Hello, and welcome to the story.

This is an idea that I had for a potential sequel to the Half-Life expansion, Opposing Force. The idea has been bouncing around in my head for a while, but with Half-Life: Alyx just on the horizon, I finally decided to go ahead and write it out real quick. No doubt this is not an original idea, but I decided I might as well see if I couldn't put my own spin on it.

Though I write this story as if it would be the first chapter of a longer one, readers should be aware that I only intended this to be a one-shot, and that I do not intend to continue this story beyond this point.


Half-Life: Opposing Force 2

No matter which way he looked, all he saw was darkness.

For Corporal Adrian Shephard, nothing made sense anymore. Between the secret science facility, the alien invasion, and then the concerted government cover-up, he could no longer be certain of what was "true" anymore. Honestly, at this point, all Adrian wanted to do was go home, crawl into a bottle, and forget everything that had happened to him over the last forty-eight hours. Forget he had ever heard of the place known as "Black Mesa." Forget about all the bodies and the blood and all the gore. Forget about giant worm-like aliens with tentacles sticking out of places that it didn't belong. Go back to being good old "Corporal Adrian Shephard, United States Marine Corps."

But he couldn't. There was no escaping this nightmare he found himself in. No escaping the place where he had put him in.

'…we have decided to… convey you… somewhere you can do no possible harm…'

The words of that damn government agent, that damn… G-Man, came creeping back uninvited into Adrian's mind.

What the hell did that even mean!? Obviously, Adrian understood the words, but the meaning behind them…

Where the hell was he?

'…and where no harm can come to you. I'm sure you can imagine that there are worse… alternatives…'

'Worse alternatives.' That's what the man - if that was what he even was - had told him. Worse alternatives? What could be worse than this place? No matter where Adrian turned, all he saw was darkness. There was nothing to see, no landmarks, not even a frame of reference. Adrian had no idea whether he was sitting, standing, upside down, or whatever. He couldn't even tell how long he'd been here as his watch had stopped working hours ago after he had used it to block a blow from one of those headcrab things, plus his hearing was rather muffled for some reason, meaning he couldn't even hear the sound of his own heartbeat. He could have been here for minutes… hours… days even, and he wouldn't even have known!

It honestly kind of reminded him of something he had read about back in high school. About sensory-deprivation tanks. But that required a lot of water. And, among everything else, Adrian found he also couldn't feel anything.

Was he dead?

Adrian was not a religious man, but he had been raised in a Catholic household and as a result, he knew the Bible. At least, well enough to know what it said about how Heaven and Hell were supposed to look. But this place… this place did not match the description of either of those locations.

Maybe this was Purgatory.

Typical. Adrian had spent most of his military career just waiting. It only seemed natural he would spend the afterlife doing the same thing. But then that raised another question: what was he waiting for?

Again, the G-Man's words suddenly came unbidden into his mind:

'…I admit I have a fascination with those who adapt and survive against all odds – they rather remind me of myself,' the creature had said, his snake-like voice crawling its way through Adrian's mind. 'If for no other reason, I had argued to preserve you for a time…'

Preserved… One didn't preserve people, they preserved fruit!

And yet, here was Adrian.

But that was a good thing, right? That meant whoever had captured Adrian and brought him here – and it had to be more than one person as the G-Man had mentioned something about "his employers" – intended on keeping him alive.

At least for now.

But again, the question of "why" floated through Adrian's mind. Why him. Why was he allowed to live when so many others hadn't?

Involuntarily, the images of everything that had happened to him over the last few days began to flood his mind. Of Black Mesa. Of his fellow Marines. Of the scientists, faculty, and staff he thought he had been sent in to rescue, but in reality, had been ordered to kill. Of all the aliens. Of the Black Ops assassins who'd been sent in to silence everyone when Adrian and his comrades had failed to contain the situation. So many people. So many lives. One by one they had fallen. Many by Adrian's own hand after they had tried to kill him. Others, by the crossfire and the chaos as the entire facility had steadily torn itself apart. One by one, until it was only Adrian left.

