Salvation: A Half-Life/Mass Effect Universe Fan Fiction
Disclaimer: This fan-fiction takes place after the events of both Half-Life 1 and 2 and its episodes, and jumps to the events after Mass Effect 1 and 2. If you have not played or beaten these games this fiction may not make much sense to you. Characters property of their respective companies, Half-Life created by Valve and Mass Effect created by Bioware.
Chapter 43: Light After Darkness... (Part I)
Another new day, and the sun rises again. Peeking out over Earthly horizons, it washes away the curtain of night, and blankets all it touches in its warming, renewing luminance.
"This one's secure, Odessa." A worker announced into his helmet's radio, as he finished his inspection. "We're coming back inside."
"Copy that. Airlock is open and waiting."
Several men, no less than fifty, pushed off a black, metallic surface with their feet, and bounced upward using the small thrusters in their suits to maneuver themselves towards the SSV Odessa overhead.
High above the Earth's atmosphere, hundreds of massive Alliance Tow Freighters speckle the skies - their hulls glinting in the morning light, as their crews worked tirelessly.
Thousands of Alliance servicemen and women, wearing navy blue and white full body suits, worked to fasten cables, bindings, and fasteners from the freighters, to the hulls of the dwindling number of derelict Reapers, littering Earth's orbit.
The tow freighters would first attach themselves using magnetic clamps, similar to the ones used to secure vessels in ports and docking stations throughout the galaxy. Once the initial link up was made, the crews of the various freighters went to work. Using their magnetized boots to tread the surfaces of the lifeless colossi, they securely fastened a multitude of massive, high-tension cables and fasteners for added measure.
"Airlock is secure, and all personnel back on board, Skipper." An officer informed, as he saluted his superior, standing at the fore of the small bridge, no bigger than the size of an average living room.
"The first haul of the day..." The Captain replied, grinning with a forced eagerness, as he squinted and stared toward bright, burning sun, growing over the horizon. "Thank you, Chief. Please get us underway."
The Odessa's massive thruster engines lit up with a blaze of blue light, propelling it forward, from a stationary position. Although the ship itself was less than half the size of the titanic Reaper it was about to haul, the twin rows of the freighter's powerful anti-proton thrusters were more than adequate.
The entire vessel jerked a bit, as the cables and clamps suddenly tightened, and tugged back, with a resonating pound, before the lifeless Reaper began to drift in tow, as it was dragged towards the heart of the Sol System.
"I still don't understand why we have to destroy 'em all..." The Odessa's Chief Officer remarked ambivalently, as the ship streaked through space. "I mean we still don't know anything about these things. What if there's more of 'em out there? It'd be good to know what we're up against if any more ever decided to show up..."
"The order came straight from Hackett himself... " The Captain replied, shrugging his shoulders, as the blazing sun in the window grew larger, causing the window pane to darken, to offset the intense light pouring in. "Supposedly, he's got it on good authority that these things are too dangerous to study, and doesn't wanna take any chances... And since 'technically'... we're still under martial law, what he says, goes..."
"Yeah..." The Chief Officer replied, nodding reluctantly, as the window pane continued to darken like a welder's mask.
"Thermal radiation barriers engaged." The voice of one of the other crew members called out, though mainly for the sake of protocol, as his declaration went ignored, for the most part.
"Besides, I can't say I blame him..." The Captain continued, his voice growing a bit shaky, as the lava-like surface became prevalent in the darkened window. "I had a brother serving on the Warsaw... I'm content just to see these things burn..."
Even from hundreds of thousands of miles away, the surface of the sun was an angry tempest of fiery eruptions. Like a mystic, boiling cauldron, violent bursts of magma, and flame gushed out, in an array of blinding yellows, and searing reds. Its scorching touch pounded against the radiation barriers of the multitude of ships entering and leaving its corona.
"That's close enough." The Captain affirmed with a nod, as he turned to face his small crew. "Disengage locking clamps."
As the freighter drew closer to the cosmic fireball, its speed was reduced, and the wide array of clamps, bindings, and fasteners attached to onyx giant simultaneously released their hold. And as the Odessa stopped, the Reaper continued its drift forward, to be swallowed up by the perpetual flame, and succumb to a fiery grave...
"Alright, another one down..." The Captain announced, with the traces of a sigh in his voice. "Lets get underway for another pickup."
Hundreds upon hundreds of tow freighters enter and leave the sun's blazing proximity, as they deliver their cargo. Slowly, the inanimate Reapers, mere specks of dust when compared to the great star, float into oblivion.
