Vλgaβoηđ

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#1
OOC Note: This is my saved copy-paste from another site, dates and places are not in line with TC's lore.

"Every story has a beginning, but the end is not always so clear."​

Episode 1: Memoirs.

My name is... Alexei, as far as I know that's the only name I remember, and Vanhorn, well, that's what I was called by that damned officer right before being knocked out and waking up in a capsule on my merry way to the next City, so I guess I had to accept it now, that, and the fact that that's the only memory I can recollect of that time. Strange how your previous last name is just wiped out from the mind and substituted with another, but somehow you know, it's not yours, add to that a nice blank page in the noggin' and you have a recipe for a small existential crisis. However, happen that in a normal time, it might've somehow had a continuous impact on me... But these are no normal times, and I am forced to make them that way.
I do remember the old days, back when we were still kids on the playground, play War with sticks and twigs, some were lucky enough to have a slingshot for pine cones, and if someone did use a rock, he got beaten up, before running to mommy or daddy crying, and then we all had to go back home and each get a paddling later on from our parents, 'cause little Sasha was a douchebag when we all agreed to not use rocks, and then we would all come back together and make up to each other, calling an armistice and never do it again. Heh, those were the days. Funny that the war we are having now isn't so simple. The 7 hours may have passed quicker then an average day job, but to comeback home, not knowing that in the next few hours you can say goodbye to your family, friends, co-workers, or not be so lucky and never get that chance at all, that's not something one can get over so easily, and I haven't. I was unlucky to get separated from my parents and sent to a Combine Orphanage, and so began the never ending cycle, my own personal war.
2002 was the year the Portal Storm raged over Eastern Europe. Being the 15 year-old I was, my next 5 years consisted of basic Combine Propaganda 101, Social Experiments, Selective Screening, Force-Feeding Supplements, Mental & Physical Exercises, slowly progressing to more sadistic, by the old standard, methods, one which aren't so today: Augmentation Experiments, Long Hour Brainwashing 'Clockwork Orange Style', Live Body Autopsy, and the list goes on, unless you were lucky or smart enough to follow the daily routine and qualify for the Administrator, then you were treated with the less amoral package. Light Experimental Chemical Injections, Prototype Testing, Excessive Knowledge Studying just to name a few. Making loyalists out of us, "The future face of the Universal Union, a model species for the other worlds to come.", as one of the caretakers would tell us. And maybe it would've been that way...
2007, December, I remember that time oh too well. Running through the winter snow in just a night pajama isn't the most productive thing, far from it, but being taken by the Rebels during a night raid isn't either, not from a heavy Combine Facility. Since as we grew up in the orphanage, we barely had any outside time, any time we did, it was in a huge courtyard, being overwatched by guard towers, and cameras, so seeing that this facility was situated right inside an abandoned city, albeit well preserved, was a bit ominous, if not outright disturbing. With the streets covered in a white coat of cold fluff, being lit just by the pale moonlight, seeing and hearing the dead silence of the streets and buildings with dark windows, only being interrupted by our crumbling footsteps, it doesn't give you any sense of scale until you get to the outskirts of the city, that is when you understand, your escape - jogging through the cold, avoiding patrols and sticking to the shadows, wasn't the worst part, it was when the sirens roared from the distance and spotlights lighted the night sky over the city. No, it wasn't like during a Judgement Wavier, it was much worse. This siren was intended for psychological warfare, the kind where you not just frighten your prey, you make it know it's being hunted, vigorously. If to find us they lifted Airwatch then we were far more important than I presumed, but that wasn't the thought that crossed my mind at that time, it was me trying to running as fast as possible through the snow...

Interlude

As the cold doors of the capsule transport railcar opened, it's interior filled with blinding bright light, no, at this station there was no sunlight, just the Combine Spotlights. With the claws grappling our metal cocoons and pulling out into the dark night, we were greeted with familiar faces and voices. "Welcome to City 6." Welcome back home, I thought to myself.

"Alright, pull them out, we need a quick run down on the numbers and miscounts.", said the CP officer to his subordinates. In a calculated manner his assistant replied, "Total number received from HQ - 8, sir."
-"Any other other intel?"
-"Each individuals bio is sent to your PDA journal, specific details included."
-"That is all?"
-"Almost, sir, we did receive a Level 2 UCR (Upper Council Request) considering 3 individuals, no further intel given."

All this time we were being dragged out of the capsules and put in line, still dazed from the transport anesthesia. Each and every one of us was checked by two CP Ground units and one Medical. Eye scan, mouth, hair check, reflexes and standard response tests, then being stripped down just to our underwear by the GU's for a second round. Standing on a cold concrete floor of the train station platform, barely shivering to somehow keep ourselves warm, we were ordered to stand still, or else. Upon being thoroughly examined and our physical descriptions collated to the database, we were again ordered to pick up our clothes and await further instructions. At least now we were able to somehow move a bit more freely. Some tip toed to warm their feet, others simply rubbed themselves, I just shivered whilst standing still. "LISTEN UP!", the CP officer shouted, "I pronounce your name, you take 5 steps forward."

Wanna know how it ended back then?

-"Daniel Sanders."

One month, a whole month in hiding, down in an abandoned bunker.

-"Samantha Losnedahl."

And whether or not the Combine and Rebels did the right thing.

-"Alexei Vanhorn."

It didn't matter back then, not in comparison to what happened later on.

