shephard as he salutes. "Sorry to keep you waiting," she says, not sounding sorry at all. "We've been talking. You and your people can come in."

"And Mrs. Wilson? I ain't leavin' her out here for the spiders."

The woman laughs dryly. "Bring her if you like. The first time she barks, she's getting shot."

"Ma'am, if she hurts your people, I will deal with her myself," Shephard says. That seems to be enough. A few minutes later, he and Ten Boom and Mari and Shapiro are being ushered into the dugouts, Mrs. Wilson at their heels. There's a good crowd gathered here, although Shephard would bet the farm they aren't everyone in Andamooka. You don't put everyone in one place if you're calling for help on a frequency the Combine might overhear.

Beatrice's been running things here for the past two years, it turns out. The Combine've been pumping the water out of Australia everywhere they can, shunting it off to the center of the country through a system of pipelines like some sick joke of a backward river. The water table's never been high around these parts, but it's been dropping like a brick since City 17, and it's only getting worse. This place used to have cisterns and a pipeline and water trucks. These days, it's whatever they can gather and steal, and that's... not much and getting less. That's what the signal was about.

They don't know what's in the center of the continent taking up the water, but Shephard's got a pretty good idea.

Anyway, there's been a schism lately. Some of Beatrice's folks've been talking about how they need to stop whatever the Combine're doing by blowing the nearest trunk pipe clear to kingdom come. Whatever it is needs water? Don't let it get any. Sounds simple enough, but it won't get the humans any water for their efforts. Might make things a hell of a lot worse. Beatrice's got a couple of scientific types here in Andamooka and one of 'em's got specs on the pipeline. Damn thing runs from the coast to the center of the continent and it's as big as the Alyeska used to be. Which means it's probably as dangerous. Shephard's heard stories of a man who managed to punch a couple holes in the Alyeska with a high powered rifle. The oil came shooting back under so much pressure it cut down trees for a hundred yards. Blow the water pipeline here, and that's God knows how many gallons of water spraying out at speeds that'd take off a man's head. Not to mention that it's water nobody's going to see again, in a land gone dry as hell.

Beatrice listens to what he's got to say about the gene worms in North and South America, and though her face goes pale and ill at the thought, she nods. And her people nod along with her. Kill the worm and there's nothing to pump the water to. That's fine with them; they're going to die out here one way or another, and they'd rather do it fighting. Hell, some of them might even survive.

On the other hand, if they're going to be fighting anyway...

That pipe that runs from the coast to the center? That's not just picking up the little pipelines from all the wells across the territory. It runs clear out to sea and into the heart of a desalination plant parked offshore. The Combine aren't just draining Australia's water from underground, they're taking every last drop they can wring out of the ocean for this thing. The Andamooka folks can only vouch for one plant's location out of several- but one might just be enough. If they can take that plant from the Combine... well, the ocean's kind of shot to shit already, and people are dying. They need that water. Any water. They'll take what they can get. Kill the worm, and people stop being fed to it. Take the plant for their own, and people have a chance at living again.

He can't promise anything, much as he wants to. Shephard's clear on that. All he can do is put forward the idea to Ms. Vance and Dr. Freeman when they get back to the boat. That's okay, though. That's enough for them. It's more than anyone had before.

Even if it did come from a man who's freak enough to walk around with an eyeball dog at his heels.
hecu_marine: (augh whut)
Dear Eleanor,

I hate this place so much.

Okay, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have started my letter that way. But I like to think I know my place in this world. And Australia is not my place.

We landed in what was supposed to be a lake, only the Combine have been taking all the water on the continent. (Ms. Vance is still kicking herself about that, even though nobody else thought of it either.) The boat's computer won't talk to us now. I'm not even sure it's still alive, if it ever was alive. A lot of people got hurt or worse in the crash, too. I can't do anything to fix the boat or help the wounded, but I was stationed in Arizona before Black Mesa, so I can handle desert. I volunteered to take some people and go looking for the Australians who signaled us. This may have been a mistake.

I don't know if you've ever seen a living snake. Most snakes are pretty harmless to people. The ones in Australia are not most snakes. When we were about fifteen minutes' walk away from the boat we ran across a Xen thing in the desert. I'm not sure what it was; it had three eyes and gray skin. It was about as big as a whitetail deer. We were getting ready to shoot it when it stiffened up and had some kind of seizure. When we got closer it turned out to be dead. There were bite marks on one of its legs, and a snake about as long as I am tall was right nearby. It hid in the rocks as soon as we looked at it. We found another one later that had a bunch of dead headcrabs all around its den. Some of them were the black kind. Maybe it was my imagination, but I think that snake looked smug.

We also found spiders down here. You should know that I'm not afraid of spiders. But I am never going to walk through a cobweb again without reaching for a lighter. When we started finding places where there used to be human buildings, we started finding spider webs too. Mostly they just had bugs in them. But Ten Boom tried to take a shortcut between two old sheds instead of going around, and he found a web that was even taller than him. It had a huge cocoon in it. We cut the cocoon down and cut it open and it turned out to be a half-grown bullsquid. Then Shapiro pointed out the spiders crawling under the edge of the shed roof. Lots and lots and lots of them. They had legs as long as my thumb and bodies the size of my thumbnail, and they'd managed to beat that bullsquid. We didn't stay there long. Especially not when I found another spider that was as big as my face. And then there were the pits in the shadowy places that were all lined with webbing. Something came out of one of them that I thought was a Xen beast. It wasn't. It was just a big black Earth spider that had killed one of those little exploding snark things and was dragging it away from the nest.

I don't mind hot. And I don't mind dry. And I don't mind nature. I grew up with bees, for Pete's sake. But I don't want to end up getting eaten by something that's too small for me to fight. I learned not to put my hand into small dark places when I was just a boy because something probably lived there that would not like to be disturbed. This place might be all sun and sky, but when it comes to critters, it is one enormous small dark place.