As their bodies began to burn, and melt in the tremendous heat, long before even reaching the surface - the golden flame in their eyes seems to light up one last time... Possibly due to the sun's natural radiation, or maybe it was merely the sunlight reflecting in their optic sensors. Whatever the case, it isn't long before their sinister, golden flame is extinguished forever...
Perhaps a fitting end for such an extraordinary, albeit nefarious race of beings. They always knew their conquests would end in fire... Little did they suspect, they'd be the ones burning in it...
As the Alliance ships continued to do their jobs, purging the slowly diminishing population of Reapers from the planet's orbit Earth hung tranquilly against a backdrop of twilight, resting peacefully among the stars, as its wounds slowly began to heal.
Down on the surface, in the once vivacious city of White Forest, a city that sparkled, and bustled with activity the mood now could only be described as solemn...
At the center of the city, in a clearing, at the base of a demolished government building, surrounded by the ruins of towering structures of glass and steel - thousands, perhaps perhaps hundreds of thousands of denizens gather in front of a small wooden stage. The crowd is comprised of a plethora of creatures. Pretty much every known race in the galaxy is present to some degree or another.
Although it is a gathering of mostly humans, the turians, salarians, and asari are easy to pick out. A great number of krogans and quarians are also present, to respect and honor their dead. There is also no shortage of drell, hanar, volus, or elcor. And even a sparse batarian can picked out from the crowd.
But surprisingly, there is also a large number of vortigaunts blended into the diverse congregation. And more surprising still, are the geth standing among them... Beside them...
The stage before them is rudimentary at best, clearly built specifically for the occasion. It stands at the base of the stairs leading up towards the entrance of the ruined political building, perhaps a legislative hall of some sort. The stage sits adorned with a blue and white skirt and Systems Alliance banners, as a few dozen automated video cameras hovered around, looking on.
On either side of the stage, a countless grid of caskets spans off into the distance, each blanketed with a different flag. For most, it is the red, white, and navy blue flag of the Systems Alliance that lies draped over them. Others bear the Citadel flag, or the Quarian flag, or the krogan's... Too many lives to count, and a burden far too heavy to carry, regardless of the standard they bear.
At the center of the stage, a haggard old Admiral, dressed in formal naval attire, waits behind a podium, stacking a deck of index cards neatly in his hands, as a fair haired young woman, at a microphone beside him begins to sing...
"Amazing grace... how sweet... the sound... that saved... a wretch... like me......! I once... was lost... but now... am found... was blind... but now... I see..."
Her beautiful voice reverberated far off into the distance, carrying across the crowd with the sultry, silvery guise of an angel's celestial melody.
The crowd was a chorus of whimpers, sighs, and sniffles, as tears flowed, and friends and loved ones embraced each other trying desperately to find strength and comfort within one another's arms.
The vocalist's eyes began to swell over with fluid, as she sang. A stirring rendition, obviously delivered from the heart...
"T'was grace... that taught... my heart... to fear... And grace... my fears.... relieved......! How pre...cious did... that grace... appear... the hour... I first... believed..."
Not even the dauntless Commander Shepard was able to fight back the wrenching knot in his throat, as he stood with his head bowed, at the front of the crowd. Most of his crew stood beside him heads lowered and hearts heavy. Each exhibiting remorse and lament on their own respective countenances.
"Through ma... ny dangers... toils.... and snares... I have... already come......! 'Tis grace... that brought... me safe... thus far... and grace... will lead... me home......"
Her melodious voice slowly faded twin streaks of tears marking her cheeks, as she finished singing.
Admiral Hackett nodded, clenching his lips tightly, and gulping at something in his throat, as his eyes reflected a mournful sorrow.
"Three days..." He began, his voice echoing loudly in the ruined square, from the nearby speakers, as the fair haired vocalist slowly found her way off the stage.
"It was only three short days ago... that we as the people of Earth, came under a brutal attack, and endured deva..." Hackett abruptly stopped mid-sentence, as something suddenly caught his eye. "Devastation..." He finished, breathing a sigh, as he crumpled the index cards in his hands, and discarded them on the podium.
"Ahem. Excuse me..." He began again, after briefly clearing his throat, as he looked out at something waving over the crowd.
"As I stare at our proud Alliance flag, flying half staff for the countless lives that were stolen from us..." He said, as he pointed toward the flagpole, a few yards away. "I can't help myself from also looking at the flag waving underneath it..."
