The journey through the vents was, surprisingly, uneventful.
All the paneling of the ventilation shafts, while somewhat rusty and dented, was free of gouges or bloodstains. The few vent covers he came across were still intact, forcing him to use his crowbar to proceed. He couldn't hear any growls, or screams, or any other signs of those creatures being nearby.
After everything else the last hour had wrought, it was almost frustrating. The hallways littered with bodies, the abominations roaming the halls…the rest of Black Mesa may as well have been a war zone at this point. So why, out of all places, were the vents here so calm? Where were those creatures?
He never got to find that answer before being forced out into the main passageway once more. Even his extensive experience with the Black Mesa ventilation system had limits, such as being unable to climb dozens of feet up vertical shafts. As such, he found himself wandering the concrete corridors of the Lower Canals once again, clutching his pistol and crowbar nervously.
For the most part, the hallways were in remarkably good shape as well. Ceilings and walls were intact, the lighting system was functioning, and there were no corpses or bloodstains nearby. The other personnel down here must have gotten the evacuation order before overwhelming numbers of the creatures arrived. Hopefully that proved true for the other sectors of Black Mesa as well.
After several moments wandering through empty hallways, he eventually came across another bridge. Thankfully, this one was fully intact, crossing over the gap below with metal panels and sturdy guardrails. The canal it was crossing was also much closer, a mere thirty feet below instead of the hundred the previous one was. It was still several dozen feet of open ground to cross, but for the moment, the path appeared clear.
Gordon cautiously began to walk forwards, keeping his pistol raised. The area was well-lit, and there was plenty of room to maneuver. That, combined with his HEV suit, would give him some small advantage if-
His thoughts were disrupted as another obsidian tear in reality opened, several feet above the other end of the bridge. Gordon only caught a glimpse of the creature as a new horror entered the world, more bone and smoke amalgamations, before it crashed into the metal paneling with a terrible clang. The metal panels bent and broke under the creature's weight, sending it crashing through the bridge and towards the canal below.
Gordon stumbled, feeling the bridge shake and buckle. He could hear the bridge creak and groan from the strain, bending further towards the canal. His feet began to slide on the metal flooring, and although he tried to reach out for the railings, they were too far away to grab. The canal bank approached, getting closer and closer-
Before he even recognized what was happening, Gordon slid off the ruined bridge and onto the concrete floor. His body landed on the concrete with a rough thud, rolling over into the wall. Pain shot through his side with the impact, his left arm and leg taking the brunt of the force.
But Gordon had far more pressing worries than the suit's warnings of minor fractures. Twisting around, he scanned around the room, looking for any sign of the creature. However, all he could see was the rest of the bridge falling into the water, throwing massive plumes of water into the air.
Had it fallen into the water? Did some of the falling debris kill it? But if that was the case, then where was the body?
A twinge of pain broke through Gordon's questions, making him clutch his side. Whatever had happened to it, it wasn't his problem anymore. If it was still alive, he needed to leave before it returned to finish him off.
Shakily getting to his feet, Gordon took another look around. There weren't any ladders near the tunnel entrances to climb up, leaving him stuck on this floor. Nearby, he could see a metal door built into the wall, labeled with a grimy 'Maintenance Access' sign. He grabbed his crowbar and-
Wait, where was his pistol? Did he drop it somewhere? Gordon looked nearby, trying to locate the weapon, but there was no sign of it. All he could see were pieces of debris and twisted metal.
A massive splash from the water disrupted his search. Back in the water, Gordon could make out another creature attempted to climb up the canal banks. This new variant was strange, with a massive tail and two legs, seemingly abandoning the animalistic characteristics of the other species. Thankfully, it appeared to be stuck down there, unable to find a foothold on the steep concrete.
It felt unnatural, watching one of these creatures struggle and drown from a position of relative safety. Every instinct he had was screaming at him to run, to escape, to do everything in his power to get away. He had witnessed the carnage these creatures were capable of. Merely having it be so close was making his skin crawl.
And yet, part of him wanted to stay and watch, despite the terror gripping his mind. These creatures were so strange, so alien…these creatures were unlike anything he had ever seen before. What kind of environment would cause lifeforms like that to develop?
In a sudden burst of movement, the creature sprang from the water, throwing itself at the canal bank. This time, the creature managed to dig into the material with its leg, tearing through the material with bony claws. It still slid back towards the water, but it didn't fall completely in.