Anyway, I thought I should tell you these things before I went to talk to our hosts. I will write to you some more once I know what the situation is with them.

You be careful. I know I plan to be.

hecu_marine: (Default)
Dear Eleanor-

First things first. I am not a good writer. I haven't ever been. You can ask my mother if you want. She has my old journal. The parts they didn't censor before they gave it back to her aren't much good. But I figured I'd write to you anyway.

By the time you get this letter we're probably going to need you again for the war effort. Manny and Kreyu got some recon pictures of a helicopter hangar. Dr. Freeman's going to try for those if he can manage it. I don't know if it'll work but people get so crazy about him that we'll probably wind up with the place and everything in it. We'll see.

I'm not going to be part of that. I wish I was. You know I don't like flying but I wish I could be in the front of things. Dr. Freeman's the front if anywhere is. But that's not where I need to be this time. And if there's one thing I learned since Black Mesa it's that what I want isn't important. Also that it's really, really stupid for me to want to do something exciting because that's when things get bad. We have our objectives and those are what matters.

Tomorrow while Dr. Freeman and Mason and Reyes are giving the Combine hell I'm going to be leading a heist. That's pretty much what it is. Our objective is the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation. PIaDOS might be crazy as a bag full of bats but she had access to an awful lot of data about government projects. If she's right then there are reinforced bunkers underneath that building full of every kind of seed that the farmers of the United States used to grow. Not to mention lots and lots of animal plasm, too. Some of it's frozen sperm, some of it's frozen eggs, some of it's actual embryos. I don't know where we're going to get the females to carry them all but if we can just find a couple for each of the species then we can start farming properly all over again. We won't have to hunt and forage and scavenge all the time just to stay alive. Not that I don't like hunting but you can't have a real society if you have to spend more of the time getting food than doing everything else. I guess that's why the Combine wouldn't let people grow their own; they knew we could stand up to them if we weren't dependent on them not to starve.

But we have to get all that stuff first and get it back safely. That will be the hard part. There's thousands and thousands of samples from the animals alone. Getting all the seeds out is going to take longer. Getting the frozen tissue samples is going to take even longer than that. That's why I can't fight alongside your uncle; I have to be with Puller and Hathcock and Chell and all the others to make sure that we get into the bunkers and out to the crazy boat safely. Chell especially, since she can get us straight back to the boat without having to run back and forth. Thank God for that gun of hers.

I'm hoping the Combine stay too busy with your uncle and Mason to notice us. Or if they notice us I'm hoping that they figure we're not very important since we're not stealing materiel and they plan to wipe us out as a species anyway so what we're doing won't really matter to them. I'm sending a couple of Vortigaunts with your uncle but I need to keep the rest of them with me in case the Combine send anything to harry us while we work.

It's kind of weird, but when you think about it, coming back from what the Combine did to us kind of depends on being able to steal things really well. Rowlesburg works because people were able to save some of their farm animals and plants and keep it all going. That's not enough for them and the Resistance people both. If there's any other people out there we're going to need a whole lot more food for a whole lot longer. So we have to steal back everything that the Combine stole from us in the first place. But you probably knew that. I'm just thinking out loud.

Anyway the important thing is that we are going to pull off one really big heist tomorrow right under the Combine's noses gas masks. And then we are going to send everything back to Greenbrier as fast as we can, and then we are going to go and help your uncle hit the maggots as hard as it is physically possible to hit them. I am looking forward to that part. Even if it means that Ms. Vance is going to make me fly a helicopter again. I apologize in advance for throwing up in the hangar. I promise I'll clean up after myself.

I hope you are doing well and that everything in Rowlesburg is all right. I really miss you here.

hecu_marine: (seen from right (b&w))
People say nature is quiet. It's not. Nature is loud, once you're in it. There's bugs, all kinds of 'em, everywhere, and there's just no such thing as a quiet bird, not really. Every leaf has its own sound, every critter that moves on four legs has its own footfall. The sound is there. You just have to walk away from the sounds of Man and put yourself in it to hear it.

Fishing's good for that. Can't fish much where humans're making a whole lot of noise, the fish don't like it. Uncle Artie made that pretty clear real early on. Fishing's something you can teach a little kid long before he's old enough to properly respect a gun. Okay, you're gonna have to take a couple of fish hooks out of the kid's thumb along the way, but hell, that'll teach him to be more careful. Little hurts then meant fewer big hurts now.

"Looks like you got a bite there," says Artie, who's got himself a good spot on the other side of the stream from Adrian. He offers a crooked grin (literally- not a lot of Artie's generation ever saw the inside of an orthodontist's office) and leans back against a tree. Adrian just swears, reflexive and simple as breathing, and starts working the line. The last trout to take his bait broke the line and he's not looking forward to going through that mess again.

"Looks like a nice one from here, kid," calls Mike. Uncle Mike's the one who took Adrian out when he was six and put a BB gun down on the table in front of him. He made him go over each and every part of the thing. Made him name all the parts in all the detail a six-year-old could pronounce out loud. Told him, over and over, what you could do with it and why you had to be careful with it. Come the end of that particular day Adrian was about as enthusiastic about guns as about his momma's beehives. He got over it. They still hunt together sometimes, when they can.

As the fish's silver thrashing breaches the stream's surface, Adrian lets out a whoop of glee. Yeah, he knows this ain't quite right and he knows there's something he ain't quite able to pin down about how he shouldn't be able to talk to his two uncles just now, but fuck it. He's good with what he's got.
hecu_marine: (dress blues)
Greenbrier's ready for moving in, or as ready as it'll ever be without all the people there who're going to be living there to test the place out. When Pi popped in (at a suitably safe distance, of course), she had a message for him from Ms. Vance, and from Rowlesburg: come back with the boat, it's time.