Below the Navy Blue Alliance flag, marked with three stars, the System's Alliance symbol, and two streaks of white and red, slicing across from top left, to bottom right, flew an orange and white flag. The center of the flag was marked with three pine trees, the symbol of the city. The right hand side was marked with a lambda, and the left was marked with the emblem of the Black Mesa Research Facility...
"Standing here before you, I was uh..." Hackett paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts a bit, before eventually continuing.
"I was originally going to say that the devastation we endured... The brutality we saw... The tragedy that we must live with... That it was like nothing we've ever seen before... But I remember..."
"Commemini Mesa Fervus... Commemini Silva Albus... These are the words printed on the flag of White Forest... They serve to remind us of the devastation our planet once endured... The brutality our forefathers once saw... And the tragedy they had to live with... Remember Black Mesa... Remember White Forest... "
"For those unfamiliar with Earth's history..." He continued, with a mournful grin, as he watched a few raised eyebrows, and puzzled expressions in the crowd. "It was nearly two centuries ago that we fell prey to a mysterious alien race known as the Combine. Much like these Reapers... Their conquest was swift, merciless, and calculating... In less than seven hours they left our planet in ruins... Millions dead, and billions enslaved... But like three days ago, we stood against our attackers. Not as humans, but as a free people..."
"It was the vortigaunts who stood united with us then..." The Admiral declared, as he pointed out towards the crowd, at a small cluster of vorts he spotted. "A peace loving race we had long since thought lost on Earth, to the Combine's destructive poisons... But thanks to the perseverance, and diligence of Lieutenant Commander John Shepard, and the discovery of the Xen Relay, in the newly named Lambda Cluster, we found old allies to stand beside us once more... Old allies to whom we all owe a great deal..."
"But we also found new allies!" He exclaimed. "From Thessia they came, and Tuchanka! From the depths of space, on-board a flotilla. From Palaven, and past the Perseus Veil! From the highest mountains, to the deepest seas, across the furthest reaches of the galaxy... They came to defend a planet that was not their own... And for this we thank you..." He graciously bestowed, as he glanced around at the various races in the crowd.
"I believe it was the vortigaunts who once said it best. There is no distance between us... No false veils of time or space will intercede. "
"And so we must always remember... So that in the wake of devastation, brutality, and tragedy... We may find courage, strength, and comfort... Knowing that we've soldiered on through darkness, but have always found our way back to the light."
"And it is in these hours of darkness now, that we shed tears for the fallen... We mourn the loss of those we care about... Those we love... Noble men and women, of all races of the galaxy, who sacrificed themselves protecting our homes... Our lives... And our very existence... "
"We commute their bodies to the Earth and the stars... We commend their souls to their gods. And we ask that they find peace wherever they may be now... But though they may be gone, we will always remember them. And we will honor them with each passing day... And so it is through these trying times... Through these hours of darkness... That we will soldier on, in search of the light... "
Admiral Hackett took a deep breath, and held his head up high, as he finished, ushering the crowd to begin a somber, somewhat reserved round of applause. The vortigaunts in the crowd looked around, a tad confused at this strange, foreign gesture. Although it wasn't too long before they observed the motions of those around them, and began bringing their talon-like hands together, clapping.
Most of Commander Shepard's team lined the front row of the sea of life forms, as they joined in the respectful ovation.
Shepard, much like Admiral Hackett, was donned in his navy blue and gold dress uniform. He wore a double breasted jacket, with six gleaming, golden buttons. Each marked with an anchor and an eagle. His chest was an array of colors, as he exhibited his multitude of officer's badges, awards, and decorations. His gold trimmed collar, which bore the insignia of the System's Alliance, came up to his chin. Twin epaulettes, marked with a star, and three golden bands, draped over his shoulders. And his dark blue pants were lined with a golden stripe, running down the side of each leg, towards his black dress shoes.
Tali stood beside him, and Legion beside her. She wore a black shawl over her shoulders, and a decorative black veil. And contrasting to the bright, lavender mask she usually wore, her current faceplate was a dark shade of gray - although her brightly illuminated eyes still managed to pierce the dismal color, and glisten from behind it.
Jacob and Miranda stood a few feet down, each wearing matching black, silver, and white Cerberus uniforms. Not all that unlike Shepard's, but nowhere near as decorated. One feature that set Jacob apart, however, was the white sling he wore around his neck, holding his right arm up, and effectively preventing him from applauding.
Garrus, Mordin, Samara, Jack, Thane, and Grunt all stood a little further back, intertwined with the crowd, as the brief applause slowly began to die down.
