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This subject is related to the Combine era.

Old Friends

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The subject matter of this article contains in-development information that was cut from the final version of an official and/or canonical source and appears in no other canonical source. It may also contain incomplete information since not all cut material is publicly known.

Old Friends is a short story written by series writer Marc Laidlaw early in Half-Life 2's development and later meant to be featured in the book Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar. However, it was cut from the final version, ultimately only being seen in the uncorrected proof.[1] It is part of a collection of writings dubbed Dark Matter Short Stories which Laidlaw shared with the team so they could better understand the feel of the game.[2]

Synopsis[edit]

This section is in the middle of an expansion or major revamping.

Story[edit]

The following is a reproduction of the original text of the story.

It was drizzling, and the rain hissed where it hit the pavement, something in it eating away at the traces of old concrete. There wasn't much of that left anyway. The sidewalks were inlaid with heavy sheets of colored rubber, reminding him of the acid-resistant floors of the Black Mesa labs. The rubber tiles formed color-coded paths between buildings like prison blocks made of worn, acid-etched cement; little openings in the heights caught traces of whatever light managed to sneak through the ominous filter of the sky. He wondered what it took to warrant occupation of one of the rare apartments furnished with a window, when most of the cells within must have been windowless. They made him think of towering bunkers, fortified as if the inhabitants were perpetually fearful of invasion.

He followed an orange path until it veered and dipped below street level. He could see some kind of checkpoint down there. Remembering the scene at the train station, he knew better than to follow the path to its end. Hoping no one was watching him, he sidestepped to a yellow path and kept going.

How long could he keep this up? Without an ID card, could he enter any building without being challenged? How would he find food? Where would he sleep? He remembered the homeless people, the city-scavengers of his own time, forever shifting from spot to spot, harassed by police if they ever tried to settle down and rest. No wonder so many of them went mad. And this was infinitely worse for someone outside the seamless system. Someone like himself.

Off to one side, Gordon noticed a wide opening at street level. No colored paths led to it directly. He heard bright electronic noises from within, and the incongruous sound of human laughter. Laughter was the last thing he expected to hear in the streets of City 17.

As he watched, a suited figure of smallish stature stepped off a green track and strode through the doorway. Two Metropolice in armored uniforms, faces hid behind mirrored visors, were stationed at the entrance. They didn't give a second glance to the person going in; didn't ask for ID or anything else. Gordon knew that if he hesitated he would only draw attention to himself, so he made the decision in an instant and followed the other into the laughter.

Inside it was dark and cold and his feet crunched through discarded rubbish he could hardly see down in the gloom. But the noise and flashing colored lights were in stark contrast to everything else he had seen of City 17. He recognized the kind of place it was instantly.

An arcade.

The walls and aisles were lined with video games, and almost every console was occupied. Suited citizens stood at the cabinets in a stance familiar to Gordon from every arcade he'd ever known. Tensed over a joystick, bodies twitching this way and that, one hand slapping a bright red button. From the speakers came whirring electronic sounds, shrill buzzsaw whines, and bright little shrieks cut off in mid-scream.

Gordon drifted to the nearest console, where the word HACKMAN was emblazoned as a shiny silver hologram. Glancing over the shoulder of the player, he saw surprisingly primitive graphics.

He was staring at a maze made of pipes, through which the player was steering a small disk that looked like a circular sawblade. A lurid little cartoony sprite popped up in one section of the pipe-maze, a crude human figure with two or three animations that made it appear to be running. The player leaned into the screen, deftly sending his little sawblade sliding through the circuits of pipe until it was right on top of the blinking enemy. The blade hit the man-sprite and sliced it in two, sending out tear-shaped drops of bright red blood and a round of synthetic screams. The player gave out a high-pitched laugh that marked him as most likely an adolescent boy, otherwise unidentifiable inside his acid-proof rubber suit.

The screen flickered and scrolled up a menu: GOOD WORK! YOU'VE CLEARED THE SEWERS.
ARE YOU READY TO LEVEL UP?

The boy slapped the red button, hard, and a new selection of weapons popped into view. They were all variations on the first buzzsaw: Larger, faster, sharper.

SELECT YOUR NEXT MANHACK!

At that moment, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Gordon spun and found himself staring into the mirrored faceplate of the Metropolice. He tried not to panic. Even in here, in the dark, he knew he could not escape. He looked down and saw the cop's stunstick held an inch from his abdomen.

The cop leaned close and whispered, "We don't have much time, Freeman. Go north and find the old radio tower. I'll meet you there."