Seeing the creature begin to escape, Gordon turned and sprinted towards the maintenance door. He could hear it clamber onto the bank behind him, but he refused to turn around and look. His life was more important than scientific curiosity, and if that creature was as fast as the others, every second counted.
Barney hated to admit it, but he was getting desperate.
That creature was still lounging around down at the bottom of the freight elevator, prowling around right next to his best opportunity to get to safety. He was pretty sure it knew he was somewhere nearby, but it refused to move too far from the elevator. It just had to know what it was doing. Why wasn't it running hog wild all over the facility like the rest of those monsters?
Sadly, his other thoughts of escape appeared to be unfeasible. The canal, while seemingly clear of demonic horrors, was worryingly deep, swift, and murky. Unless he got lucky, odds were good that he'd simply be swept underwater all the way through Black Mesa, drowning in some drainage pipe along the way. Worse still, he might get crushed in the turbines on the way out. As for the broken ladder, well…
He'd taken a quick peek back in that tunnel, just to see if Plan B was feasible. The now-familiar orange glow shining out from the ventilation shafts had quickly dissuaded him from investigating any further.
Now, he was simply left with two options: tangle with Fido down there and hope that his shotgun was enough to kill it or find some way to contact the surface. And he'd been looking through his temporary sanctuary for a while, searching for a radio, or a phone, or…anything, really. Unfortunately, it looked like Black Mesa spent as much on its comms systems in this sector as it did for the rest of the maintenance tunnels.
Which meant that, somehow, he had to figure out how to kill that creature with a handful of flares, a shotgun with limited ammo, and a pistol that would only piss it off at best. Maybe he could shoot at it from a distance, get it to move away…
…Yeah, that wasn't a good idea. But what else could he do? It wasn't like he could make it back to Sector G, and he couldn't remember any other paths to the surface…
"…Wait a moment."
Unless he followed the canals even further down.
In all the confusion and chaos, he'd forgotten about where this stretch of the canals led off to. It would be a bit of a jaunt, but he was pretty sure that these tunnels eventually connected to the Waste Processing facility. From there, he should be able to find a different, less suicidal route topside. If he was lucky, maybe there'd even be an exit near the freight yard!
…Given his day so far, he probably wasn't going to be that lucky. It would probably be a miracle if he even got to Waste Processing in the first place. Still, it beat just sitting around and waiting for the military to find him, or, God forbid, trying to tangle with that overgrown poodle himself. Who knew if buckshot would even put a dent in that thing?
Now all he had to do was leave his safe, well-lit hidey hole, go back into the filthy and monster-infested maintenance tunnels, and try to make his way through one of the most dangerous buildings in Black Mesa. No pressure.
"…I really ought to stop giving myself pep-talks." Barney muttered. For as much as he liked to call himself an optimist, he couldn't help but second-guess himself in the midst of stressful situations like this.
But like hell was he just going to sit around and hope that someone else would reach him. He'd seen enough evidence to know that, well-equipped or not, the army was going to have a hard time trying to clear out the lower sections of Black Mesa. Besides, who knew how many more of those creatures were going to pop out of thin air? If he wanted to get a seat on the rescue helicopters, he needed to get topside as soon as possible.
Checking his equipment one last time, Barney made his way towards the door. Risky or not, trying to make it to the surface beat waiting for something else to find him.
As he stared at the chasm ahead, Gordon tried to make sense of how his life had gotten to this point.
Just an hour and a half before, his life had been normal. It had been a routine day, just another rushed experiment with the rest of the science team. His work environment had been safe, his coworkers were being helpful…he'd been more concerned with confiscated coffee and tardiness than anything else.
And now he was stuck above another massive gap, watching cargo crates dangle in the air hundreds of feet above a massive pit, contemplating which path was less suicidal. The path back towards the canal was blocked off by that creature, preventing him from trying to find another exit near the canal, but…
Well, what the hell was he supposed to do? The security office behind him was locked, and this time, the glass was completely intact. He couldn't break reinforced glass with just a crowbar! And the other entrance had been sealed off as well, the hydraulic lock having become stuck. Other catwalks were lit up around the edge of the pit, but there was no way to get to them.
Except, as risky and stupid as it was, there was one path left. He could just barely see the other side of the chasm, lit up with fluorescent bulbs. The blurry sight of an open door greeted him from the distance, offering his only chance of escape.
Which meant climbing and jumping across cargo containers, hoping that nothing showed up to attack him and that the crates were securely anchored to the transport rail. Otherwise, he'd have to hope his HEV suit could protect him from a dozen-story drop.