"At this time..." Hackett continued, once the sound of clapping had subsided. "If he'd be willing, I'd like to invite Commander Shepard to come up and say a few words..." The Admiral said as he extended a hand out towards the Commander, in the front row, catching him a little off guard.
"It is, in very large part, because of John Shepard that any of us are still here today... Not only is he responsible for saving the Citadel two years ago. But it was through the combined efforts of he and his team, that contact was once again made with the vortigaunt race, after so many years. Together, they managed to fight back an incursion on the vortigaunt's homeworld, and initiated a device, of their design and construction, which is what ultimately proved to be the instrument of our salvation..."
"So, Commander. If you would..." Admiral Hackett insisted, as he waved Shepard up towards the stage.
A nervous look came over the Commander's face, as he clenched his lips, and shrugged his shoulders a bit.
"Be right back..." He uttered to Tali, as he reluctantly limped forward, towards the small, wooden staircase leading up to the stage.
"Good luck." Tali replied, in a quiet tone.
As he walked forward, a large, metallic brace, encasing most of his right thigh, over his uniform, became visible to the crowd. It was gray and silver, and it seemed to hum softly, as it displayed a small number of indicator lights and switches along its base. He also had a few sutured gashes running across the left side of his face, and a small, silver, adhesive patch affixed to his right temple.
A slow applause began to stir, starting with a few sparse claps, as the Commander ascended the stage. But it quickly began to grow, as more and more people joined in. Suddenly, it became an excited uproar a chorus of prideful cheers, hollers, and whistles.
"Shep... ard" "Shep...ard" "Shep...ard" The crowd immediately broke out into a deafening, rhythmic chant, waving their hands over their heads, and pumping their fists into the air, triumphantly. In spite of the devastation. In spite of the tragedy. Their hero was ascending the stage...
"SHEP...ARD!" "SHEP...ARD!" "SHEP...ARD!" The spirited chanting only seemed to intensify as the Commander reached the top of the stage, and was greeted by Hackett.
"Thank you, Admiral..." Shepard said graciously, barely audible over the uproar, as the two stopped and shook hands.
"Thank YOU, Commander..." Hackett refuted, shaking his head.
As the two finished their handshake, Admiral Hackett courteously stepped aside, bowing a little, as he pointed a hand towards the podium.
Shepard slowly stepped up, towards the podium, limping a little, as his pandemic reception continued.
"Please..." His mild tone echoed loudly, through the speakers, as he put a hand up, and shook his head slightly, trying to quell the crowd. "Please... That's not necessary... But, thank you..."
The cheering slowly began to subside. Every last person in the crowd, as well as those watching from around the world, eagerly prepared to heed his every word.
"Now we all stand here today, with the burden of loss weighing heavily on us..." He began. "No matter what race... No matter where we come from... This war with the Reapers took something from us all..."
"Captai..." Shepard continued, before abruptly stopping himself. "Excuse me, Councilor... David Anderson once said to me; heroes are but ordinary men, who do extraordinary things, at extraordinary times... But be it men, women, or children... cowards or heroes... War claims all lives... without prejudice..."
"And that's something that goes for all of us... Not just humans, but everybody... Every race in this galaxy...! Turians, Asari, Salarians... Krogans, Quarians, Vortigaunts... Volus, Drell... Elcor, Hanar, Batarians, Vorcha... even the Geth... We all lost something to this war..."
As the crowd reflected on Shepard's stirring words, they stopped and began to look back and forth at one another, examining each other with an indiscriminate eye.
"Yes, we can rebuild... We can move forward... And as Admiral Hackett so eloquently put it, we can soldier on through darkness, in search of the light. But a lot of what this war took from us... A lot of what ANY war takes from us... can never be replaced..."
"So if there is anything we can learn from this tragic attack... Anything we can keep with us... Let it be this... Let it be that for one, brief, shining moment... there were no grudges... No conflicts of interest... No political agendas... There was only unity against a common threat... Camaraderie against a common foe..."
Before continuing on, Shepard was silent for a moment, as his eyes began to survey the agglomeration of life. First he tried to spot out the diverse members of his team, feeling himself swell up with pride, as he looked at them. Then he began to look at everyone else observing a rich tapestry of lifeforms, woven together without bias, or intolerance.
"Heh..." The slight chuckle he breathed into the microphone, as he continued, echoed loudly. "You know, as I look out at all the faces before me, I can't help but see things a little differently now..."
"Looking at the vortigaunts..." He said as he pointed towards a few of the vorts near the front. "I see old friends that had long since been forgotten..."