The cop moved into the crowd. By the time Gordon's panic settled, he found himself already moving onto the street. The Metropolice at the door stared straight forward, impassive. He stepped onto the yellow strip again, heading what he hoped was north, although down between the towers it was almost impossible to separate one shadow from another, or estimate the position of the sun. He didn't waste time questioning why he would follow a stranger's directions. It was enough to know that someone recognized him, but hadn't turned him in. What choice did he have?

At the next intersection he pretended one of his shoes was coming loose. He stepped off the track so as not to impede the pedestrians marching along behind him, and knelt to fiddle with the straps, meanwhile glancing to either side. To his left, down the canyon whose walls were made of tenements, he saw a spidery hulk of corroded metal, something the acid mist had blurred into the merest webbing of a structure. It might have been a radio tower, once.

A blue stripe led him most of the way, and once he was in the shadow of the tower, he found it easy enough to leave the track completely without fear of being spotted. Almost no one else was visible on this avenue. The tower was surrounded by barricades, wood and wire and concrete.

As he looked for deeper cover, he heard a hiss: "Over here."

A bit of plywood gaped, and he saw the glimmer of the cop's visor beyond it. Gordon hurried through.

Beyond was a weed-strewn lot, with the remains of a shattered building in the center. The tower rose from the rubble. Why it hadn't simply been leveled, he couldn't imagine. But there was little time to wonder. The cop gestured toward the fallen walls that foamed and hissed in the drizzle, then hurried down a flight of broken steps into what was left of the basement. Gordon descended into shadows. He heard a door creak open; the cop went through and Gordon followed. They continued on in darkness for a moment, and then another door opened. Gordon stepped into an underground passage, a substreet service tunnel where a few yellow bulbs still burned. The cop stopped, blocking the corridor, and Gordon suddenly realized that he was at the other man's mercy.

The cop sheathed the stunstick in the strap at his waist, then put his hands to the helmet and began to work at the seals. There was a pop and the visor went up. Gordon found himself staring into a face he knew instantly, although time and trouble had pared it down to its essentials.

"Yeah," said Barney, with a hard grin. "It's me. We can talk about old times later, maybe. Right now, we've got to keep moving. There's someone else here you'll want to see."

Barney turned and headed down the passage. The tunnel was choked with debris no one had any reason to clear; they scrambled over shifting piles of rock, scattered cans. Once something loomed up in front of them, a shape like a dog with double rows of back-slanted teeth. It was doglike but it gave no warning, didn't bother to growl—it simply charged. Barney lunged with his stunstick. There was a sharp crack, the smell of ozone and scorched skin, and the creature fell, wheezing. They picked their way around it.

"Hurry," Barney said. "It's only stunned. It'll be up and looking for us in a minute or two."

Before another minute had passed, Barney led them to a ladder. There was a metal panel at the top. Barney hammered on it with his stick, and second later it began to squeal. Barney climbed up, then turned to help Gordon.

They stood in a room with broken, peeling walls, but a room that clearly saw use as a rude laboratory, judging from the jury-rigged diagnostic devices, bits of scavenged glassware, bales of multicolored wire. The only light came from a bulb strung up over a workbench that had been fashioned from an old firedoor.

When the plate slammed down behind him, the ringing had hardly faded from his ears before Gordon heard another voice, familiar but weirdly out of place.

Leaning against the crude workbench as if it were a crutch, half in shadow, was his mentor from Black Mesa and, before that, MIT. Dr. Kleiner looked even more weathered than Barney. He wore an eyepatch over his left eye, and that side of his face was a mass of twisted scar tissue.

"Yes, Gordon, it's me. We had word you were coming, but even so, it's strange to see you in this place after so long. You look...hardly worse for the wear. The last 10 years must have been easier on you than on the rest of us."

"I've been in City 17 about 6 months," Barney said. "They rotate us cops around from city to city every nine months, sometimes less. Dr. Kleiner here's been hiding out for nearly two years."

"Well, not exactly here," Kleiner said. "I snatch bits of time down in my laboratory, but otherwise I'm a dutiful citizen of City 17. If I weren't, I'd be out in the wasteland with the rest of the refuse, or taken for a Servitor more likely. While they still value my mind and my expertise, they treat me fairly well. But if anyone suspected I had work of my own to attend to, well...no one lasts long in such circumstances."

"Show him what you've been working on, Doc."