And it really was only him, wasn't it? That thermonuclear warhead the Black Ops assassins had dragged into the garage to try and wipe the slate clean. The one Adrian had tried so desperately to disarm, only for that damn G-Man to come strolling in and casually rearm it.

Maybe that's why Adrian was here. He was the only one left. The last witness to the horror that was Black Mesa.

"Hello Corporal Shephard."

Adrian was ashamed to admit, he jumped. His eyes snapped open (when had he closed them?) only to come face to face with –

-him. The goddamn G-Man.

Instinctively, Adrian went on the offensive. He lashed out with his fist as hard as he could, trying to break the freakish creature's face in. However, despite seemingly standing at arm's length from him, Adrian's fist never connected. In fact, his arms didn't even move.

What the fuck…

Stranger still was the fact that the G-Man didn't even react either. Almost as if Adrian hadn't moved at all. Instead, all the creature did was cock its head, and stare at Adrian with its soulless eyes, a creepy smirk on its face.

"My apologies, Corporal Shephard," the G-Man said, slightly dragging out his 's' like he was some damn snake. "I assure you, this is not how we normally would like to operate. However, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary methods…"

'What the hell are you talking about?' Adrian wanted to say but for some reason, his voice seemed to refuse to work, and the G-Man continued without pause.

"And these are unusual circumstances. For you see, a third party has intervened and… misappropriated one of our assets. This… cannot be allowed. Rather than send other assets, I have persuaded my employers to allow you a chance to prove yourself. For I know a man like you… doesn't like to leave a mission unfulfilled."

Adrian stared at the G-Man, not quite following the conversation. What was this creature going on about?

"It'ss time, Corporal Shephard. Time to go to work," the G-Man commanded and then, much to Adrian's horror, leaned forward until it's face was right next to Adrian's. Then, much like the Biblical snake that whispered into Eve's ear, the creature said two words that sent echoes through Adrian's mind:

"Find… Freeman."

Adrian gasped.

"WE GOT A LIVE ONE HERE!"

The sound of rocks and gravel being scraped away filled Adrian's ears before suddenly, without any warning, a giant slab of concrete was removed from over his head and –

LIGHT! Glorious light began streaming into Adrian's hole. It wasn't bright light, but contrasting the infinite void that Adrian has just spent the last few minutes in, he'd take it!

Adrian let out a sigh of relief, only to accidently inhale a breath full of dust, which promptly sent him into a coughing fit. Nevertheless, he wasn't too distracted to not notice the denim clad pair of arms that reached for him, and Adrian reflexively grabbed them.

"C'mon buddy! We got you!" the figure urged as they began pulling Adrian out of the hole he found himself in. It took a bit of effort on their part, as well as Adrian's, but eventually he was able to climb out to the surface whereupon he promptly threw himself onto the road, doing his best to catch his breath.

"You're okay buddy, you're okay!" the figure told him, before suddenly turning to yell at someone Adrian couldn't see. "HEY! GO GET THE MEDIC! AND BRING A MEDKIT!"

"Take it easy, okay? Just hang in there, we'll get you some help," the man said as he turned back to address Adrian directly. Adrian, who was still in the midst of a coughing fit, found he could only give a man a thumb's up in acknowledgement.

Bending over at the waist, Adrian began spitting on the ground, doing his best to clear his lungs of the dust that had accumulated there. As he did, he happened to notice the clothing he was wearing: the last time he had seen himself in a mirror, he had been wearing the white, black, and blue-gray colored battle dress uniform that had been standard issued to his Marine Hazardous Environmental Combat Unit. It had been covered in all sorts of blood, alien gore, and grime from nonstop combat operations. Given the intensity of the fighting, he hadn't had the time to change into a fresh uniform; not that he even had a fresh set of fatigues to change into even if he had. That uniform, along with his government issued Powered Combat Vest, was what he had been wearing prior to being forced into the void by that damn G-Man.