"Looking at humans mixed with turians..." He remarked, pointing towards a few Turian Citadel Fleet officers standing alongside some Alliance Navy men. "I see old grudges that should've long since been abandoned..."
"Looking at krogans standing alongside salarians..." He continued, as he pointed out a few salarians in the crowd, standing beside a pair of hefty krogans. "I see old hatreds that should've long since been laid to rest..."
"And looking at quarians standing together with geth..." He said mildly, as he looked down at Tali, standing shoulder to shoulder with Legion. "I can't help but see new alliances, long since overdue..."
"So yes... this war has taken something from all of us. But in a way, it's also given something back... A chance to let go of the past, and abandon the petty differences that have consumed us for so long... A chance to embrace each other as allies, and learn to prosper and grow with the gifts we can offer one another..."
He paused for a moment, looking out towards the crowd, with a stern, yet pleading look in his eyes.
"Let's not waste it... Let's not waste the ONLY thing this damn war gave back to us, after taking so much... A second chance... A chance at peace..."
When he finished, a slow applause began brewing, which quickly grew into a loud, thunderous ovation, as every last person in the crowd, save for maybe the elcor or the hanar, rapidly pounded their hands together, in a great show of respect, at the Commander's riveting words.
"If I can say one last thing..." Shepard continued, still standing at the podium, as the applause slowly began to fade.
"Now, Admiral Hackett is kind, but he gives me far too much credit..." He said, as he pointed a hand out to his right, towards the Admiral. "I myself am nothing, without my team... And all of us here owe the vortigaunts a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that they've done..."
"But if there's one man here deserving of the credit... One person, to whom we all owe our lives. It is a man who's name is synonymous with humanity's freedom and survival..."
"Hmph..." Shepard chuckled under his breath, and grinned, at the thought of how ridiculous he was probably about to sound. "You know, it's rather ironic that Admiral Hackett brought up the Earth rebellion... Because it was during the rebellion that this man earned such historic titles as The One Free Man... and The Opener of the Way..."
"For those of you that know who I'm talking about... No, I'm not speaking rhetorically... I know it's fairly common knowledge that this legendary hero of the Rebellion was killed nearly two centuries ago. But that wasn't exactly the case...
"And I know how ridiculous this must all sound..." He said with a nervous grin, as he rubbed the back of his neck. "But for now, explanations are going to have to wait... At this time, please allow me to introduce to you The One Free Man himself... Dr. Gordon Freeman..."
Shepard pointed a hand out towards the crowd, extending an invitation for Gordon to join him on the stage. A slow, indifferent applause began one that felt fairly forced, as the crowd looked around at one another, in dumbfounded bewilderment.
Shepard's eyes scanned the crowd, hoping to spot an emerging Gordon, as the apathetic applause slowly dwindled. But to his dismay, he spotted nothing.
"Gordon Freeman...?!" A lone, confused voice uttered from somewhere in the sea of life, amidst a few faint coughs, and the gravelly sound of some throats being cleared.
"Uh... hehe..." The Commander nervously began again, trying to mask the embarrassment in his voice, and on his face. "Well anyone who knows Dr. Freeman, knows that he's a man of actions... Not words..."
"Which, in reality, is what this day is all about. Honoring and remembering the actions of those who are no longer with us... And taking the actions necessary to mend the wounds of the past... Because it isn't enough to talk about peace... We have to believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it... We have to work for it... Facta... Non verba... Deeds... Not words... Thank you..."
A moderate, respectful applause began again as the Commander finished once more. He turned to face Admiral Hackett, as he left the podium. And the two shared another brief handshake, as bright lights, from some of the floating camera's hovering around them, flashed repeatedly.
"Where is Dr. Freeman, anyway?" Miranda questioned, looking around, as she clapped lightly. "I haven't seen him since we got here..."
"You've really taken a liking to 'em, haven't you?" Jacob said, with a bit of a teasing snicker, as the applause began to dwindle.
"Well, yes..." Miranda acknowledged, as she turned to face Jacob. "A-as a professional, of course... He's a valued member of this team, and I respect who he is, and what he's done..."
"Hah, don't give me that!" Jacob scoffed playfully, with a sarcastic chuckle. "I seen the way you look at him. I should know. It's the same look I get everywhere I turn..." He boasted with an arrogant grin, as he held his head up high, despite the sling around his neck, weighing it down.
"Oh please..." Miranda sneered, as she rolled her eyes, and shook her head.