Just…what was even the purpose of this room? What was in those boxes? Black Mesa didn't mass manufacture anything on-site, at least to his knowledge. Were these supposed to be supplies for rocket assembly? Or replacement parts for the anti-mass spectrometer?
Gordon knew that those questions didn't matter right now. However, every question he asked meant another moment before he had to leap over the abyss, risking certain death for a vague hope of escape. The only positive aspect to the situation was that he couldn't see any creatures nearby. For now, the room was secure.
His hands trembled as he gripped the railing, gauging the distance between the platform and the first crate. It was only a few feet away. Manageable, if terrifying. He would almost call it reasonable, but nothing about this situation could be described as such.
Sighing, Gordon climbed up on the railing. He could feel his balance wavering already, catching glimpses of the fall should he fail. Tensing up, he sprang from the platform, waving his arms as he grabbed for the crate. His hands latched onto the cable as he landed, gripping it desperately as the crate swung and shifted beneath him.
After a few moments, in which Gordon tried to control his panicked breathing, the crate stopped shifting. He unsteadily stood up, keeping the cable in his grasp at all times. The first jump had been successful. One down, seven to go.
Gordon wasn't sure if his heart could handle seven more jumps. It already felt like he was on the verge of having a heart attack. He could feel adrenaline flooding his body, making his head pound and ears ring.
But he was committed now. There was no way he could leap back, and sitting still would just leave him trapped. Gordon slowly got to his feet, trying to ignore his shaking legs. He could collapse into a pile once he reached solid ground.
The Waste Processing Facility was, without a doubt, one of the least-liked buildings in Black Mesa.
It wasn't just the fact that most of the machinery was made up of Cold War relics. It wasn't just the fact that the facility dealt with everything from trash to radioactive waste.
The worst part, by far, was that godawful stench.
Decades of constant waste processing and disposal had left the facility with a smell that was, quite frankly, indescribable. More of a force of nature than a scent, it was enough to debilitate lesser men in just a few hours of exposure. It took a special kind of person to work in that environment, and even then, they were usually on frequent shift changes.
It was no surprise that this was where the rookies on the security team tended to get their first patrols. If you could survive there, you could handle anything Black Mesa threw at you. Well, anything before today, at least.
As such, when Barney opened the door to his old stomping grounds, he found himself unimpressed with the place.
"Worse than I remembered." Barney muttered, clutching his nose. His last patrol through this area had been years ago, and the facility certainly hadn't changed for the better in his absence. He had hoped he'd never have to set foot in this place again. Unfortunately, as far as he was aware, there weren't any other options left to get topside.
To make matters worse, he had ended up in one of the lower sections of the facility, right next to the Preliminary Clarifiers. He still didn't know what the hell those were supposed to be, but he knew that they were at least a few floors underground. It wasn't nearly as dangerous as the sections that processed toxic waste, but the nearby incinerators and literal rivers of filth weren't very pleasant to be around.
From his memories of the place, he had a bit of a trek before he made it to safety. Several floors of conveyor belts, trash compactors, piping, and musty air were in his path, discounting whatever horrors had managed to reach this building. If the staircases and ladders were still intact, it wouldn't be that long of a trip. If.
Taking the moment to collect himself, Barney glanced around. The flow from the canals was being redirected down a massive tube, with a pair of crusted-over walkways on either side. The steel grating was constantly rumbling, with the nearby turbines and crushers shaking everything nearby. Rusted pipes stretched up into the air, disappearing out of sight near the unlit ceiling.
But surprisingly, that was it. No monsters, no corpses, no broken pipes or torn paneling…everything appeared to be normal in the immediate area. Still a horrible place to be in, but operating as usual despite that. All that was missing were the maintenance teams, and they'd probably already gotten the evacuation order by now.
Maybe those creatures hadn't gotten this far into the facility? Horrifying though they were, there hadn't been as many of those creatures in the maintenance tunnels as he'd glimpsed back in Sector G. And Waste Disposal was close to the outer perimeter of Black Mesa…
…No, that still didn't make sense. That wolf thing had already been near the freight yards when he'd gotten there. Then there were the scorpions roaming through the vents…
Barney shook his head. As long as he was careful, he didn't need to think about how those monsters got into Black Mesa. That was a job for the eggheads. Right now, all he needed to worry about was finding the nearest staircase.
Gordon hadn't been sure what to expect after crossing the pit.