"Now turn around, put on your clothes and then face right.", a much quieter, but more colder voice commanded us. Malcompliance wasn't prominent in us three, so acting in accordance to orders was beaten into us since our first days at the Orph. I don't know if we wanted to act against it, at least I don't know if the other two wanted it. But looking back to that night, if we did manage to sneak out with the Rebels, then somewhere, deep inside we were against it, maybe that's why we continued on.

Episode 2: Escape.
Part 1.

A blue vertical screen gradually turns on, letting blurry holographic crystals lighten up into a smooth image for the Combine lines to cross. With the loading session complete, a small text appears across the middle of the screen.
<:: Insert Identification Card ::> To which the user would reach to his side pocket and pull out a jet-black , long, rectangular card with a thin red strip to the side, and insert inside the reader, following a gentle push on the edge until a click was heard.
<:: ...Scanning. Please Wait... ::>
<:: ...Scanning complete... ::>
<:: Welcome back, Commander. ::>
Black gloved hands reach to the keyboard, typing a few keystrokes, ending with a click on 'Enter'. The Combine screen fills with a quickly expanding list, hastely rushing till an abrupt halt, moments after, a search bar appeared to the right, awaiting. Filling it with the needed information, the screen text disappeared, leaving only a loading bar in it's place.

<:: Location: Sector 7, Class 2 Facility.
Facility Operation: Classified.
Personnel Count: Classified.
Archived Information: Classified...
Disclose classified information? ::>

Three button presses later, a Combine AI went online and exclaimed in a more organic, monotonous voice.

<:: Commander, disclosing Level 2 information and higher, Code: Midnight. Confirm. ::>

<:: Approximately 500 to 700 km east, south-east of Vorkuta is located the Universal Union Experimental Research and Testing Facility. Current status: decommissioned.::>
<:: Total personnel count from latest report: 120. 30 - Combine Operatives. 20 - Scientific&Maintenance UU Units. 70 - Expendable Civil Units. Synthetic Units: Unaccounted.::>
<:: Facility personnel policy: At all times the current total and individual group number must not change. No personnel must have any contact or be detected within the surrounding 30 to 50 km radius zone, any attempts or actions will result in biological re-purpose and/or reconstruction. Any change in the population must be immediately resolved by the Combine Chief Supervisor. ::>
<:: The Sector 7 UUERTF was one of the many sub-division facilities for the Mass Teleportation Initiative. Total facility area: 70 sq.km, divided into two sections. Section 1 and 2 were interconnected with a modular Razor Train. Depth of the facility ranges from 200 to 400 meters on average, deepest point being 6000 meters. ::>
<:: Section 1 was devoted solely to Interdimensional Communication. Located in the northern part of the facility, it had one of the first experimental quantum satellites, including it's sub types, currently in use by the Citadels. Section 2 was devoted to Bio-electric Integration, Computational Prototyping, Experimental Synthetic Engineering, Augmentation Research, Electronic Warfare Research, Geological Screening and Near Instant Teleportation Analysis, the latter of which processed and tested information received from the Antarctic Division. ::>

<:: Uploading last incident report. ::>
<:: October 3rd 2012, at 0300 the facility was sabotaged by an unknown assailant group, resulting in the near 5 hour blackout. The complex Anti-Riot System was disabled alongside the Defensive Countermeasures. Majority of the Synthetic Units was taken out of stasis to intercept fleeing ECUs and subdue exogenic breaches. At 0535, an explosion occurred, taking out of commission Section 1 and adjacent power plant. By that time 30 ECU's were apprehended. 13 confirmed dead. 2 amputated. 25 escaped to the upper and surface levels. 19 of the 20 SMU were found dead. 1 in a severe wounded condition, currently in vat bay stasis. 5 Combine Operatives dead. 3 wounded. 1 psychologically unstable. Remaining units in conjunction with Synthetics stabilized the facility to a manageable condition, until the arrival of reinforcements. See SWORD group report #P33.014.10.::>
<:: 80% of internal and external video recording and audio logs were preserved and reclaimed, do you wish to proceed?::>
-"No, download to my personal database, I request a full document archive dump on each and every ECU present in the last one and a half year."
<:: Confirmed... ::>
<:: Uploading data... Please wait. ::>
<:: Uploading complete, any other request?::>
-"Give me a sitrep on the current decommission status."
<:: Section 1 being re-purposed for mining and excavation. Section 2 immolated entirely before being flooded and sealed. Majority of the leftover gear, technology and materials diverted for other complexes. ::>
-"That is all for now."

Without a response the Combine monitor clears itself and turns off, with the Commander pulling out his card and putting it back inside his specifically designated pocket sleeve. Walking out of the dark database room, he continues down the long, cold blue hallways towards the Citadel's transport hub, on the way sorting the given documents into batches, individual to each ECU, and then opening each ready batch to scan down on the info, listening to audio logs and video recordings, including bio-reports.

. . .

<::Audio file #74::>
Time:0934 Date: August 5th, 2011

Two male figures standing inside the break room, one sipping on hot coffee, the other fixing electronic cables underneath the floor.
-"Say, Alex, what's with the new computer tech?"
-"Dunno, some genius spilled coffee on the terminal, which reminds me", he'd point at his paper cup, "If I see you near one-"
-"Relax, will ya? I'm not that stupid, besides, I work in the Synthetic department, spilling a cup o' joe on some instruments isn't gonna do them any bad."
-"Unless-"

Static abrupted the chit chat, as the annoyed Commander switched to other files, looking for useful information, while on his way in the bullet train towards Thau Station, a long way outside the City.