"Atten-hut!" The voice of a capped military officer suddenly yelled out, as he led a small troop of seven uniformed soldiers, onto a flat break in the stone stairway, behind the small stage.
"Hell..." Jacob continued. "I thought for sure you were gonna flat out tackle him, when you saw him walk into camp alive, before Dr. Chakwas started working on him."
"About face!" The leading officer yelled out, causing his troop to immediately swing themselves around turning to face the crowd in one swift, concentric, synchronous motion. Each of them was armed with an antiquated, brown, wooden rifle, which they let drop to their right sides, causing the stock to pound against the ground. Although well cared for, and fully functional, these rifles were completely obsolete by modern standards, serving now as little more than aesthetic weapons.
"W...ell..." Miranda hesitantly began again, shrugging her shoulders a bit. "I was happy to see him alive..."
"Present arms!" The troop immediately hoisted their rifles up, off the ground, and held them out in front of them, in an idle position.
"I wonder where he is though..." Miranda said softly, a fair sense of despondence and concern now reflected in her eyes.
"Fire!" The officer ordered, causing the disciplined troop to immediately prime their weapons, and aim them out, at an angle, towards the sky. The thunderous sound of gunfire cracked, as all seven rifles discharged a simultaneous barrage.
"Fire!" The order brought fourth a second thundering salvo.
Like the thunder heralding a storm, the echoing final volley of a twenty-one gun salute resonated far in the distance, as a lone physicist hobbled along a cobblestone path, up a grassy hill, towards a wrought iron fence enclosure.
He didn't so much walk with a limp, as it was a stagger. Like the tightness, and stiffness one feels after first waking up in the morning, before having a chance to limber up. Of course, for the Doctor, it was an aching stiffness.
He was clothed, once more, in his standard Cerberus uniform. The same one he'd been given when he first found himself in this new reality. A gray, metallic cast, accented in chrome, and exhibiting a plethora of small lights and buttons, encased his left forearm, as it hummed lightly. His forehead was wrapped in a layered belt of white bandages, circumnavigating his head. And where he normally wore a pair of simple, black rimmed glasses, he wore a targeting visor of some sort.
It wasn't by choice, but it would take some time for his usual eye wear to be repaired. After all, spectacles in this day and age can be heard to find, and a man needs to see. Two temple-like hooks hung around his ears, and spanned across his forehead, holding the visor in place. They generated a blue, holographic band of light across his eyes, providing just the right amount of magnification. He almost felt as though he was looking through the eyes of a machine. But even though the various distance readouts, environmental gauges, and targeting systems bothered him now, he could appreciate their combat usefulness.
As he reached the top of the hill, Gordon turned and looked out into the distance, towards the city. In many areas, large clouds of black smoke still poured out from the ruined city below. The wreckage of the shattered skyline littered the horizon, and brought a chilling sensation of deja vu surging through Gordon's mind. The only thing missing was a swirling pillar of light, feeding into an angry whirlpool in the heavens... But although the skies were dark and cloudy, much as they were that fateful day a hundred and seventy-nine years ago... Today, the sun's redeeming rays seemed to pierce the dismal cloud cover, and bathed all it touched below, in a renewing, hopeful luminescence...
Gordon grinned a bit, bowed his head, and continued on - finally coming to the tall, stone, archway entrance. The stone was old, and water stained - in many places covered in moss, and vines growing out of the ground. Along either side of the archway, some of the iron bars showed extensive signs of oxidation, below an old, peeling paint job. But, it was not unkempt, for the most part. Most of the fencing seemed to be in good repair. Inside the grass was mowed, and trees flourished. A thick, steel chain hung off the open gate, indicating it was probably locked every night. And up top, across the stone archway, gleaming bronze letters, embossed into the stone read: WHITE FOREST MEMORIAL CEMETERY.
Gordon took a deep breath, as an icy chill ran down his back, shuddering his entire body. Nodding his head, with his eyes closed, he exhaled slowly, and walked in.
The cobblestone path continued on, weaving through the cemetery, and splitting it into two halves. Gordon looked around at the various rows of stone markers, tombstones, and monuments, marking each individual grave. Much like the pillars supporting the archway out front, most of the gravestones were stained by nearly two centuries of water erosion. Most them were chipped, and crumbling at the edges. Many of the stone crosses, and praying angels were cracked or breaking. But the names on each were still clearly visible, although dried, black streaks bled out from the lettering.
"I don't even know where to begin..." Gordon thought to himself, reading some of the names, as he strolled along, through the vast burial ground.