You don't ignore messages like that, no sir. And when you get told that as long as you're home they're going to make the promotion official, you go and prepare for it as best you can. Momma still had the set of dress blues they delivered to her back when they brought her the original bad news after Black Mesa, and it's a close enough fit that he can get by with it for a few hours. It just needs a little adjusting here and there.
hecu_marine: (West Virginia)
The door creaks open onto a field of mottled grey and white. It's been snowing in White Sulfur Springs, and for all the effort the handful of humans on the premises have been putting in, there's still snow virtually everywhere. It's just trampled and cracked and stained in places. Then again, so is what lies beneath it.

"Welcome to the Greenbrier, ma'am," says Shephard. "This here's the Presidents' Cottage Museum, not the main building. That'd be the big fucker right over there."
hecu_marine: (lambda)
It's a hundred and fifty-some-odd miles from Rowlesburg to the White Sulfur Springs region, and even in the good old days that'd be a long drive. Not the straightest road in the world, after all, even back when it was a road and not a vaguely open area sort of half-reclaimed by trees and mudslides. This is what happens when your alien overlords don't bother maintaining the infrastructure of an area with no strategic or mineral importance.

Even so, the ride's been a hell of a lot longer than it ought to've been, and there is a very good reason why. It's one thing to stuff a driver, three human passengers, and one Vortigaunt into a single Jeep. It's something else again for one of those humans to be Floyd Mason.

hecu_marine: (civvies)
Everyone seemed to expect Adrian to be off his pace somehow when it came to his caroling. It took him a while to realize that they hadn't seen him in twenty years and were expecting him to be just that rusty at it. As far as he was concerned last Christmas wasn't all that long ago, so he just picked up where he left off and carried around some sheet music as a concession to what people more or less expected.

He's just given the sheet music back to Pastor Rumford now, before going to find people he knows and wish 'em a merry Christmas personally.
hecu_marine: (lambda)
The snow lay deep all around, heaped up in drifts against trees and stones, pockmarked with the skittering tracks of critters of both Earth and Xen. Shephard couldn't remember ever seeing it so deep, not even when he was a little kid and everything was bigger and tougher. Then again, he hadn't been traveling the better part of a month back then, and he'd always been better fed and warmed and slept than this.

He resisted the urge to rub at his face with both his half-numbed hands as the ground finally evened out somewhere under his boots. "Well," he said over his shoulder to the armored man behind him, "this is it. Top of Cannon Hill. Town used t'be right down that slope there, up against the river."

A ridge of raised snow ran across the mountaintop, the remains of the old retaining wall Shephard knew well. There'd been a monument to the battle of Rowlesburg up here the last time he'd been home. Uncle Tim'd shown him, told him about how he used to come up here looking for Civil War cannonballs as a boy. Nobody got to dig for those any more, Uncle Tim'd said, but there'd been other things. Hell, he'd caught one of his first pet snakes up here one summer. Right by where the flagpole used to be.

He deliberately wasn't looking down the slope towards the river. Town was empty, the Butlers'd said. Folks were living in some Cheat Canyon cave instead. Last thing Shephard needed right now was the sight of snow piled over twenty years of nobody and nothing where his home town used to be. The old railroad trestle'd probably fallen into the river by now, all things considered. With this much snow on the ground up here, the VFW hall's roof'd probably given way- assuming there was any roof left after all this time- and who knew about the other buildings...

There was an odd cast to the quiet, a faint noise like a shifting of weight on snow. Shephard turned to find Freeman looking inquiringly at him.

"We'll git down to the canyon in a bit," Shephard answered. "I just... I got to take a minute, that's all."

Freeman nodded, not saying a word.

Shephard glanced away to the west, towards where Manheim'd been. Freeman'd come back to his home town twenty years after, he suddenly remembered. Shephard'd been too sick with the black headcrab's venom to think about it, or ask about it.

"You know," he said at last, "this might be my stompin' grounds'n all up here, but... I reckon once we're down in the canyon proper it ain't gonna count no more."

One of Freeman's eyebrows went up at that.

"Might be my home town folks we're goin' back to, but it's been twenty fuckin' years since I set foot here last," Shephard said. "You're Gordon fuckin' Freeman. I'm just the hometown boy who saved Gordon Freeman's ass. You know that's how it's gonna go."

"I think it's going to go a little better than that, Corporal."

Shephard just shook his head. "You ain't caught on yet, Freeman. I don't matter none. Folks need you, not some asshole who went off to join the service twenty-plus years back. Everything I used t'know ain't here no more. People want you back. I'm just one bit of extra for a couple of folks on the side. It's your game from here on out."

Freeman might've started to say something. Shephard couldn't say. It was too damn cold up on that mountaintop, and he wanted to get to wherever it was folks were hiding before his fingers froze off, so he started towards the safest-looking route that led down from Cannon Hill in the direction they needed to go.
hecu_marine: (Default)
The bullsquid's last dying squeal petered out as the thing slumped to the ground, gray-yellow blood staining the snow. Shephard watched it for a few seconds more in absolute stillness. That kind of a death attracted attention.

Except, like now, when it didn't. The scavengers were elsewhere, or else were waiting for the humans to make their move first; the other predators were… he didn't know where. All that was left was the rapidly cooling corpse on the snow-covered ground. He allowed himself to breathe again.

From his position in one of the nearby trees (how that man could move like that in a suit that heavy Shephard didn't know), Freeman threw an inquiring glance Shephard's way, then looked at the corpse. "Ain't gonna bother," Shephard said in answer. "We ain't got time to make it edible, 'n takin' the hide off's just gon' make it obvious we was here. Bad enough we had t'use bullets on it. Any Combine sweep through here before the scavengers git it, they'll know somethin' wasn't from Xen took that fucker's head off."