Yet somehow, in the intervening time, without Adrian knowing or even realizing, he had changed clothes. No long was he dressed in his HECU BDUs, but instead he was clad in… something else. By the looks of it, he had some sort of bullet-resistant vest on, knee-high leather boots that reminded him a little of riding boots, and even though Adrian was covered in a fine layer of dust, the grime couldn't completely hide the black-green colored uniform he was wearing. In general, it kind of reminded Adrian of a police uniform, specifically those from a former Eastern Bloc country…

Before Adrian could spend any more time pondering on his sudden change of clothing, the man who had rescued him suddenly looked at him. Specifically the way Adrian was currently trying to cough out one of his lungs.

"Oh, sorry buddy," the man said apologetically. "Let me help you with that."

Before Adrian could object, the man lifted a hand, and pounded Adrian hard on the back. Presumably, the man had been attempting to loosen the dust that was stuck in Adrian's throat, to the point where Adrian would have been able to spit it out. Instead, however, all the man did was cause the dust that had been lightly coating Adrian's body to fly off, creating an instant cloud around the two of them and making the situation that much worse.

"Oh, crap!" the man yelped as Adrian doubled down. "Sorry about that! We need some fresh air. C'mon!"

Without another word, he hooked his arm around Adrian's and led him a few steps down the street, away from all the dust.

"That's better," the man declared as he reached up to brush Adrian's shoulder away. "Now you should –"

The man abruptly trailed off and Adrian's head snapped up as he felt the man's mood unexpectedly shift. No longer was there a cheerful, yet hopefully helpful presence around the man. Instead, a strange and intense look had appeared on the man's face as he stared at Adrian, and more specifically, the uniform he was wearing with fresh eyes. It was a look that Adrian knew all too well, as he had seen it far too many times in the last few days on the faces of all the Black Mesa faculty and staff when they realized Adrian was wearing the uniform of the group that had been sent in to kill them, not rescue them. It was also the same look his fellow Marines had been sporting when they found out the Black Ops assassins had been sent in to do the same thing.

It was the look of absolute horror and hatred.

"CIVIL PROTECTION!" the man screamed before whipping out the KA-BAR knife Adrian hadn't notice he'd been carrying, and stabbing it forward.

Immediately, Adrian's battle instincts, honed to a razor edge by all the fighting he had participated in the last few days kicked in.

Ignoring his shortness of breath, Adrian immediately stepped to his left, dodging the blow by a hair. As the man's knife arm proceeded to leave a small scratch on his vest, Adrian grabbed a hold of the man's wrist with his right hand, keeping the man's arm in place extended in front of him and preventing him from attacking any further. At the same time, Adrian lashed out with his left hand, driving the palm into the man's elbow with enough force, it caused the arm to completely bend in the wrong direction.

"AHHHH!" the man screamed out in pain. He reflexively opened his hand and dropped his knife, and as it hit the ground, Adrian kicked it down the street, away from where the man could grab it.

With his attacker now disarmed, Adrian wrapped his left arm around the man's head while at the same time, hooking his ankle behind the man's feet, and pushed, throwing the man hard to the ground. The man landed on his back, hitting the pavement with enough force Adrian swore he could feel the ground shake, and he was about to go in for the finishing blow, but it was at that moment Adrian's lack of sufficient oxygen caught up to him, and he took a step back in the hopes the man would calm down now.

Unfortunately, the man didn't seem to get the hint.

"COMBINE WHORE!" the man screamed as he rolled over onto his belly to grab at a sharp piece of metal that was laying on the ground nearby, and Adrian realized he didn't have a choice: he didn't get this far only to be killed without having a chance to find answers. He swiftly lifted his boot and –

CRACK

The sickening noise of bones breaking filled the air as Adrian proceeded to curb-stomp the man's face into the pavement. He took a step back as a small pool of blood began to form underneath his former attacker's face and Adrian didn't even need to get close to confirm: the man was clearly dead.

Running his hands across his scalp, Adrian let out a shuddering breath. Dammit. He would have thought that after Black Mesa, he would have been completely desensitized to all the bloodshed by now, but killing his fellow man still bothered him greatly. Aliens were easy to kill: given how inhuman they appeared, it was extremely easy to think of them as nothing more than monsters. But killing other human beings? The Corps had of course trained him to become a killer, but he was supposed to be killing the enemy. At Black Mesa? He'd been killing the innocent. And not just the innocent: he'd been murdering United States citizens. Fellow Americans. The very people he'd sworn to protect. And though Adrian hadn't known who this man was, or where his allegiances laid, given everything Adrian had experienced, he couldn't help but start to question everything he'd been told.