Most of the names he didn't recognize, as he passed them.
Jeremy Knowles... Rosalinda Mendez... Timothy Barlow... Linda Hays Goode... Anya Tyjewski... Edgar Rosales... Fredrick McKnight... Boris Dmitriev...
Gordon read the names out in his head, as wandered through the cemetery, treading lightly upon the hollowed soil. Just then, a strange feeling suddenly washed over him. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, but it was unusual like nothing he'd ever felt before. He wasn't sure what it was, but it almost felt like a welcoming sensation... Almost as if those laying peacefully around him, were happy to see him again, as a caressing breeze blew past him, and floated into the trees. That's when he noticed two names that immediately popped out at him...
Here lies Randall "Sheckley" Shackleton In our hearts. In our memories. Always
In loving memory of Gregory "Griggs" Rollins Cherished Husband and Loving Brother...
"Heh..." Gordon let out a mournful chuckle, as he stopped and gazed at the two headstones. He released a slight, pained groan as he crouched down before them for a better look.
"Be adequate..." He uttered in a whisper, examining the two stone slabs, as he reminisced.
"Hey... You see a bug on me, how 'bout you try to get it off me next time...?"
"I didn't see it!"
"Oh yeah... sure... They're only life five feet tall..."
"Yeah, that's how it's done! I got... TEN!"
"Well we all got ten... There's hundreds of 'em!"
Gordon laid his uninjured hand over the top of the right headstone, as he breathed a despondent sigh, and bowed his head. "Thank you guys..."
Just then, a bright beam of sunshine cascaded down, through the clouds, as Gordon looked up, and suddenly noticed something through the gap between the two gravestones. Further back, in a shaded area, towards the middle of the cemetery, there was a tall monument, standing about nine feet in height, with a row of three headstones lining either side of it.
Gordon stood up to get a better look. The monument was a tall column, with a large, encircled, manhole sized lambda symbol resting on the top, like the hood ornament on a car. With a narrow gaze, and a nervousness in the pit of his stomach, Gordon walked around the two headstones before him, towards the beguiling monument.
Gordon hadn't even noticed it, but the small arrangement of graves rested cozily in the very center of the cemetery. Behind the monument and resting places, were three willow trees. Their dangling leaves hung above the graves, sheltering those that rested below them in their embrace, and blanketing the area in soft shade.
Gordon pushed a few of the drooping, green, branches aside as he stepped in. The stone molded lambda symbol, atop the beige, marble column, stood just above his head, as he came up to it. He looked down at the three gravestones to the right, reading the epitaphs to himself, as he slowly walked across them.
"Here lies Dr. Judith Mossman..." He whispered to himself. "Since now art thou among the blest, for thee we need not weep... No more by sin or sorrow pressed... But hushed in quiet sleep..."
"Rest in peace Dr. Mossman..." He uttered with a sigh. "It was good to have you back on our side." He said, before taking another step forward.
"In Memorium, Dr. Arne Magnusson..." He read out, as he came to the second headstone. "Remember not his bitter ways. His human faults now cease. Remember only the life that was. His comfort, sweetness, and peace..." Gordon tittered a bit, with a subtle smile as he read the words. "Rest in peace, Dr. Magnusson..."
"...Barney..." Gordon abruptly said to himself, when he noticed the etching on the third, and final gravestone on this side.
"In loving memory of Captain Bernard "Barney" Calhoun..." He read in a voice that started to quiver, as he walked up to the stone. "His toils are past. His work is done. And he is fully blessed... He fought the fight, and victory won, and entered into..." Gordon paused for a moment, as a knot swelled up in his throat. "into rest..."
Gordon crouched down before the stone slab, as he reached his right hand out, and pressed it against the etched wording. "We never did get to share that beer, did we...?" He asked, shaking his head, with a forlorn grin. "Good bye my friend..."
Gordon hung his head down in silence, as he stayed crouched down before the stone for a few moments.
"Some other life, perhaps..." He eventually uttered, swallowing at the ball in his throat, as he stood back up.
Gordon reluctantly turned, and walked back towards the marble monument, and to the other three gravestones, on the opposite side.
"Dr. Kleiner..." He whispered to himself, as he passed the tall column, and looked down at the first headstone - stopping in front of it, with a mournful countenance in his eyes, he began to read.
"A precious one from us has gone. A life now torn away... But rest ye now, until we meet, on that red letter day... Heh..." As he read it, he couldn't help himself from letting out a grief stricken chuckle, while he remembered his old friend, and mentor.