Freeman nodded and started to ease his way down the tree. Shephard eyed the big male's corpse a little longer before doing the same. Damn shame, really. That would've been one fine hide. Not to mention the tail spur- well, no big deal, there'd be others some day. Let the varmints have the whole thing, he could spare a little extra for the forest life once in a while.

Sure did hope someone was looking after Mrs. Wilson, though.

He hopped from the last branch of the tree to a bare patch of ground and caught Freeman looking at him. "Yeah?" he said, shoulders tensing just a fraction. "What?"

"This bothers you."

"Hell yeah it bothers me," Shephard answered. "Killin' meat you could've eaten'n just leavin' it to rot's askin' for starvation to follow you home. Only reason I'm doin' this now is that shit just ain't edible as is and we ain't got the means to make it so. Still ain't right, but we got other shit to carry."

Freeman nodded. The scientist had been carrying the dead zone samples from the beginning, neatly packed and secured alongside his supplies and the gravity gun. Shephard had to give him credit, he'd never once complained about his load or asked to swap off. Weren't a whole lot of men out there'd go this long without bitching. Come to think of it he didn't remember Freeman bitching about anything this whole trip. Which was fucking weird, because even in the Corps it was taken as a god-given right: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and complaining about shit where the officers couldn't hear you.

He turned to eye the ground ahead of them, a long rocky sweep slanting downhill at an unpleasant angle before it evened out into open territory. It wasn't Shephard's idea of a good route but all the other routes through this piece of territory were worse. As he picked out what looked to him like the safest way he said, "You always this quiet, Freeman?"

"Pretty much," the scientist said, coming up alongside him. "Keeps me from embarrassing myself."

Shephard turned to stare at him a moment. Freeman looked right back, eyebrows raised: yes? What? What'd I say?

"Embarrassing yourself," Shephard finally said. "You."

Freeman shrugged.

"Freeman, you could drop trou on national fuckin' television if we still had national fuckin' television and folks'd still think you were the right hand of the Almighty. You know that, right?"

The scientist looked away, shifting his footing uncomfortably.

Shephard shook his head. "Got to hand it to you, Freeman, if more folks with reputations thought like you did we'd be a whole lot better off," he said.

Freeman winced. "That's not why I'm doing it," he said.

"Yeah? Didn't know that, don't care. Point is, you know how not to be an asshole. That's more'n a lot of folks."

As they both went silent and headed out into the open terrain ahead of them, Shephard wondered when he'd come to that conclusion about Freeman, and why it didn't bother him. Probably didn't matter. It was just an interesting question, that was all.

Freeman was quiet all day as they traveled, same as always, and he was quiet that evening as he boiled and parceled out the water they'd managed to find, same as always. When they ate, he said nothing. It was model behavior for a stealth mission, and Shephard should have been grateful. He was, sort of. Mostly, anyway. It was just… well, they'd been traveling weeks now, throwing off trails and triangulating to keep on course regardless, and Freeman'd been as quiet as need be. A man can only take so much of that before it finally gets to him. At least, that was what Shephard told himself when he said, "Hey. Freeman."

Freeman glanced up from the remains of his supper.

Shephard hadn't known what he was going to say when he'd started that sentence, but looking at the shaggy-faced, shivering man in the HEV suit huddling up with his back to the nearest tree like he expected something to come roaring out of the dark at him... well, there was a question there in his thoughts all of a sudden, and it wasn't like he was ever going to get the chance to ask it again.

"What happened at Black Mesa?"

There was silence. That was nothing new. But this was a deliberate silence, and a deep one. Eventually, Freeman pushed his glasses up his nose with one finger and said only, "You know. You were there."

"No," said Shephard, "I don't know. I know what happened to me. That ain't the same thing."

Freeman looked at him. Shephard couldn't say for sure, what with the low light and all, but it sure looked like a why are you asking me this? kind of face.

"I got my ass shot out of the sky before I got my orders, Freeman. Woke up in your infirmary surrounded by dead men. First I heard from anyone 'bout what was goin' on, it was 'we're pulling out'. And I got the door locked in my fuckin' face." He prodded at their fire with a stick, watched a handful of sparks spiraling skywards. "Heard a lot of shit 'bout what you did that day, what happened that day. Reckon some of it might even be true. But I don't fuckin' know."

Silence, again. Shephard sighed and considered whether or not to toss his stick on the flames; it was getting damn cold out, and a man could only stay so warm with leaves stuffed down his clothes for insulation-

"If I knew everything that happened?" said Freeman suddenly. "I'd tell you. All I have is what I know. You have to accept that I don't really know either, if I'm going to tell you any of it."

"… I c'n live with that."
hecu_marine: (Kate Shephard)
Numbers didn't lie. Kate just wished they did.

The Rowlesburg cave population stood at a hundred and forty-four people this year same as last year. They'd been lucky. There'd been a few close calls from wildlife, and Old Man Meyer wasn't likely to last long enough to see the geese come north. Every person in Rowlesburg had six months or more of food and water supplies stored up. Aaron Lauvray had made maintaining stocks that size a law early on and nobody'd ever seen fit to change it. So even if they stopped hunting and the pumps ran dry right now they had enough food and enough water to get a hundred and forty four people through six months. That included the Thanksgiving feast in a few days' time. You didn't skimp on that. People needed something to look forward to, something to keep 'em going and break up the gathering dark as the year got older.