'C'mon Marine, focus!'

The voice of Senior Drill Instructor Barnes, Adrian's D.I. from boot camp, suddenly echoed through his thoughts, and Adrian suddenly realized he still didn't know where he was, or what the hell was going on, or whether he was even safe or not. His training immediately kicked in, and shoving his disgust aside, he quickly dropped to his knees and began searching the corpse for a weapon. As he did, he tried to process all the information he had picked up in the last few minutes.

There was clearly some sort of war going on, and obviously the man had been on the opposite side of Adrian. Not only had the man called Adrian "Civil Protection" - which sort of confirmed Adrian's suspicions he was wearing some sort of police outfit - and a "Combine whore" – which Adrian did not understand - contrasting the more systematic uniform Adrian was wearing, the man had been clad in a mish-mash of clothing: denim jeans, an olive drab green jacket, some sort of bullet-resistance vest that looked like it could have been salvaged from the same organization that Adrian's clothing belonged to, as well as –

Adrian paused as he spotted the armband the man had been wearing over his right bicep. More specifically, the lambda symbol that had been hastily spray-painted on in yellow-orange paint. Wait a minute… hadn't he seen this symbol plastered all over the walls of the Black Mesa facility?

Before Adrian had a chance to ponder on the question further, the sound of footsteps approaching him caused him to look up in time to see –

Oh, crap!

Three "soldiers," all clad in similar ways to the man he had just killed, with armbands bearing the same lambda symbol and armed with an assortment of weaponry, came rounding the corner. They immediately spotted Adrian, who was wearing the uniform of their enemy, crouched over the dead body of one of their comrades, and instantly came to the most logical of conclusions.

"COMBINE!" they screamed, lifting their weapons, and Adrian's hands automatically shot into the air in surrender even though he had a suspicion that wasn't going to work when –

"CORPORAL! PULL YOUR SOCKS UP!"

Adrian didn't think: he just reacted and immediately collapsed to the ground.

RATATATATATATATA!

The sound of SMG fire torn through the air and Adrian glanced up to see all three soldiers collapsing to the ground as they were hosed with bullets. Looking behind him, Adrian spotted seven more people come running up to him, though these soldiers were clearly members of the so-called "Civil Protection" as not only were they all dressed the same way, they were moving like they actually had training. As they got closer though, Adrian was surprised to see about half of them were wearing what appeared to be Soviet-era PMG gas mask. Was that part of the uniform? Adrian certainly hoped not because ironically enough, as a US Marine who'd been trained in the post-Soviet era, he'd been trained to kill wearers of that mask.

As the group approached, one man immediately began issuing out orders.

"Walther, Benelli, check those bodies and secure those weapons!" the obvious leader of the group, one of the men not wearing a mask, barked out. "Remington, you've got the rifle: get up to the top of that pile of rubble and give me top cover. The rest of you, fan out! Make sure no more Resistance sneaks up on us!"

As the Soldiers began to disperse, the man grabbed a hold of one of them, the only female of the group, and one who also wasn't wearing a helmet.

"Sergeant Makarova, you've got the medkit, right?"

"Yes Warrant Officer Nikonov."

Nikonov pointed at Shephard. "Get him up on his feet while I try and reestablish contact with Overwatch. You've got five minutes, go!"

Makarova immediately dropped to her knees. Placing her SMG on the ground, she pulled out a medkit that looked very similar to the ones Shephard had seen in Black Mesa, and ripped it open.

"Hang on Soldier, I'll get you back on your feet in a jiffy," she said.

Shephard absentmindedly nodded though he wasn't paying attention. With his mind still on combat and survival mode, the first thing he had done the moment he had laid eyes on this group was take stock of their weapons. For a group that was fighting a war, they seemed strangely light in terms of armament: based on his experiences, a four man Marine fireteam probably carried twice the amount of firepower these guys currently had.