At that moment, he glanced over towards the neighboring headstone. The one in the middle of the three. He gasped a bit when he saw it. A stirring uneasiness settled into the pit of his stomach, and a chill rattled his teeth, as he came before it.
"Forever in Cherished Memory... Alyx Vance..." He read aloud, in a gasping breath, as his eyes glazed over. As if no longer being able to hold himself up right, he collapsed down onto his knees right then and there. "A lovely flower that bloomed in darkness, to warm and cheer our hearts... Blessed is her intrepid spirit, that from us now departs..."
"Alyx..." He said with a sigh, as twin teardrops rolled down his cheeks, from behind his holographic visor. "I knew it was true... Of course I knew... But part of me didn't want to believe it... Not you..."
As he knelt there, he glanced to his left towards the final headstone, in the willow covered shrine.
In Loving Memory of Dr. Eli Vance. Goodbye old friend. Since you are gone, where will we find another? With all the qualities you possess of father, guide, and brother...
He huddled down on his knees, resting his palms flat on his thighs, with his head hung low, over his chest.
"Forgive me..." He said with a sniffle, in a soft, melancholy tone. "Forgive me for not being there... For any of you..."
Gordon's right hand passed straight through his holographic lenses, as he raised it, and placed it across his eyes. He simply sat there for a moment, hunkered down on his knees, with his tears condensing into his palm, as he brooded over events long since past, yet so fresh in his mind. It may have been some of the Earth's darkest hours, but for him, he had unwittingly found something special...
"There's nothing Gordon can't handle. With the... possible exception of you..."
"We haven't known each other for very long, but I know you didn't have to do this... I had to rescue my father but you... well... Thanks for coming after me..."
"Go on across Gordon, she's waitin' for you. You lucky dog you..."
"Come on, Gordon. Next to me..."
"And look at you, son! I knew if you both stayed together, you could get through anything!"
"Yeah... we make a pretty good team."
"Well, that's good because well... Now that the... suppression field is down... We all have to do our... part..."
"Can you blame an old man for wanting grand kids...?"
"I'm sorry..." Gordon uttered under his breath, as he shook his head. He slowly removed his hand from his face, and looked up, starring back and forth between the two headstones on either end.
"Dr. Kleiner... Dr. Vance..." He began in a soft, shaky voice. "I hope you knew that you were more than just mentors to me...You were as... as dearest friends and... family as I could've ever hoped for..."
"And Alyx..." He whispered, as he hopelessly fought back the knot in his throat. "I hope you knew that I always cared about you... Always... I just..." Gordon exhaled a heavy breath, as he stopped and rubbed his eyes, wiping away his tears as he pinched his sockets, towards the bridge of his nose.
"I just never had the words to give you..." He continued, as he looked up at her name. "Even now, I... I...I don't know, I just never knew what to say... And I was always so afraid, that I could never even bring myself to say two words to you... But you were the first person I ever truly cared about..."
"I hope you knew that..." Gordon bowed his head, as he knelt there, with his hands on his thighs, in pensive silence.
Thin beams of sunlight, filtered out by the trees, shone on him, as he sat there for a few minutes. The willow leaves danced on a gentle breeze, that wafted through, as a playful pair of singing mocking birds chased each other around the branches.
Through his turmoil, Gordon felt somewhat at peace here. Almost as if he could simply lie down upon the soil, and drift off into tranquil sleep.
"It was a mistake to have never told you how I truly felt about you..." He uttered, with his eyes closed, and his head still bowed. "Part of me wishes I could go back..."
As he said it, Gordon suddenly opened his eyes and raised his head. He looked around at the gravestones before him, at the tall, marble column beside him, and up at the bright rays of light, bleeding in through the dark mesh of the trees around him.
"Part of me..." He uttered again, as he came to a realization. Just then, his mind inadvertently flourished with the thoughts of another person he had recently come to care about.
"Maybe it's not a mistake I have to repeat..." He briefly thought to himself.
Gordon stopped, and looked back down at the gravestone before him for a moment sighing as he began once more.
"You were always the stronger one, Alyx... I miss you... And I'll never forget you..." He said, shaking his head, as he looked around at the row of markers before him. "Any of you... I promise..."
Gordon slowly propped himself up, and carefully drew one of his legs forward. Planting one foot firmly on the grass, he let out a slight, pained groan, as he pushed against his knee, and rose off the ground.
He took one step forward, towards the granite slab in front of him - softly kissing the tips of his fingers, and laying them down over the top of Alyx's headstone.
"Good bye...... my love..."