Kleiner stepped to a battered cupboard and began twirling the dial of a padlock. "This came to me several years ago, through unusual circumstances. Suffice it to say there was one other survivor of Black Mesa who seems to have kept his...connections...in the halls of power. He suggested that if I could restore this to working order, adapt it to our new circumstances, it might find use again someday. And now I believe it may."

The cupboard swung open. Inside, much altered but even more familiar to him than the sight of Barney or Dr. Kleiner, was Gordon's old hazardous environment suit.

"The Mark V, Gordon, just as you remember her. I'd call her the Mark V-Point-Five at this point...she's seen a bit of modification, as you'll learn. I did the best I could with the tools at hand. She can draw power from Combine chargers now, the same units used by the mechs and Combos, and by the police for their powered armor. That's the main change. Why don't you try it on, eh?"

"Yeah," Barney said, shifting nervously from foot to foot. "We should hurry."

As Gordon eased into the suit, Kleiner kept rattling on: "I was advised you might not be aware of all the changes that have come to pass in the last ten years, Gordon. There's no easy way to make it all digestible. After the events of Black Mesa, the world spun out of control...creatures teleporting in randomly, terrorizing the countryside. The more tenacious species established footholds and ate their way through the local fauna, including humans, until most of us were driven back into the cities for self-defense. The infrastructure was strained past the breaking point. And shortly after everything collapsed, the Combine arrived. The old city centers, everywhere, simply disappeared. Huge chunks of Earth torn away from their moorings, leaving gaping craters. Moments later, something new took their place. The Citadels, including the one you've seen at the center of City 17. That was the first we knew of the Combine, and they've been with us ever since. We started to put up a resistance, yes, but before we could determine if it was futile or not, one man sold us into our current condition. The Consul, in exchange for his own hide, and a promise of global power, delivered us into slavery. And here we have languished ever since. It's not common knowledge, but our birthrate has declined steadily for the last five years; we'll be at zero before long. And the cities, the inhabited sections, are smaller every year. They keep closing us in. And as for the planet itself...."

"Come on, Doc. He's suited up, we should get going."

The suit pinched; it was patched with tape and rubber sealant, and there were some new sockets in the power panels. But otherwise it was the suit he remembered. As he tightened the last clamp, the old voice clicked on:

"Welcome to the HEV Mark V protect...protect...protect—for—for—hazardous environ...."

The voice slowed to a drawl and faded out.

Kleiner grimaced. "Sorry about that. It's never going to be new again. But it should keep you safer than you would be otherwise."

Barney pushed open the door to the lab, and they stepped out into the interior of another abandoned building. A second door opened into a narrow alleyway, and beyond that was the street with its colored stripes. Barney led them out to the sidewalk, where several pedestrians were marching along at a steady pace. Barney pointed out a kiosk at the side of the street, marked with a bright image of one of City 17's buses. They took up positions at the bus stop.

"Be ready for anything, Gordon," Barney said. He had forgotten to push down his visor. Before Gordon could say a word, a bus squealed to a stop in front of them.

The doors hissed open. The driver inside was armed and armored. He glared down the steps and said, "Move it."

Barney grumbled back at him, flashing a badge. "I'm escorting a prisoner. Get down here and give me a hand."

The driver muttered under his breath, but he got up and started down the steps. As he stepped out, Barney jabbed him in the gut with his stunstick. The guard crumpled to the sidewalk, moaning. His own stunstick clattered on the steps.

"Get in!" Barney said. "And grab his stunner."

Kleiner leapt up the steps. Gordon snatched up the stunstick, then clambered into the bus. Barney slid into the driver's seat and cranked the doors shut. Outside, the stunned driver was just getting to his feet, shouting. He hammered on the doors just as Barney pulled away from the curb.

"Hold on," Barney called. "This could get rough."

Gordon saw the driver running toward the bus kiosk, hitting a sentry alert button. That was hardly necessary, since the low-flying "Combos" that perpetually cruised the streets had already processed the import of the scene they'd just witnessed. Alarms seemed to be going off everywhere. It was as if the city, which had been content to slumber while its citizens went through their dreamlike days unquestioningly, suddenly awoke.

Two of the Combos dropped down on either side of the bus, pacing it. Gordon flinched away from them, expecting to be caught in a crossfire, but something more sinister occurred. Both of the hovering mechanisms bore small monitors where a windscreen could have been; he had thought them sensors, but suddenly they flickered and came alight. He saw twin images of himself captured there; they had managed to scan him from outside the bus. Barney pulled the bus hard to the left, taking an impossibly sharp turn, and one the bots smacked into the side, shattering the glass. It dropped from view. The other was left behind as he spun into a narrow street.