For starters, only the guy on overwatch, Remington, if Shephard remember correctly, was actually carrying a rifle, the design of which Shephard did not recognize. One other soldier was carrying a shotgun, while the remaining five were all carrying pistols and submachine guns. Granted, all of the submachine guns appeared to be equipped with a small under-barrel grenade launcher, but aside from that, they didn't have any machine guns, rocket launchers, or even hand grenades. Did whoever was in charge of this Civil Protection really think their soldiers would be fine with just SMGs?

While the medic, Makarova, was distracted, Shephard took a moment to study the weapon she had lying on the ground next to her. It was a design he didn't – wait. Was that… was that an MP7?

Shephard stared incomprehensibly at the weapon. He had heard about MP7s before; he remembered reading about them in one of the issues of American Rifleman, the magazine he received every month as part of his NRA membership. It was a weapon that was being designed by the famed German weapons manufacture, Heckler and Koch. Supposedly, it was to be one of the first of a new breed of firearms: the "personal defense weapon." Firing a shortened assault rifle round out of a submachine gun size weapon, the weapon was intended to be issued out to rear-echelon support troops; it would give them a weapon that wouldn't be so cumbersome and heavy for them to carry while they went about their duties, while still granting them the range and armored-penetrating characteristics of a full-fledged rifle. The MP7, alongside their competitor, the Belgium Fabrique Nationale Herstal P90, promised to "revolutionize" warfare.

The thing was, the MP7 wasn't supposed to reach full production until the 2000's. And even then, it would take several more years before it would see mass issuing. But… it was 1998…

…wasn't it?

Exactly how long had Adrian stayed in that void?

"Blyat!" Nikonov suddenly yelled as he ripped out his earpiece and causing Adrian to snap up in surprise.

"Something wrong Warrant Officer?" Makarova anxiously asked.

"Overwatch is down: I don't have a connection to anybody anymore," Nikonov confessed. He glanced at Adrian. "Is he ready to go?"

"Yes Warrant Officer," Makarova declared as she slammed the top to the medkit shut.

"Good. Patrol! Gather around! We need to figure out what our next move is!"

Adrian hastily scooted to the side as the rest of the soldiers consolidated on Nikonov.

"What's going on Warrant Officer?" one of the Soldiers, the one with the rifle, Remington, immediately asked, and Adrian couldn't help but stare at him. Adrian didn't know if it was the mask or whether something was wrong with his voice, but for some reason, when Remington spoke, his voice came out as very robotic and creepy. It was somewhat intimating, if Adrian was being honest with himself, and he began to revise his assessment of the current situation.

"Overwatch is down and the entire network is screwed up," Nkonov had grimly declared in the meantime.

One of the other Soldiers began shifting uncomfortably.

"Oh no," he anxiously groaned and despite his mask and robotic tone, Adrian was still able to tell how young the man actually was. "What do we do? What do we do?"

"First you calm down Grach," Nikonov started to say, but before he could finish, Remington started hysterically laughing.

"'What do we do?'" he repeated. "I'll tell you what we do: we all bend over and kiss our asses' goodbye because the Combine is going to bring the fucking hammer down on all of us and I'm not just talking about the Resistance or even the Civil Protection! No, all of fucking humanity is going to about to get their shit kicked in!"

"Calm down Remington," one of the other soldiers urged. "We don't know that for certain."

"OF COURSE we fucking know that!" Remington retorted. "Look around you Walther! You know just as well as I do the only way we were ever going to survive the Combine was if we kept our heads down and didn't cause trouble! Now what do we have? Opening fucking rebellion! No, Combine is going to wash their hands of us and liquidate us all!"

"Shut up Remington, we haven't gotten to that point yet," Nikonov barked. "We can still salvage this situation. We just need to think. What are our options?"

"Maybe we should surrender?" one of the other Soldiers suggested.

Remington immediately scoffed.