. . .

Part 2.

Sifted through the majority of documents, he uploaded the final couple of batches...

<::Uploading Video Playlist::>
Time: 0903 Date: October 1st, 2012.

Daily routine. The majority of ECU's were at the mess hall getting ready for breakfast. Some were already standing in line, other's reserved a few tables for their co-worker partners. Observing them from the catwalks on the two sides were 4 CO's, one more standing near the entrance and another near the cook. Everyone took their seat, as usual the 4-monitor telescreen, hanging in the middle like a chandelier, started it's usual prompt of prerecorded messages from the face of the Administrator Breen and a couple of other high profile individuals...

It was the same old thing, 'Our benefactors smile upon your progress!', 'We've reached a new milestone in our evolution', 'Your efforts benefit mankind' and yada-yada-yoda. Here, I was sitting at the middle table, Samantha and Daniels were across me, almost inseparable, we three weren't partnered up, but the Chief did suggested the CO's to let us stay together, at least in our free time, either for a better work flow or to keep easier tabs on our behavior. But for the past 4 years none of us dared to make a peep, having enough from our previous adventure, it wasn't in our best interest to risk and test out lady luck, or even better, the patience of the Combine. We knew we were walking on thin ice, so playing safe was the better choice, and whadda ya' know?

It didn't came out that bad, I mean, food still sucks, but at least it has more variety. Pasta is steam cooked, that means it's sticky and chewy, with sausages you can taste the canned spam used to make them, porridges were a tad bit better, having at least an oatmeal flavor, but even with it they are saving on salt here, why though? Anyways, that's just a small example of what we did get.
Overall it's always quiet during breakfast time, you can only hear indistinguishable whispers from the nearest table at best, not that everyone talked that much in the morning. Daniels was as usual however, liking to talk about anything, and today was no exception, "Alex, Sam, guess what we're getting today", with a small grin he asked us during the meal. Lifting my eyes from a plate of steamed corn and peas to his cheeky face, "A new tool or project?".
-"Nope, better, a new synth."
-"What, you mean like a ready synth, or just blueprints, like I said?"
-"No-no, this is a ready synth, I heard something about it being shipped here from the Middle East Sector, and you said tool or project."
-"Nevermind. So what's it about?"
-"Something to do with Section 1 and a bit with Section 2, my guess, it's one of those phasing synths I've been hearing."
-"You mean to say that they are somehow gonna use synths as a anchor for teleportation"
-"I dunno", he mumbled with a shrug.
-"...In any case, maybe those telescreens have a merit to what they say after all."
-"Possibly, but until I get my hands on one, it's hard to tell how much they've accomplished in that field, although I also heard that they are gonna need to rewire the current computer mainboard, so I might see you with the others."
-"You boys got anything else to talk about? Seriously, it's the same thing almost every month.", Samantha joined into the conversation.
-"Come on, Sam, it's better than to sit like the chumps from Geo team, all murky cause they have nothing but sonar and seismic scans to talk about... oh sorry, and the occasional rocks they dig out near Section 1."
-"I would agree though, Samantha, it's not that bad... having a chat, especially after, well... you know what."
-"I thought we agreed not to talk about."
-"We did, but that doesn't exempt it from being an example."
-"Hmph... Well in that case I will tell you about my time in the Augmentation and Bioelectric divisions."
-"Fine by me, you never talked that much about it anyways, so what progress you have there?"
-"Not much, any attempt at combining newer alloys with some alien samples into the human flesh gives us either a rejection or complete mutation of the body."
-"Wait a minute, are those vats that I saw being transported is what you get?
A somewhat guilty nod is what we got in response.
-"Yikes, guess they won't stop with the Synth Trooper program at all."
-"How do you know about it?!"
-"It's all on the computer... you think I just fix cables? Forgot what my specialty was?"
-"It was computer engineering, not programming."
-"So what? Just because I know how a Combine computer is made, doesn't mean I shouldn't know how to use one."
-"Well I still don't."
-"Shut up, Dan."Subtle flip offs are subtle, at least when you are being watched 24/7 by the Combine, so having Daniel show it right at the table pointblank, somehow hiding it to the side of the tray, with the most not so subtle expression, gave us three a nice giggle.
-"Anyways... It's all there. Well, almost all. I was simply allowed to view the Level 5 projects, at least to be able to get to the config files. Kinda of stupid how it's actually made, keeping system and normal files together in the same root."
-"Maybe they don't care, since not everyone is able to even properly get to one, not to mention getting the pass codes."

A notification chord rang, like the one you get back on morning radio. "20 minutes left. Finish breakfast and clean after yourselves, before assuming inspection position." Yes, even here, with cameras and guards nearly on every corner, figuratively speaking, Combine's paranoia is never dormant.

-"Well, eat up boys, I'll see you tomorrow."
-"What about lunch?"
-"Can't do, today we have to do a general clean up, so i'll be eating at my workplace."
-"Oh, okay, guess then till tomorrow. What about you, Alex?"
-"Sure, why not. Coffee? Doughnuts?"
-"Why not both?"
-"Deal."
-"Should we save some for you, Sam?"
-"Would love it."