By that point, he had been on the verge of collapsing. His legs and arms were burning from exertion, his throat felt like sandpaper, and his lungs were desperately gulping down oxygen. He hadn't felt this exhausted since his first run through the Hazard Course, back when he had just been hired.
But after all that terror and effort, he'd been given a small break. There were no new horrors appearing out of thin air or collapsing pieces of Black Mesa's infrastructure. Instead, he'd found a ladder back up to the tunnels, mercifully intact and stable.
After all that work, he had managed to get across the canal. A minute-long walk across a bridge, transformed into twenty minutes of purgatory. Only one creature had been responsible for that detour, and even then, it had been an accident. Glancing over the edge of the shattered bridge, he could even see that creature laying near the canal banks, having apparently forgotten about him.
He had been tempted to drop a grenade down there for good measure, but decided against it. As satisfying as it would be, without his pistol, the grenades were his best remaining method of self-defense.
Following the hallway further down, he came across another storage area. Cardboard and wooden boxes sat haphazardly on shelves, with an abandoned forklift sitting nearby. A few closed shutters blocked off paths to elsewhere on this floor, but that wasn't what he had been focusing on.
At the end of the room was an elevator. An actual, honest-to-God elevator, with the doors open and the interior lit. He could even hear faint muzak playing from the speakers, filling the air with a simple tune.
Gordon didn't even bother paying attention to the rest of the room. He simply limped across as quickly as he could, desperate to reach the lift. It could drag him up to the middle of the desert for all he cared, as long as it brought him closer to the surface. Making it inside, he pressed the button for the highest available floor, hoping it would take him to an exit.
Unfortunately, as the doors opened, Gordon was not met with the scorching heat and blazing light of the New Mexico desert. Instead, he was met with the ruins of the Administration building.
Cracked fluorescent lighting sputtered over checkered flooring and damaged drywall. The ceiling was missing several tiles, and sections of the ductworks and wiring were exposed. Red emergency lights lit up the path further into the building, although the emergency alarms had gone silent by now. The path to his left went around a hallway, while to his right sat a closed-off break room.
To his amazement, said break room wasn't abandoned, or filled with corpses. Two surviving members of the science team were standing near the vending machines, motioning at each other in a silent argument. They looked haggard, with stained coats and exhausted gazes, but neither seemed injured. Given the state of the rest of the facility, Gordon felt like he was hallucinating just seeing another living human.
If the faces the scientists made when they noticed him were anything to go by, they were thinking the same thing. One of them ran off deeper into the room and ducked under a table. The other one simply stared at Gordon, mouth ajar, before snapping out of it and moving towards the entrance.
"Another survivor! Hurry, get in here!" She said, opening the door. All the while, her eyes remained fixed at the end of the hallway, as if expecting something to come charging down at any second. It was probably a smart attitude to have by this point.
Nodding in thanks, Gordon entered the room. The second he made it through, the scientist quickly closed and locked the door, taking once last glance around before sighing in relief.
"I can't believe it. With everything that's happened…we weren't sure if there was anyone else left alive. This entire building's been overrun by those…things." She said, shuddering. "That suit…you're from the Lambda Complex, right?"
Gordon frowned, shaking his head. He'd never even stepped foot into that sector before. The Lambda Labs were marked with some of the highest security requirements in Black Mesa, to the point where nobody was really sure what the researchers there did. What could they be doing that required HEV suits?
"Then…Anomalous Materials? They had that big test today…I hope they're still okay." The woman muttered, frowning pensively. "How did you…why would you come here, of all places? Doesn't that sector have access to the trams?"
"W-we were just hiding from those monstrosities in here." The other scientist interrupted, climbing out from under the coffee table. "Everything up ahead is a madhouse. The security teams tried to organize an evacuation about an hour ago, but…well…it went poorly."
"The guards weren't able to hold those creatures back. Everyone who survived ran off further into the facility, and we ended up here." She said. "Since then, we've been waiting for the rescue teams to arrive. Although, to be frank, I have my doubts they'll survive long enough to reach us."
"Waiting here is our only option! Without protection, those beasts will tear through us in an instant! You saw what happened to Remmington!" The other scientist shouted. "Besides, what if more of our colleagues show up? We can't just abandon them!"
"Not this again." She sighed, shaking her head as she turned back to Gordon. "Regardless, if you want to stay here with us, you're welcome to. Otherwise, if you do make it to the surface, please let someone know we're down here. Either way, we're staying here and hiding."