"Surrender? To who? The fucking rebels? Christ, I always knew you were fucking stupid Tokarev, but holy shit," Remington said with an audible sneer. "Assuming the rebels don't just shot us on sight, you really think the rebels are going to welcome us back with open arms? After all the fucked up things we did to them on behalf of the Combine? And don't even try to claim that your hands are clean Tokarev: I saw what you did to that old man after you thought he looked at you funny. Wasn't much left of his head after you were done, was there?"

"Even if we did surrender and somehow survived," Makarova interject, "there's still our families we have to think about. I joined Civil Protection to try and get my family out of the Canals, but that just put them straight into Combine's hands. If the Combine found out we went turncoat, who do you think they're going to liquidate first?"

Tokarev shrugged.

"That's not my problem: I don't got a family," he indifferently said. "I'm just saying though: if the Combine are going to come down hard, then maybe its best humanity provide a unified front. And I don't know about you guys, but from where I'm sitting, the rebels are winning."

"No, fuck that!" Remington immediately declared. "'Unified front?' Are you fucking kidding me? Am I the only one here who remembers the Seven Hour War? I know all of you were old enough to have experienced it, but maybe because none of you were old enough to have served in any of the old-world armies, you didn't realize just how badly we got our shit kicked in. But I did. I was with the best army in the world at the time, the United States fucking Army. We had everything: fucking tanks, artillery, jets, missile, you name it. And yet we still got overrun like we were nothing more than the fucking Royal Italian Army!"

Remington paused and glanced at the Soldier welding the sole shotgun of the group.

"No offense Benelli," he called out, and Adrian turned his head in time to see Benelli giving an indifferent shrug.

"The point is," Remington finished, "if we had no hope then, then we have absolutely no chance now. It wouldn't be a seven hour war: it would be a fucking seven second war."

"Unfortunately, as much as I hate to agree with Remington, I have to," Nikonov suddenly said. "I, too, served in one of the old-world armies and in the war that occurred moments after the Combine invasion… that's not something I want to experience ever again. No, our best bet is to stick with the Combine. We just need some way to appease them, let them know that not all of humanity is against them."

"But how?" Makarova asked. "We don't have anything the Combine want!"

Adrian could see Nikonov opening his mouth, before shutting it just as quickly. For the next few moments, the entire group just sat there, debating what to do next.

Or, at least Adrian assumed they were. For his part though, Adrian was still trying to process all the information he was getting from this new world he found himself being thrusted in. Apparently there had been some alien invasion, and the world's militaries had lost? In less than seven hours? That didn't seem right to Adrian. As a Marine, he was fairly confident in the Corps' ability to hold their own in a conventional war but not only that, he had done some cross-training with the Canadian Army and British Royal Marine in the past before. Naturally, they weren't as good as the U.S., but they knew their stuff. To have all those armies only last seven hours?

But assuming that was true, then what did that make Civil Protection? What did that make these Soldiers sitting beside Adrian right now? Collaborators? A bunch of quislings? If that was the case, if this so-called Resistance was fighting to overthrow their alien oppressors, then that made them, at least in Adrian's eyes, the good guys. That meant Adrian should be fighting with them, not Civil Protection.

'Wait a minute. Fighting? Hang on Adrian, you're not here to fight,' Adrian immediately reminded himself.

Then what was he here for?

Adrian thought back to when he was still stuck in that infinity void. How long ago had that been? It felt like minutes to Adrian, but clearly years had passed. What was it that damn G-Man had said before he suddenly found himself here, in this ruined city?

"Find Freeman."

"What?"

Adrian jumped. He hadn't realized he had said that last part out loud.

He turned to see Nikonov giving him a funny look, but before the man could say anything, Remington immediately began snapping his finger.

"No, no," he urgently began. "I think the new guy might be onto something. All this shit? All this started because of this Freeman character, right? I mean, even the Combine were breaking out everything to find this guy. Like, we all heard Administrator Breen over his Breencast, right? So, if we can find Freeman, if we can deliver him to the Combine, maybe, just maybe, they'll cut us some slack and at least spare some of us."

"Wait, hold on," Tokarev interrupted, holding up his hand. "Let me get this straight: you want us to go after Freeman. The Gordon Freeman? 'The One Free Man?' That Gordon Freeman? Are you joking?"