Thing was, they had the supplies for a hundred forty-four people, and now they had a good three times that many, thanks to the Resistance fighters and their refugees appearing out of nowhere. Not that the Resistance folks weren't doing everything they could to contribute. Some of them made fair hunters- nothing as good as the locals, of course, but they were new, they'd learn. It was just... they had six hundred mouths to feed now, instead of a hundred and forty four, and there was no way they'd be able to hunt that much in time. They might be able to manage Thanksgiving if they got normal meals for the pregnant women and put everyone else on short rations. That was if they were lucky. Not to mention that Kate didn't like to think what it would do to morale. People could only offer so much to strangers no matter how hard they tried. Sooner or later- and in this case it was sooner- there wouldn't be anything left to give.

Supplies for a hundred and forty four people for six months, and three times that many to feed instead. It'd still be winter when everything ran out. They'd have to start eating the crop seed to get through the lean time and God knew Kate didn't want to do that. At least the Resistance folk said they'd brought plenty of seed and cutting stocks, that was a step in the right direction, but if they didn't have enough food to make it through the cold season they'd never get to plant any of it. So there was the rub; either stretch everything impossibly far, or find a way to get the Resistance folks to leave- and she knew there wasn't one- or starve everyone together...

There was a sound behind her of a throat being cleared. Kate turned and saw a wide-eyed Dave Medina at the door. Forcing a smile onto her face Kate asked, "What've you got for me, Chief?"

"Kate," said Medina, "you'll never believe who just showed up at the cave entrance asking to lend a hand come Thanksgiving. And this winter." Before she could say anything in reply, Medina turned and gestured to the figure behind him- the green-skinned, red-eyed, three armed figure behind him.

"Greetings to the Kate Shephard," the alien rumbled. Kate realized with a shock that there were several more of the creatures standing in a neat line behind it. "It is our understanding that a great feast of your people is almost upon you. We have come to offer our assistance, both now and in the days ahead."

"I- what?" said Kate, eyes darting to Medina. He spread his hands helplessly- he didn't know either. "You tellin' me you're here to- what, cook for Thanksgiving?"

"And to offer additional provisions and supplies where we are able," the alien confirmed. "Foods and substances edible to both our peoples, of which your own may not be aware."

"You mean- you got stuff human beings can eat?" Kate said, not really sure she believed anything as different as a, a, what were they called, Vortigaunts?- not sure she believed a Vortigaunt could eat human food or vice versa. "You're sure of that?"

"We are certain. What the humans of the Resistance had not already known, the Marine tested himself many times over before setting it before them."

"'The Marine'- Adrian's here?" said Kate quickly.

"Alas." The Vortigaunt shook its head. "He is not. But we who have worked with him to feed the people of White Forest have not forgotten what must be done to provide much food for the many, and do so quickly."

Kate stared. Medina recovered enough to say, "Wait a second. Corporal Shephard was workin' in you folks' kitchens?"

"It is so."

"And y'all ain't dead or scurvy-ridden or something?"

"Communicating with the Medina would be most difficult if we were."

"That's good enough for me. Army travels on its stomach, and what we got dumped on us's an army," said Medina. "Kate?"

"Question," Kate said, raising one finger. "If my boy ain't with you now, why'd you come here?"

"The Alyx Vance," said the Vortigaunt, turning to reveal a smiling Alyx leaning against the nearest building, "said it would be well for us to put forward our assistance at this time."

Well, hell, thought Kate dazedly, we might just be able to do this after all.
hecu_marine: (helmeted Adrian)
Shephard sat up, blinking the sleep away. There was a smell of roasting raisins on the air and the ground was splashed with yellow-grey everywhere he looked. "Jesus, Freeman," he said as he rubbed at his face with his hands, "why didn't you fuckin' wake me up?"

The scientist shrugged. As he turned the improvised spit, which was loaded with the hulled, gutted corpses of several headcrabs, he said, "You needed your three hours. I managed."

"Yeah, but-" Shephard shook his head. "Wait a second. How'd you kill 'em all without wakin' me up?"

Freeman said nothing, only held up his crowbar for a moment. It was hard to say for sure, but he might've smiled just a tiny bit behind that beard of his.

"Ask a dumbass question, git a dumbass answer," Shephard muttered. "All righty, then. You still got that water?"

Two days ago they'd found a hidden blessing, a spot where long-dead travelers had carelessly partied. There'd been no food and no water beyond the dusting of snow that lay over the place, but there'd been bottles left- enough that they'd been able to take a few unbroken ones away with them. Since Shephard's flask had their antiseptic supply in it (God bless Floyd Mason; he made the worst vodka and best paint remover Shephard had ever seen), they'd been running mighty short of options for carrying drinking water up until then.

Freeman set down the crowbar and held up one of the bottles. It'd been sized for an awful lot of malt liquor once. Now it held broken-up ice and melted-down snow. From the look of it, more than it'd held the night before.

"You better have boiled the new shit."

"I played Oregon Trail, Corporal. I don't plan to die of dysentery."

Shephard grunted. He would've asked did you cover up your tracks but looking around the minuscule clearing it was pretty sure Freeman had. If he was being honest with himself, it was kind of aggravating. The fire was small and its pit properly dug, the supplies (such as they were) carefully tended, the secrecy of their location reasonably well protected. Freeman was pretty much doing everything he was supposed to, just like he'd been told. Shouldn't he have kicked up a stink by now?

Don't worry about that. I'll do what I have to.

"Gimme one of those crabs," Shephard said, and took the stick as it was offered to him. Briefly he entertained the thought of sending Freeman to look for black birch or spruce to peel so there'd be something besides meat to eat, but it wasn't worth the time it'd take to explain what they were looking for. Not yet, anyway.

... seriously, the man hadn't given him so much as one bit of backtalk this whole time. What the hell.