Work here goes as usual. I fix any computer tech with my group that breaks, at times getting to the cold taiga surface to make sure the connections and fixes don't tamper with the defenses or satellites. Sometimes we are supervised by Synths, that is, when we work near Section 1. Overall that's how it is, unless you take into account those moments when we fuck up. Oh and we did.
When I say fuck up, I mean fatal fuck ups, and yes, re-education afterwards was also a thing at the facility, and after that you get two CO's staring at your back while you work. Hated that more then being used as punchbag, at least they didn't hit the face... and I was still under painkillers.

...

Still listening? Good. Cause the way the Combine computers are made boggles my mind, and fuck them that's what I say. . .

Why would they use an electrically conductive liquid as an energy source? I don't want to know what's in it, don't care how it's possible, I just wanna know why use it. It's one thing when our computers use metal tracks, conductors and transistors on a PCB, all while having every other part inside being modular, and most importantly - compact. The Combines decided to just make it more complicated than a combustion engine. It takes an electric screwdriver to take out the first 3 panels, just to get into the box itself, where all the components are, and after that make so many unnecessary action, you start to feel like in a lo-fi scifi movie, for example 'Alien' or 'Blade Runner'. The motherboard alone is a huge sandwich the size of a suitcase, while, what I think are, storage devices may might as well be suit as vinyl hard files, then there are some sort of glowing cubes, thick plastic wires that sort of thing. To remove each and every one you need like 3 separate tools, T-H-R-E-E. And guess what happens if you somehow, by accident, mishandle or crack a tube with the liquid? You get a nice spray of compressed plasma particles charging faster than you can say "Fuck". They are just right behind the box itself, turning under an angle into a huge Combine PSU. Got my first small burns when I tried to pull out the tube before double checking if it was completely dry.

This liquid doesn't just conduct electricity, it is electric, liquid electricity or lightning, or whatever the fuck that is, I don't know. Stable when in big quantities, but the moment it goes below a volume threshold, poof, like plasma, right there, unless held under pressure or in an air tight container. In addition to burns you get a numbing effect where it hit. That's why changing old tubes was my least favorite job, and one of ours payed the price with his life, simply by mishandling the draining process with the pump dousing the liquid onto him, nothing but flaming flesh and metal goo was in his place. Another guy lost his arm by getting too much of it on, screamed as if he had a robot voice under a taser. Me?

I was unfortunate to be up top at the time, was one of my first visits to the surface after I arrived. This frozen interface was in an old shed, barely had any light, so I worked with just a flashlight and what was coming out out the doorway. I was ordered to salvage it, take any still intact parts and send them down before letting the technicians take it apart. How was I supposed to know that were some of that forsaken liquid left? I was just taking out the stupid "vinyl" storage before I heard this hissing noise, like water dripping on hot metal, only much louder. Last thing I know, I am face stomped into the nearby snow covered metal slop with some of that liquid burning through my coat and back. It felt so weird, your body feels both cold and hot, all while twitching spasmodically, and yet almost complete numbness, too hard to even move properly. I only turned around for a moment to have a glimpse on what was left from the shed, just a huge vertical hole blasted out of the metal, only seconds later for my convulsion take over and I simply fell, losing first any sense of movement, then time, then sight. A cold northern blue sky was the last thing I saw before things went dark. Woke up in the infirmary some time after, turns out I was unconscious for almost a week and now the CO's decided to reform the groups and workflow, not to mention I had to repay for the lost time and medicine, heh, figures. Too important to lose, not too much to let it go by.

And I thought I felt the last of it back then.

...

Time: 0200 Date: October 3rd, 2012.

Static appears more frequent across all video recordings at this time period, along with a much more prominent film grain. As the Commander increases the video speed, the time ticks faster, and much more stranger appearances occur. Majority of the complex's lights are turned off during night time, since every ECU is locked in their quarters, but the lighting that is left flicks more intensely.

2:43Unidentified black figures seem to shift in the shadows, popping out lights on the way. In some ECU rooms they appear as distortions and disappear, only to reappear in another room. Putting the video on a pause, Commander shifted to each quarter room camera, accelerating nearly 1 frame at a time in a quick fashion. They stopped only at three peoples places for longer than 3 seconds, the rooms of which he tagged.

2:55
1 CO patrolling the corridors with the flickering vanishes near instantly the moment he turns around the corner. Different camera angles of the spot show the disappearance occur exactly during the small timeframe when the lights flick off.

3:00
Total blackout. Cameras switch to thermal and backup lights turn on, a small siren is heard and the distorted figures completely disappear.

...
 