"No, why?"

"Because that man is a god," Tokarev explained. "No one can stop him. Not the Combine, not the Xen aliens, nothing. A couple rebels we captured and, uh, 'interrogated' a couple days ago even told us that Freeman somehow managed to make it through Ravenholm, up the Coast, and through Nova Prospekt, all without taking a single scratch."

"Bullshit man," Remington snorted. "That's all rebel lies in order to hype Freeman up. No one is that good. No one."

"Don't believe me? Then look at the Citadel," Tokarev retorted, pointing skyward. "That's his handiwork."

Adrian glanced at where Tokarev was pointing, and for the first time since he reemerged onto the surface, he became aware of what was going on in the sky.

The sky was one gigantic swirling vortex. It kind of remind Adrian of pictures he had seen of hurricanes taken from satellites looking down on the Earth, only this hurricane was an angry-looking whirlwind of orange and dark red, as if a nuke had just gone off and had consumed the sky in one massive and never-ending explosion. Not only that, as Adrian watched, he could see flashes of green lightening going off, which immediately called to mind the same green lightening from Black Mesa that had always occurred whenever an alien was about to teleport into the same room as him.

Or that same portal that damn G-Man had left through, just before depositing Adrian into the void.

At any case, the vortex seemed to have a single point of origin: a massive, metallic skyscraper that towered over the entire surrounding area. Jagged, and made up of a lot of sharp edge, and almost black in color, there was only one way Adrian could describe it: evil-looking. Adrian wasn't sure how he had missed seeing that the moment he emerged onto the surface, but to be fair, he was extremely distracted at the time.

While Adrian was busy gawking at the tower, or the Citadel, as it was supposedly called, Remington had been shaking his head.

"No way," he had been saying. "No way is that Freeman's work. There is absolutely no way a single man could have done all that. No way."

"It doesn't matter what we believe," Nikonov suddenly declared. "Maybe Freeman is a god, maybe he's just extremely lucky, or maybe he's surrounded by an entire army of Spetsnaz and propaganda is making it seem like he's fighting alone. None of that matters. What matters is, the new guy is right: Freeman is the key. If we can capture Freeman, maybe that will give us a bargaining chip that we could maybe use to convince the Combine that we are still of some use to them. And that chance, however small, we need to grab, not just for our own sake, but for all of humanity. Because Remington is right: the Combine is not going to take this rebellion lying down. They will bring the hammer down on our heads. Civil Protection, Resistance… it doesn't matter. We're all about to get the sickle."

Nikonov slowly glanced at his men, staring at each of them one by one as they all started to nod in agreement, including Remington. Once he had made a full circle of his men and gotten their approval, he turned to Adrian.

"Got a weapon Corporal?" he asked, and when Adrian shook his head, Nikonov pulled out his sidearm. "Take this then. It's not much, and I only have one mag, but it's better than using your fist, huh? Or, I don't know, a wrench or something."

Adrian took the offered sidearm and immediately recognized it. It was an H&K USP Match. With a lengthened barrel, match-grade trigger, adjustable rear sights, and integrated barrel compensator, it was one hell of a target pistol. His uncle had managed to get his hands on one of the first ones ever offered in the United States, and he had let Adrian give it a go just after he had graduated from SOI. Adrian remembered being completely blown away by how accurate it was.

Ejecting the magazine, Adrian checked to make sure it was fully loaded, before pulling back a bit on the slide to check to see if there was a round chambered. By the looks of it, this pistol was the 9mm variant, with a standard eighteen round magazine. Excellent; from everything Adrian had seen so far, he had a feeling he was going to need every single round.

Out of the corner of his eye, Adrian could see Nikonov nodding his head in approval.

"Magazine is topped off and there's one in the chamber," he reported. "Nineteen rounds; as long as you don't act like a blatnoy, should last you a while until we find more firepower. Which leads me to my next point."

Adrian looked up as Nikonov's tone grew more serious.

"We," he gestured to everyone that surrounded him. "Are going after Freeman. I don't know what patrol you come from, but I understand that you might not be all that interested in joining a group made up of people you don't know. Especially on a mission this dangerous. But this is the one chance we have to save ourselves, and we've got to take it. And we could use the extra gun. But it's up to you."