"Something wrong?" came the comment from across the fire; Shephard jerked a little in surprise. He looked up to find Freeman eyeing him. At least, he assumed that was the case. It was hard to read the man's expression behind those glasses and through the smoke.

"Ain't worth fussin' over," Shephard answered. Freeman shrugged and went back to his breakfast.

Apparently Freeman actually paid attention when he got told what pine and spruce and hemlock trees looked like. And when he got told how to find burdock roots by the dead parts of the plant poking out of the snow.

Guess they'd be eating proper after all.

"Okay, Freeman," said Shephard on the third day, "this is getting real fuckin' old."

The scientist looked up at him, eyebrows lifted in surprise.

"What the shit is your game, Freeman? Huh?" Shephard jerked his head towards the trail they'd just barely managed to navigate. "Since I met up with Resistance folk the first time I ain't had nothin' but a hard time from any of you. Every goddamn inch of ground I got's one I had to bust my ass for. It's like pullin' fuckin' teeth gittin' anywhere with you people, and Ms. Vance's the worst of the bunch. But you."

Freeman drew breath to speak, and then went silent.

"Your people back at White Forest didn't trust me for shit even when I showed up with Barney fuckin' Calhoun and Chell in one piece. Reckon I earned that, I showed up in a uniform they last saw on men who were goin' through Black Mesa like a log splitter through a mouse nest. Ms. Vance gave me hell the first time we met'n didn't much let up none for months on end. She's all right now but I reckon she'd still be a fuck of a lot happier if I just forgot the Corps ever existed 'n settled down to act just like all the rest of y'all. Seems like I can't do nothin' without every other fuckin' human in the fuckin' Resistance who ain't named Chell Johnson givin' me a hard time for what I do'n how I do it... and then I git stuck in the middle of winter in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere with the one man alive who's got the most reason to gimme shit." He tossed up his hands. "And nothin'. Not one goddamn thing. You just do shit, and you do it my fuckin' way. What the hell, Freeman?"

"I pay attention."

"Y- what?"

Freeman lifted his armored shoulders a little, let them sag. "You know what you're doing. You talk, I listen, and we both get out alive."

"I- but-" Shephard could feel the words skittering away indignantly, his mouth opening and closing like a fish's.

"I'm not a proud man, Corporal. I know what my limits are." One of Freeman's hands slipped up under his glasses to rub at his eyes a moment. "I'm good at what I do because I pay attention to people who're better. Whether I like them or not doesn't matter."

Shephard considered that, and remembered Parris Island, and Santego; he snorted. "Fuck. Ain't nobody that reasonable, Freeman."

The man shrugged again. "Maybe," he said. "Maybe not. Maybe you can answer a question for me."

Shephard tensed.

"What else have I got going for me?"

... he hadn't expected that. "Come again?"

"Be honest, Corporal. The first day I went to work for Black Mesa was the first time in my life I ever laid a hand on a firearm. I admit, I had an advantage. I had this suit." Freeman rapped one knuckle against the lambda on the chest piece. "But that only went so far. The only reason I made it through Black Mesa alive was because I paid a hell of a lot of attention to everything going on around me, and I took it all to heart. Even when it was trying to kill me. Especially then."

Shephard shook his head slowly, not knowing what to say. Damn it, he hadn't expected this; when had the conversation gotten away from him?

"I've been paying attention to you for a long time now," Freeman added. "I've seen you with Chell. I've seen you and Barney talking. I saw how fast you moved to protect Alyx and Chell at Abrams Island. I know how hard it was for you to get into the pilot's seat of that helicopter all those times. I've seen how much time and effort you've put into making something worthwhile out of Floyd Mason. You take your duty seriously. Right now I know your duty is keeping the two of us alive until we can get to everyone waiting for us in Rowlesburg. So that's why I'm not giving you trouble... you've earned better than that."

Freeman turned away. Shephard didn't say anything else. It wasn't as if there were anything else to say, honestly.
hecu_marine: (brotherhood)
"Very funny, Shephard. Now give me back my eyeglasses."

Shephard shook his head and handed the black-framed glasses back to Freeman. "That was fuckin' weird," he said. "I ain't never seen nobody just go off all blank like that. You didn't even goddamn notice when I got those off. What the fuck just happened?"

"Alyx," said Freeman shortly. He slid the glasses back on and pushed them up his nose with one finger. "She's in Rowlesburg. So are the Vortigaunts, apparently."

Shephard considered that a moment, chewing absently on his thumb as he thought; then he nodded. It made as much sense as anything else. Dan'd been with him a couple of times when he talked to the crazy-ass boat. Hell, he'd even introduced his brother to Pi, just in case. Between the mountains and the sheer distance from anywhere the Combine gave a good goddamn about it was hard to think of anywhere safer from Combine interests than Preston County. Looked like Dan'd gone to ground at the most sensible place possible. "Fair 'nough," he said. "Saves us doin' a shitload of guesswork. All we got to do now is triangulate every so often'n make sure we git back on course."

Freeman had settled back on the ground next to the fire again; he looked up. "I thought we were already on course."

"Yeah, we are, but we ain't gonna go straight there," said Shephard. He dropped his hand away from his mouth. "Not less'n you want to lead those assfucker maggots right back to my hometown. Ain't no way they're gonna just give up searchin' for us, so we got to throw 'em off where we can, go off course two-three times 'fore we fix our heading'n go for the homestretch."

Freeman's shoulders sagged- he'd obviously wanted to just get moving- but he nodded. "All right," he said. "That makes sense, I guess."

"'Course it does. It don't make me no happier'n you, though."

The scientist blinked up at him, eyebrows raised.