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Vλgaβoηđ

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#2
"Huh, what!?", I wake up from the dark red glow and noise in my room. The door out of my room unlocks, looking at the alarm clock to my left I see 3:01. Not understanding what is happening I slowly get out of bed, rubbing off the sleepy gleam. Barely got up and the siren noise is already getting on my nerve, which didn't help that much in getting the suit on.Checked the time again, 3:07. Better make haste. Zipping my utility belt on, a muffled thump was heard coming from outside alongside a faint cry. That stopped me right there with a shiver running down moments later. Fearing the worst I slide the door open just a tad bit to peek out. The whole corridor was nearly pitch black, no good were the emergency lights, giving only a dark red tone to everything, and in it I was trying to get a clear image of what's happening outside.The living quarters area layout was pretty easy to figure out in this darkness, for obvious reasons, what wasn't was the figures in it. I never saw how it was here during a blackout, and the way the siren wailed just now reached to me, it was a breach signal. Near instantly I shut the door behind, taking in a few deep breaths, trying to get a hang of what to do next. The drawers and closet, I have my keycard and tools there, just need to barricade the door.Doing so wasn't so hard, but I was already hearing screams coming much closer and possibly scratches in the walls. Samantha and Daniels must be nearby, they are just two floors underneath me, just need to get into the maintenance vents and slide down. God, why now, why here? This doesn't make any sense, why would this facility be attacked, more so, how is it that I don't hear the turrets and synths fire?A metal frame bashes down the long downward tunnel with an echo-y bang. "Shit... Better hurry." Getting a hold of the small dark-blue frameless ladder, I started climbing down, switching to another as the previous ended, and just like that I crawled till the last floor. If memory didn't fail me, Samantha was four rooms to the left, while Daniel was on the other side, somewhere in the middle, which means: get Samantha inside the vent, check Dan, get him into the vent and use it to get into the main maintenance shaft. On the belly, trying not to rip it open, I was checking every opened vent, countinng till Sam's room. Was about to approach it when a nice amount of blunt smacks sweep across the metal grate with a cry, "GET AWAY!" yelling from within.

"Woah, woah, Sam, it's me!", I waved with a hand in front of the grate, presumable in her viewpoint. "Alex? Oh god, Alex, i'm so sorry. . . here, let me help." Together we'd get the vent to open. Sliding inside Sam's room I asked, "Have you seen Daniel?" Poor choice of words. She wasn't herself, a stuttering, crying face trying to say something. Glancing around I started to understand why. The door was hastily barricaded with chairs and a closet, all covered in a mattress. Near it was a spray of blood leading underneath the barricade. Around which were huge dual scratches from what seemed to be claws, yet they looked more like burns. Samantha herself was covered below, here and there, in some kind of dark liquid, reminiscent of crude oil or ink, same thing was soaked on her hands, gripping hard onto the handle of a broomstick. Comforting her was the least I could do, but now, in our situation, I had to make it short, that's why I simply pressed her against myself, letting her let it out.

She calmed down a bit. "Sorry, but we have to get out." I finally said it,"First, where is Daniel? And second, we have to get you cleaned." Wiping off her tears myself, Sam murmured, "He ran to the engineering block for help. We all went outside, to see what's happening and then those.. things... appeared...it was them, Alex, it was the ones we were testing on!" Now my stomach really turned, thoughts raced across my mind. What? How? Ifs and buts. Things complicated more than they should've.

-"Listen, get cleaned, change your cloths, if you have a bag or backpack, take it, also food... I don't suppose you have any flares?"
-"Mh-no."
-"Okay, look, we can get at least to the transport hub, its more safe there than here, but we have to get moving, so do everything as fast as you can, I... I'll stay here, need to take a seat, think it all over."
-"Mhm."
Flopping down on the nearby empty bed, I somehow tried to get my thoughts together, waiting for Samantha to get ready won't take long, so I have about 2-3 minutes. Calculating the probability of meeting a mutated Synth in the vents won't do much, no room to maneuver or hide, can't say the same about Section 1, but that's a long way from here. However, if I had to put my chances on meeting one in the vents or in the corridors, I would rather go with the former, doubt they even know we will be there. Although, I worry about Daniels...
"I'm done!", Sam uttered in a dazed condition.
-"Good, now, get into the vent, we are leaving, and, is that a flashlight?"
-"Well, yeah."
-"Give it to me."
-"Ah, wh-, fine..."
-"Come on, don't give me that look, it's for the better... come now."

We both crawled back into the vent, moving ourselves through it to the main shaft. The maintenance tunnels weren't so much of a maze, rather a layered connection of long passages just an average human width, all being filled with these alien cables and wires, sometimes in the mix were those damned liquid tubes. As time went by we were making small breaks near intersections, leaving behind small bit's of any leftover as a guide, just in case we'd go in circles. Our goal was up, up is good, down is bad, and mainly going straight and right, going left only if we counted two rights corners. In the darkness that was these tunnels, I was able to see with the flashlight old places I was working on, coming across some careful stitches on metal frames, which reminds me, if we manage to get to the warehouse we should get one plasma torch along with some canisters, maybe even a few glowsticks would be good, and a heatpack, and... No, I am getting carried away. A map, that's what we need, better yet, a tablet. If one of the CO's is down, or SWU, then I bet they wont mind if we appropriate one for a noble cause.Traversing tight spaces on your knees or belly isn't claustrophobic, not that much, but these noises echo in the tunnels and funnel around, keeping any sense of awareness on the edge. At moments, you'd you could hear them in the walls, and the further our heroes moved, the worse it got, making stops nearly every 2 minutes or so, just to stare into the dark tunnels behind with a flashlight, before nerves didn't handle it anymore. "Fuck it", more appropriate response wasn't necessary, so they simply hastily crawled forward without a second thought, at rare moments when standing up was possible - ran. Losing track of time here is easy, so it might've been an hour or so since their travel, that is until they reached the main maintenance shaft. It was literally a light at the end of the tunnel, being closed off by a vent. "Fuck the vent, I want out, now!", right as Alex was kicking the devil out of it, taking a breather, only to continue pummeling it further up till it started to dent underneath his boot. The metal hinges flew off, crashing the metal grate to the floor with a screech.