Outside pedestrians were screaming as Barney ignored the color-coded walkways, barreling toward a destination of his own choosing.

Gordon glanced back at Kleiner, who was clutching tight to a seat-back, his face gone completely white, his one eye staring out the side of the bus.

"Oh God..." Kleiner said.

Gordon followed Kleiner's gaze and saw the Citadel at the center of City 17. Something about it was different. The odd, irregular guy-wires that ran down from the spire into the body of the city had begun to twitch and tremble, the uppermost wires grasping at the air like antennae, sensitive to every motion. Gordon knew there was only one thing likely to have gained their interest.

The filaments wove together in a flexible mass, gathering a myriad of jeweled tips into a single burning eye. He was glad when a tenement block came between them, hiding the tower from view.

An instant later, the same building shattered and exploded in its entirety. Through the cloud of debris, as the building was obliterated, he saw the spear of blazing plasma that the tower's Eye had aimed upon the tenement without any thought of its inhabitants.

The rubble settled, the bus sped on, Dr. Kleiner screamed, and another building exploded—this time just ahead of them.

Barney swerved to avoid the avalanche of cement. Chunks of concrete smashed down on the roof, crumpling the back half of the bus. There was no way they were going to live through this. Barney kept speeding grimly onward, this time taking aim at one of the city's well-fortified gates.

All pedestrians had wisely leapt for cover, but the city's guards were more stubborn—or more stupid. Heavy steel plates began to clang down across the end of the road. Huge gun turrets came to bear on the oncoming bus. Bullets began to rip into the windshield, gouging through metal. Dr. Kleiner moaned and clapped a hand over his arm, stanching a sudden gout of blood.

"Now, now, now!" Barney cried.

They were speeding straight toward the steel barricade; at this velocity there was no chance of surviving such an impact.

But an instant before they hit the wall, the tower targeted them once more—and narrowly missed. The plasma beam struck the barricade. The steel shimmered and exploded into fragments. The city had burned a hole through its own shell, and Barney steered the bus right through it.

Ahead, a pall of smoke and vapor descended on the road. The police continued to fire at the rear of the bus, but the hail of bullets quickly tapered off.

Barney glanced back over his shoulder, failing to suppress a delirious grin as the shattered gate receded behind them.

"Ha ha! That's it for—"

He never finished the sentence. The road must have twisted, or there was something in it that smacked into them. The next thing Gordon knew, they were rolling amid the sound of tearing metal. He was flung and came down hard among twisted steel and torn seats and the sound of the engine sputtering out.

Someone was moaning. He got to his knees and moved through the murk. He found Barney lying on his back, gaping at the vapors overhead. Barney moved his head a fraction of an inch and gave Gordon a brave and desperate grin.

"You—you'd better get out of here if you can," he said weakly. "Don't worry about...us. We'll ...be...fine."

Barney began to cough. Blood foamed at the edge of his mouth. His fingers moved slowly to his visor. "Damn stuff...hardly any air in it...." He pulled the visor shut; the seals clicked. Then he fell still.

Gordon looked for Kleiner, couldn't see him. He moved forward. They seemed to have crashed down into a ravine. Somewhere up above he could hear sirens and a scrambling noise that sounded like someone dispatching a pack of dogs to hunt for him. He had a feeling they didn't use dogs for such work anymore. Down here was a thick sludge, sewage or something worse. Just ahead was a dark opening, the mouth of a pipe tall enough to stand in. There were gratings across the pipe mouth, but the slime and the vapor had eaten away at them. Using his fists and a hunk of rock, he managed to break away a section large enough to squeeze through.

Behind him, he heard the rumble of vehicles. He moved quickly forward into the pipes, grateful that he still carried the bus driver's stunstick. It was better than nothing.

Light trickled down from gratings overhead. He moved from one dim spot to another, hoping there was nothing worse than sludge to trouble him in the dark spots in between.

He was in the sewers now. He remembered the flashlight built into the suit, and was relieved when he switched it on. Kleiner had improved on the design somewhat; he had a fairly good light now. He pressed forward, wanting only to get away from the city. It occurred to him that he had seen pipes somewhere else today. A maze of pipes. Where?

Then he heard a new sound, coming from behind, coming to chase him deeper into the sewers, and it occurred to him that this too was strangely familiar.

A sound like a buzzsaw keening....

The only thing missing was the laughter.

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]