"Fuck, Freeman, you think I want to be stuck the fuck out here tryin' to ninja through four hunnert miles of East Fuckin' Nowhere with you? I ain't Solid Fuckin' Snake. You gimme a choice'n by the time I was done it'd look like the second coming of William Tecumseh Sherman between here'n there." He grimaced, reaching up to run one hand over his scalp. "But I ain't about to give the maggots a reason to figger out where we're goin'. They ain't found Rowlesburg yet, and they ain't gonna if I got anything to say about it. It don't matter if I like it none, that's just how it's got to be."

Freeman considered this for a while. Eventually, he nodded, but didn't say anything else.

"And you got any problems with that," Shephard added, "you say so now. Last thing we need's you all pissed off. We got enough problems without dissension in the ranks."

Well, as far as 'two' could be considered 'the ranks'. Not that it mattered much; Freeman made a huffing sound that might've been a snort, or might've been a laugh. "Don't worry about that," he said. "All I want is to get to Alyx and the rest of the Resistance safely. I'll do what I have to."

It wasn't quite the response Shephard had expected. He didn't know what he'd thought the man would do- bristle more, maybe, or put up more of a stink about the ranks comment, seeing how it sort of assumed that one of them was in charge of the other. Getting that kind of acceptance was just too easy. "Yeah," Shephard said, "well- yeah, you do that. And… don’t' go breakin' those glasses or nothin', neither."

The words you're as blind as a motherfucking mole without them died under Freeman's withering look. "You know," said the scientist mildly, "I did make it out of Black Mesa. I think I can keep my glasses in one piece."

"Yeeeeeah, 'bout that," said Shephard. "How the shit'd you pull that off, anyways?"

"Duct tape."


Freeman tapped the earpiece of his glasses. "Two or three pieces, around the back of my head-"

"Not the fuckin' glasses, Freeman. Black Mesa. How the hell'd you make it through there?"

"Same way as you." Freeman shrugged. "Run when I could. Fight when I had to."

Shephard stared at him. Yeah, Freeman had enough scars by now to win himself a free pass to the reconstructive surgery wing of Bethesda, but they were new. The ones Shephard could see weren't more than half a year old, at best. Peel back six months' worth of damage and hell, and you got… shit. You got the biggest goddamn nerd Shephard'd ever seen.

Run when I could. Fight when I had to.

There were other questions he could've asked, but the November winds were picking up, and dark had long since crept over their position. Shephard just nodded instead and murmured something about taking first watch.

Maybe he'd ask in the morning.
hecu_marine: (lambda)
Feeding about a hundred people is a job for a fistful of cooks. More if you want multiple courses, less if you only need one course and drinks aren't a priority, but you need a good fistful of cooks to get it done.

Feeding that hundred or so plus a hundred and fifty more that've recently shown up? That's gonna need a whole bunch more cooks, and a whole bunch more kitchen, and someone's going to have to take all their weapons away because let's face it, any kitchen worth the name is already a place of knives and fire. That many people to feed at once, that few people to do it with, you're going to get some serious stress. Take the kitchen staff's guns away.

Feeding all those people plus a good couple hundred or so more who've been rescued from a genuinely unspeakable fate? Congratulations, your original cooks just quit. They do their work in the kitchen because it has to get done, not because they're particularly good at it or ready for it. You just asked too much of them. Okay, sure, there's replacements, but they're Vortigaunts and while they're willing to work they haven't had a whole lot of experience feeding a whole lot of humans in a hurry. You're gonna have to get an expert, or at least someone with training in taking as many raw supplies as feasible and turning them into something moderately to reasonably consistent, not to mention genuinely edible and nutritious, in a limited span of time. Someone who's done it so many times that he doesn't even need to think about it any more. Someone who's been part of several massive logistical operations and learned about dozens more, and who knows exactly what it means to say an army travels on its stomach, because the Marine Corps does, too.

Well, hell, there's worse things to be good at. And the Vortigaunts make a damn good kitchen crew once you get the hang of working with them. Shephard can deal with being really damn good at KP.

Beats flying, anyway.
hecu_marine: (run think shoot live)

Shephard held up one hand; his attention was focused directly in front of him. "Be right with you," he said. "Okay, Mrs. Wilson. One more time. Sic."

The little houndeye danced from one forepaw to the other and back for a moment. Then it lunged for the battered orange traffic cone a few yards away, fast as its stubby little legs would take it.

"Now speak."

It skidded to a halt in front of the cone, fairly vibrating as the sound grew louder: "MrrrrrrYIP!!"

"Good girl," said Shephard, and tossed the creature a lump of dried fish. Wasn't her fault she wasn't old enough to let off a proper bark yet. As it pounced on the treat, Shephard turned to face the disturbed-looking Dutchman. "Ten Boom. What's up?"

"I will never get used to that," Ten Boom muttered. "Ah- I'm sorry, Corporal, but I think perhaps there's been a mistake. There was a delivery to my workspace while I was away."

"Huh," said Shephard, rubbing at the back of his neck a moment. "What sort of delivery?"

"Two bottles of some kind of medication," said Ten Boom, "which I don't recognize at all, and-"

"Iodide pills," said Shephard. "Potassium iodide."

"I suppose- wait, what?"

Shephard waved a hand. "Never you mind. Finish what you were sayin', Ten Boom."

The Dutchman grimaced, but squared his shoulders. "All right," he said. "Two bottles of those things, and a set of safety goggles, and a radiation suit that looks like- like something out of an old B-movie. And no sign of what was going on. What is going on, please?"

"What's goin' on is, someone done fucked up." Shephard shook his head.

"Oh good."

"They were supposed t'git you the schematics for your new project along with all that shit."

Ten Boom stared, and opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

"You okay there, Jan?"

"Nuclear-" He sputtered, his hands flailing wildly in the absence of any kind of coherent direction from his brain. "Corporal, I build demolition charges! Little packets of things that go geloei! Not- not-"

"Question," said Shephard. "Gehawhatnow?"