I didn't believe it. "We're OUT!", as her crushing warm hug was felt on my back. Guess the ending of our venture helped with the mood, pleasant enough to see her normal attitude come back, but also the lights that were used in this tunnel. They are always lit, working off an independent power source. After a small exercise in stretching our limbs, we discussed our further actions.
-"Okay, now we have to figure out which way we need to go."
-"I think we should go right."
-"Yeah, if we properly followed our move plan and our block was to the east, then... Wait, we need to go left first. At least to see the medical and engineering bay."
-"You think Dan is still there?"
-"Don't know, he isn't the fidget type, but he doesn't like to sit in one place that much, so..."
-"So?"
-"To what else does the engineering connect to?"
-"I can't remember, medbay is just two blocks down, and the only other thing near it is the assembly and..."
-"You don't think he would use the sewage disposal."
That look she gave me, I wish I was wrong about that.
-"Let's just hope he doesn't get stuck in there."

Abandoning a friend in this these moments is a hard choice, both understood it quite well, but acting reckless just to risk a chance that he is still there and safe? No. Daniel was a hothead and irrational at worst, but he wasn't stupid. Using a sewage dump as an escape is also risky, however knowing what they all are up against, it was either getting torn by those mutants or drowning in metal debris and chemical waste. Sam and Alex both weighed out the possibilities of his actions, none were good, and having no way of finding out where he is now, one can only assume his current situation. In time, a tough decision was made - to just hope and work on the plan.

Getting to the transport hub was our goal, from there we would piggyback on a train and jump somewhere in the middle of the way. But before that, getting at least a proper torch would be good, so we had to make a detour.

Sliding just near the vent, we both scanned the interior of the warehouse for about 3-5 minutes, inside was dark and quiet, almost too quiet. After a couple more minutes flashing our light inside, checking the shelves and ledges. Carefully lifting the vent up, I tried to light the space below, checking the height, after which tossed a flare down and another a few meters into the room, reasonably appropriated from one of the blackout boxes on the way. It wasn't enough to light up the whole place, but enough to see the surrounding area more clearly, which is why I left my belongings with Sam.

Careful, Alex, best not to-

I fell with a loud plop. "You okay?", came from up top. "I'm fine, just landed a bit hard on my ass... hey, can you drop down my bag, empty?" Three seconds later it landed nearby, almost startling me. "...Sorry." Wish I saw that not so guilty face. Grabbing my bag, I approached the second flare, picking it up on the way, searching around the shelves, gathering every possibly useful thing I can. It was a jackpot, almost everything you need for every situation, except for food, which is sad, but, whatever, raiding the cafeteria for more pastry can wait a bit longer, maybe. Right now I simply got the more important essentials.

A rope, 12 p. box of handheld flares, two heavy duty flashlights, batteries with a nice margin, two heavy duty backpacks, a crowbar, pair of safety climbing gear and the so useful torch with two canisters and small welding mask. Quite the marvelous equipment, too unfortunate there weren't any explosives like dynamite and a gas mask, however, grabbing that canister of pure gunpowder, some fuses and a tube of construction clay, may be useful later on. In any case, I was already stocked up, wasting anymore time here can induce kleptomania, and by the looks of it, company was approaching too.

Too right you are. Running back to Samantha, the now nearly burnt out flare got tossed as far as possible to the other side, right before Alex shifted to the nearby office shed. Darkness leaves you only to your two senses - touch and sound. Finding the way just by touch, a sturdy grip was felt slightly above his head height, up and at 'em Alex. Luckily the weight didn't pull down as much, yet, but it was pretty cumbersome to get on the shed's roof. From it's top, multiple glowing blue eyes blistered at the far end, breaching the warehouse doors. Adrenaline kicked in pretty quick, why wouldn't it, describing just the sounds they make is more than a challenge, although climbing in complete darkness up the scaffolding wall could compete in that regard too. Okay, maybe not complete darkness, the newer flashlight did help see where to go, only thing left is to get to the same ledge that goes to the vent, that's all.

Easier said than done. It's one thing when your legs support your weight, the other, when the whole body, plus gear is on your hands, so I simply tossed Sam the flashlight so that she could light the way.

Metal gritting came with an audible bang, echoing across, exposing the entrance, giving way to four of them. Those creatures ran, clicking in a disgusting tone, while Alex was hanging half way through like fish bait. Better not slip, and that arm aching isn't helping much either, but you shouldn't fall, focus.

I did, too much to not lose my grip, too much that I didn't notice how Samantha was reaching out for me. Less than a meter between me and her, she was hanging by the toes, her ankle tied with a jumpsuit to the vent. Don't know if her motivation was enough for me to have a last ditch effort and simply hop towards or the monsters underneath, but it worked. Sam managed to reach to the strap, pulling it a bit up, just enough for me to move a bit more freely. Pulling ourselves inside the vent, I fell on my belly for just a few seconds, catching a breath, before quickly closing the vent shut and crawling with Sam further. They were close, I heard it, and with every meter behind, the warehouse being long gone, stretching the distance more and more made us feel easier on ourselves. In perspective, we had enough equipment to tackle the majority of problems in this blackout, that is, until an explosion was felt.