With that, Nikonov immediately turned back to his men.

"What's our first step Warrant Officer?" Adrian heard Makarova asking.

"'First step?' First step is: we get out of the city. The Citadel looks like it's about to explode any minute now, and I don't know what happens when it does, but I don't intend to stick around to find out. We have got to get out of the city. After that?" Nikonov let out a loud sigh. "We'll figure it out. In the meantime, move out!"

The entire group climbed to their feet and took off, leaving Adrian alone on the road. He sat there, considering his options.

While Adrian was starting to get a picture of what had occurred to his world while he was… away, there was still so much information left to be processed, and so many questions yet to be answered. And those questions didn't even include the ones he still had about that mysterious G-Man and his even more mysterious employers. But there were two facts that Adrian couldn't ignore: one, by all appearances, he was going to be stuck here in the shithole indefinitely. And two, he had a mission, one that he was absolutely going to execute: find Freeman.

Not because the damn G-Man had told him to.

But because the G-Man had fucked up.

First off, by having Adrian go after Freeman instead of doing it himself, he had revealed to Adrian just how valuable Freeman was to the G-Man's organization; if there was one thing Adrian had learned in the Corps, it was that you didn't get outsiders involved in classified missions unless it was really important. If Adrian could get to Freeman before anyone else, then like Nikonov had said, Adrian might be able to get his hands on a rather powerful bargaining chip.

And then two: by revealing to Adrian that Freeman had somehow been "misappropriated" by a third party, G-Man had revealed that there was someone or something that had the ability to thwart his plans. And that third party clearly had an interest in this Freeman character. Even if Adrian wasn't able to capture Freeman, perhaps during the course of his hunt, he'd be able to make contact with this mysterious third party, and they could provide him answers to the questions he had.

And once he had those… well, he'd cross that bridge when he got to it.

For now though, he best bet was probably to stick with this Civil Protection group and pick up whatever information he could gather from them without raising any suspicions. It would be like being back in Boot Camp: he'd keep his mouth sealed shut, and his eyes and ears open. But once this group had outlived their usefulness, then all bets were off.

Mind made up, Adrian climbed to his feet and lifted his borrowed handgun.

It was time to get to work.


General Notes

1. Curb-stomp: yes, I know that's technically not a "curb-stomp," I just couldn't think of another term for it.

2. 1998: I don't know if there was ever a set date for when the Black Mesa incident occurred, but for the purpose of this story, I'm assuming the games took place the same year they were released. So, Half-Life 1 took place in 1998, while Half-Life 2 would take place in 2004.

3. Blyat: the Russian word for "fuck."

As far as I know, there's never been any confirmation of what country City 17 is actually supposed to take place, but its design has very clearly been influenced by Eastern European/Eastern Bloc architecture. Not only that, based on the variety of accents found throughout the city in the game, it wouldn't surprise me if the Combine had been shuffling people from various different countries around in order to prevent the concentration of one particular ethnic group, thus prevent a unified human front in any one particular location. Because of that, Nikonov at least, is intended to be Russian.

This of course does raise the issue of whatever is actually speaking during the game, but I'm going to go ahead and assume everyone is speaking in English, which is why Nikonov is occasionally throwing out some untranslated Russian words.

4. Spetsnaz: this is merely the Russian word for "special forces." Contrary to popular believe, it does not actually refer to a specific unit; rather, the term is a catch all phrase for any and all special forces units in Russia and some post-Soviet Union countries, similar to the way "Special Operations Forces" or "SOF" is used in the United States.

5. Blatnoy: or блатной. As far as I can tell, this is the Russian word for "thief" or "hoodlum," and is used in a similar way to the word "gangster" is in English.

6. Rank: in my other stories, I usually use American military ranks but I thought I would do something different for this one. So, in keeping with the Eastern European theme, the ranks are supposed to be based more on the Russian Army system, though obviously with everything translated into English for the sake of the story, it comes across closer to the Commonwealth system instead.