"You would say 'kaboom'," said Jan. "Not the point! You want me to build an atomic bomb?"

"No, hell no!" said Shephard. "Nobody's askin' you to do that."

"Oh good," said Ten Boom. "Then what-"

"Just a shitload of high yield high explosive dirtybombs," Shephard continued. "We already got you the strontium."

"Krijg nou de pokke!!"
hecu_marine: (helicopter)
There was a board in the room adjoining the main White Forest garage that'd once served as a casual communication center. Lost and found notices, non-urgent messages, and the like had been tacked to its surface when Shephard first saw it. These days it was still covered in paper, but the papers were divided into groups- the names of Resistance fallen and wounded, the names of confirmed other dead, and the names of people rescued alive. The first list was the longest, but the fact that the other sections existed at all… well, that was something.

Shephard didn't need to look at the board, exactly. He didn't have a whole lot of names to look for. If anything happened to Chell, he'd know about it, and he didn't need to take off his shoes to tally the number of people he knew on the ground. He stopped anyway, though, each time he went out and each time he came back. Just because he couldn't put faces to the names didn't mean they weren't worth remembering. You had to remind yourself what was at stake.

There was usually someone eyeing him from a distance when he turned away from the name-board. Linda, sometimes. Jake, the old section security head from Black Mesa. Others. Most of the time they turned away as soon as he saw them. Sometimes they just looked at him first: I'm watching you, their faces said. Go ahead. Say something. Make a comment. Make a move. You won't get away with it. He'd gotten used to it by now, let it roll off his back mostly, but damn-


Adrian rolled his eyes and turned to face his brother. "Should've smelled you comin'," he said. "Evenin', Danny."

Dan offered a smile and tugged at the bill of his Mountaineers cap. "Figured I'd find you here," he said. "After I swung by the hangar'n Eleanor said you'd been and gone, anyway. You doin' all right?"

Adrian shrugged. "Last I checked, sure," he said. "Why?"

"Eleanor said you got sick after the mission-"

"Aw, I always get sick after flyin'." Adrian waved a hand in dismissal. "Got me a routine. Git down'n pray, git up'n fly, git down'n give thanks, stand up'n puke. Like clockwork. It don't mean nothin'."

"Mm." Dan lowered his eyes, shoved his hands in his pockets. "Never did think I'd be callin' my big brother a pilot."

"Wasn't exactly my idea, Dan."

"I know, I know." Dan glanced up at his brother. "Listen…."

Adrian'd figured something was coming almost from the start. He squared his shoulders, cocked his head. "Yeah?"

"Ado… you ever think about goin' home?"

That… wasn't what he'd figured on. His voice didn't quite want to work; he just stared.

Dan went on. "I ain't been here long, Ado, but I've been here long enough to see things."

"Name 'em," Adrian said, straightening a little more. His mouth felt oddly dry.

"Well, we c'n start with the helicopter," Dan said. "You never liked flyin' even before Black Mesa, and now they got you doin' a pilot's work-"

"Nobody else knows how," Adrian pointed out. "We got to have some kind of air support."

"Yeah, I know, but- they got you 'n they got your gunner, and that's it," said Dan. "What happens if you get hurt? Anybody here ever say 'damn, we'd better see about trainin' ourselves some backup'?"

"You can't blame 'em for that, Danny. I didn't think of it," Shephard said. "I should've."

"Folks in charge ought to be thinkin' 'bout that kind of thing, though," said Dan. "Not just leavin' it for you because you're there'n it keeps you out of their hair. Long as you're flyin' that thing they don't have to look at you."


"Hell, they don't even have a backup gunner for you, do they?" said Dan. "Just Chell, right? They don't need to let you anywhere near their people."

"Dan." It came out more like a bark than a word; Dan went silent. "Me'n Chell're a team. We work damn well together. I wouldn't want no one else in the gunner's seat."

"Even so." Dan jerked his head back towards the main part of the garage. "I'm no soldier, but from what you told me there's about half a dozen ways you could be doin' a hell of a lot more. You fought your way out of Black Mesa, you blew up most of the Scab-"

"Wasn't me. Chell blew the hangar, I just fucked up flyin' and the gunships hit buildings tryin' to follow me-"

"That don't matter- Ado, you've done everything you're damn well supposed to'n you're damn well good at it. You got trainin', you got know-how, but they ain't usin' it. They got you flyin' a goddamn helicopter and babysitting the gate guard and the demo man. You could be doin' a hell of a lot more if these folks'd let you." Dan leaned back on his heels. "I don't think they're gonna let you. They'd've done it by now if they were."

"Hold up there," started Adrian, raising a hand in protest."They been in this fight a fuck of a lot longer'n I have'n you know it. Black Mesa was my first fuckin' combat mission. Any one of 'em's got at least ten years experience on me."

"Fine," Dan said. "Fine. I understand that. Point in their favor. But how's that different from Dr. Freeman?"

Adrian was silent at that.

"These folks ain't the only game around, Ado. You made it out of the wild'n into the Scab alive. I made it up here from Rowlesburg. You and me set out to head back, I bet you we can make it through. Might be tight since I don't reckon we'll be able to use a Stalker car again, but I bet we c'n do it. And I can guarantee you, folks back home'll respect what you got to offer."

( "It's not that I don't think you deserve a promotion? But I'm not sure I'd feel right…" )

"I promised Ms. Vance I'd stay with them," Adrian said. "She's tryin'. It ain't the Corps, but it's somethin'. Gave her my word."

Dan looked at him for a long, long while. "All right," he finally said. "All right. 'm sorry. I ain't gonna ask you to go back on that."

"Fuckin' well better not. Brother or no I'll break your ass if you do."

"I'd like to see you try."
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