The whole tunnel shook from the shockwave, as parts fell off. It didn't felt like it was nearby, more so in the distance, whatever the cause was, double time, so chop-chop. Hear that huge roar echoing towards you? Not a moment too soon, legs took them far away as possible down the road, that was until a huge vent came across, about 2 meters wide. Yes, back again for the third time into the rat maze, the good part being it was exactly what you were looking for. Honestly, even I lost track of time during the first venture, now, it's just kinda pointless, so what was our surprise that we all managed to reach the transportation hub. Looking at it through the ventilation shaft we saw the whole train terminal lit up by mobile illuminators, a group of ECU's by the looks of it, for some reason grouped and tied up, 3 synth units and 6 CO's, heavily armed were defending the two barricaded entrances.

-"What do you think"
-"Nothing, we wait... And might as well move forward down the shaft above the rails.
-"Wh-...why?"
-"Look at them, if they see us with all this gear on us, they won't just tie us down, besides, what you think, walking to them with raised hands as if we surrendered? And then what?"
-"Well, I jus-"
-"Look, no, I don't see Daniel in the crowd, so we might as well get a move on.
-"I'm starting to think we won't find him anywhere."
-"Same, but it's better to get out"
-"And find help."
-"What?! What help are you talking about!? Who the fuck is gonna help us?!"-
"Be quiet, they'll hear us."
-"Th-, fu-, li-, I will smack you one day."
-"No you won't."
-"...Okay, I won't , but you got my thought woman."
-"Pf-f. . .Strange though."
-"What?"
-"Why did they tie the ECU's down?"
-"What do you mean?"

It occured to me. The Anti-Riot System, in case of mass disobedience every ECU has a tracker fitted into them with a suppression collar right on the third neck bone. Just point, request, and you have a numb person for bagging or beating as long as you want. Easier than using pure brute force and allows to keep the CO count small.

-"But, what does it give us? It doesn't work on those things."
-"If we manage to reach the surface, then we can possibly run away before it gets back on."
-"Oh... wait what?"
-"Don't tell me you want to stay here and continue working after all this."
-"I-I...What the hell!? What did I just tell you!? You forgot already what happened 4 years ago, this is the exact same fucking thing, only worse! You haven't had enough? Come to think of it, you complained about it two days ago at breakfast, and I only used it as an exa-"
-"Sh-h-h, quiet. They could hear us."
-"F-Wh-...*sigh* Look, I don't know, okay, I honestly don't know. These Combine, they are out of our human league, way out, I have no idea what they are capable of, or what power they hold, and honestly, I don't feel like running away, not to mention fighting them."
-"Who said about fighting, we three could simply hide somewhere in the mountains... Or, if the worse happens, the two of us."
-"We are in Siberia! Do you know how far till the nearest mountain, in October? And what's with the 'the two of us'?"
-"Why so pessimistic!?"
-"Oh fuck me, fine, if we die, it's on you."
-"Fine, I'll kill you then if we die."
-"I should say that..."
-"Yeah, you should."

Our lovely-dovely couple passed on, reaching the aforementioned shaft and then the catwalk below. As the young escapes prepared for the not so literal flight of their life, falling off a metal catwalk on a passing cargo train with a marvelous spin of a dreidel, spreading flat across the surface as a snow angel on Christmas morning. A countdown began. 20 minutes, that's how much is should be till the intersection.

-"THERE!"
-"I SEE IT! YOU READY?"
-"YES"
-"OKAY, ON THREE. . . ONE, TWO, THREE!"

Crashing onto the metal rails and sleeper was pretty unpleasant. Under the weight of the gear my air simply escaped as I landed, at least Samantha was light loaded to get me off the tracks quickly and to the door. The passing trains were muffling our sounds and voices, so neither of us talked until we got inside, shutting behind the door.

-"O-mph... Didn't think it would be worse than getting on the train."
-"Hurts bad?"
-"Not much, just need to catch my breath."
-"Okay, say, Alex, you feeling sleepy?"
-"Well...Now that you say it, kinda... I mean, I am starting to feel it."
-"Should we take a rest?"
-"No, not until we get till the surface."
-"Are you ready then?

Deep breathes. Inhale, exhale, and another one, "Let's go."

Flight of stairs led up just 2 stories high, one leading to a locked door, the other to a hallway up till the power transformers. Alongside came a nice change of scenery, reminiscent of the Soviet Era, at least we won't get more of those damned Combine walls. Unfortunately, the transformer room was a dead end, so backtracking to take the corridor to find a route till Section 1 or the surface was our only option, that or walking down the tracks. Cutting down the Combine lock, still in the dark, but on foot and not on fours, we stumble along a long corridor that seemed to go on endlessly.

How true those words were is questionable, but on their way they did come across a lonely door. Inside was a small control room with another corridor leading to an observation point, having a window showing a huge pitch black cavern and some catwalks. Checking all the closets and tables, lockers and safes, an old map was found, it had a path leading out to the upper levels and rooms.

Happiness flooded us, knowing that we can get to a safe place and wait out this mess. The problem at hand, however, was that the path lead through the catwalks in the cavern. No, the catwalks were fine by themselves, it's the cavern that spooked us, something wasn't right about it, unusually unnervingly so to speak. Samantha went out as I followed her, checking our six and sometimes into the pitch black cavern, even our flashlights weren't able to dissapate the darkness, to which I suggested Sam to step it up.

A small howl echoed deep from within the cavern. Startled physonomy, eyes glancing at each other, run fools, ignore being quiet, as the howl approached, fast. It was a matter of time before they'd catch up. Alex took out a flare, one for lighting up the area behind, another for himself.