Staying and hiding was, admittedly, a tempting option. The vending machines had enough food and beverages to allow them to hide out for days, and the room would be easy to barricade. For unarmed, unarmored scientists, it wouldn't be a terrible decision.
But it wouldn't be the right decision either. Those creatures were already appearing out of thin air. One of those rifts was just as likely to throw another horror into the break room as it was somewhere else in Black Mesa. Then there was Eli, and Kleiner, and anyone else left in Sector C that was still alive. They were counting on him to get them help, and after everything he'd gone through today, Gordon wasn't going to abandon them.
Reluctantly, Gordon shook his head. As horrifying as the situation was, he had to keep going until he reached help. After that, he could afford to stop and break down.
The scientist shrugged. "Alright then. Just…be careful out there, would you? Enough people have died already, and even with that suit, you're hardly invincible."
"If you do run into more of those creatures, don't try to fight them. Just run. The security teams tried to use firearms against them, but…they weren't particularly effective." The other scientist said, shivering.
He had already seen evidence of both statements firsthand, but he couldn't blame them for trying to help. They were probably just as frightened and anxious as he was. More survivors who owed their lives to happenstance and luck than any semblance of reason.
Turning around, Gordon stared past the break room doors. The flickering lights from the hallway cast the area in irregular shadows, making it difficult to see the scattered debris and broken furniture. Compared to the ordered, well-lit breakroom, it may as well have been a nightmare.
Sighing, Gordon unlocked the doors, stepping outside. Although his exhausted body and mind begged him to stay back, he had to keep moving. If he didn't, he might not be able to start again.
Barney had hoped that he could make it through Waste Processing without seeing any bodies.
So far, his trip through the underbelly of Black Mesa had been…not really clean, per se, but bloodless. Aside from a quick glimpse at the disaster in Sector G and the remains in the elevator, he hadn't come across any corpses.
As he looked at the entrance to the stairwell, his luck had finally run out.
One of the maintenance workers was slumped against the nearby walls, his green jumpsuit coated in red stains. A massive, gaping hole had been dug into his chest, and one of his legs had been cut off at the knee. The poor bastard must have been ambushed down here, all alone.
Shuddering, Barney tried to steady himself. It was too late to do anything for the worker. He needed to look away, get his head back in the game, and keep moving upstairs. All he could do now was keep himself alive.
That didn't stop his hands from shaking as he scanned the room, looking for any signs of movement. If whatever had done this was still nearby, it would get a shell between the eyes. Or whatever counted for eyes on those things, at least.
However, as far as he could tell, he was alone. Either the creature was hiding behind some of the nearby machinery, or it had moved on to a different part of the plant. Not his problem to deal with anymore.
He tried not to look at the body as he walked past, moving into the stairwell. As he walked forwards, his mind went back over what he knew about the monsters. Or, rather, the incredibly limited amount of information he had scrounged together.
What the hell were these creatures, anyways? They couldn't be animals. The one he killed had puffed up in a cloud of smoke, for Christ's sake. Then there were the glowing eyes, the bulletproof bone plates, the damage they could cause…nothing about them made sense. Were they aliens? Mutants?
…Barney desperately hoped that these monsters weren't actually demons. He was pretty sure that even the United States military would have a hard time dealing with an enemy like that, no matter how many men the army poured into Black Mesa.
Looking up, Barney tried to make out the rest of the staircase. Floor after floor of metal platforms caught his eye, lit up with dim yellow bulbs. The rust-coated walls and poor lighting weren't very welcoming, but as far as he could see, the stairs were still intact. It would be a long walk to safety.
Given the corpse sitting on the other side of the doorway, Barney decided not to complain too much. With how far he had traveled so far, it would have been easy for him to end up just like that worker. One wrong turn, slightly worse luck…really, it was a miracle he'd made it this far.
Shouldering his shotgun, Barney began his arduous climb. Dumb luck or not, he had survived thus far, and he had no intention of stopping that track record. Later, after the military cleared everything up, he could come back and help that worker get a proper burial.
For now, he had an exit to find.
A/N: I wasn't completely sure about parts of this chapter, to be honest. When it comes to odd design, Black Mesa is pretty bizarre, and the cargo container room is a prime example. However, without it, it felt like the Canal section would be a bit too quick/easy for Gordon to get through.
As for Barney, on the other hand, it wouldn't make sense for him to go through the same route as canon. As a consequence, he gets to enjoy far more pain and suffering before he gets out of Black Mesa.