Turning my head back, I didn't see anything glancing off the bright red glow, didn't matter, I could hear the echoing thumps, which is why when Samantha yelled about a door infront of us, I sprinted as fast as I could, sliding into the doorway as she hold it for me. Inside the stairs went up again, which is why she ascended and I stayed for a moment, taking out the gunpowder canister, fuses and construction clay. Quickly assembling a makeshift bomb by sticking the fuse inside the gunpowder and claying it near the door, I putted a plasma torch fuel canister nearby, twisting the valve till a hiss came out, all while igniting the fuse with a flare, escaping the danger zone.

Wind speed my friend. Not a moment too soon the door cracked and bent, Sam was waiting near the exit, as an explosion was heard with a loud screech right before they closed it all behind. Not wanting to find out if it's still alive, the couple continued on, using anything to hold the door as backup.

We were close, just needed to find the security room and from there the emergency shaft to the surface level buildings or trenches. As we opened the door into a long white corridor, it was filled with red light, reminiscent of ones in the living quarters, so we treaded carefully. Turning off the flashlights and taking out the crowbar, we were prepared for anything, if the cavern was that close nearby, then those things are most likely here too, double the chances after our explosion. First, we had to find the area's map, after that, some kind of safe silent storage, take a nap, then a cafeteria or vending machine, maybe even a CO's ration, and only then return to our main plan.

Slowly, almost tip-toeing through the halls, checking every corner, in time they came across the layout map of this location. It had everything: names, exit icons, the !emergency! exit, only thing left was to get to it. A faint beep was heard in the distance. Getting Alex's attention, Samantha tapped his shoulder, pointing outwards into the dark corridors where it exponentialy grew.

In the darkness far ahead we saw some sort of blue glowing lights, they looked like short whips, two on each side swinging back and forth, and the beeping sound, similar to a submarine sonar, was coming from it. "It's that thing...", she whispered, almost with a weeping tone. Understanding that that is no good, I took a last glance on the map, trying to remember where is what, as we strolled slowly back looking for a hiding spot, before the beeping turned into a metallic squeal, as whatever was there, was running, most definately running, and so did we.

Let the game of cat and mouse begin. In the haste of escaping the vigilant pursuer, Alex and Sam decided to split up, with the man acting as bait, allowing for Samantha to find a hiding spot and wait out, although in the rushing sprint they did exchange equipment, leaving Alex with nothing more than a sturdy crowbar and the remaining flares. His strategy was simple: go in zig-zags paths with the corridors, pull the creature away from the security booth, try to lose the creature inside and, maybe, buy as much time as possible. However, just like with every plan, something is bound to go wrong.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck!", bullet's richocheted nearby, cracking the air, only being overlapped by Combine OTA flatlines and grunts, as munchy crushes followed. I didn't care anymore, if backup arrived already then they did use an entrance, or made one, so I just had to find it. Escaping gunfire was relatively easy, that mutant acted lovely as an unexpected diversion, giving me enough time to get away almost unscathed, after all, plasma pulses do leave a nasty burn even if strafing near the surface, however that wasn't the biggest problem, my fatigue was hitting in. Blurriness either from the pain or lack of sleep was just a nuisance, my head on the other hand, oh, it was cracking. All that adrenaline and action sucked out any common sense and straight thought as I was simply running on pure instincts by now. Funny, Breen always said that that's exactly what will doom us as a species. Well fuck you Breen, cause I am alive, for now.

Legs subverted almost completely as I was more like a drunk, trying to find his way back home, meerly making small sprints, just to shorten the unknown distance between me and my untangable goal. The pictures infront of my eyes blurried into a red-black mess, giving off simple white sparks at the back of my eyeballs as they were being stressed to the limit. I needed some sleep, I wanted it, but I can't stop, not now. That's why I closed my eyes and continued on, leaning to the wall as support. It won't matter, if I get caught by the Combine or the monster, I am fucked either way, might as well get some sort of rest before that.

Alexei was long gone from the previous location, strolling onwards, having only a guess on where the final destination is. Corridors all this time were having faint reverbs of gunfire and radio chatter. He was alone, for the first time in his 27 years, and totally not in the best condition and place. That is, until he reached an intersection, reminding of a waiting zone you'd get at a terminal in an airport, only underground. Dual airlocks with a control booth on each side with a maintenece access right in the middle.

"Finally.", said it with such relief, as I walked to the locked maintence door, shoving my crowbar into the slint between it and the doorframe. "Yeah, should take some time to crack it." Wiggling as hard as possible to make some kind of dent in, took longer than it should. I can barely feel myself, and as more time I spend trying to get a grip inbetween, the more noise I made and risked myself being exposed, therefore I had to hurry.

Scratching foots approach! "Come on, come on!" It gave in, with a rapid push on the crooked side of the crowbar, using it as a lever, the door cracked, rushing into which Alex rammed into the next one with all his might, sending it off it's hindges, with a small slide stopping near the keycard locked airlock. Getting up he'd look around only to be stopped dead in his tracks. An object, the size of a warehouse crate, was standing to the side with a small red display on top, flashing softly, to which he'd approach with the utmost hopeless look, fearing the worst. Lighting the object up with the last flare, the display showing a 20 second timer with cables being connected to the airlock pad. Split second reaction followed. Throwing with furious hate the last flare into the approaching mutated Synth, staggering it a bit, Alex opened the airlock with his keycard running with a raging scream to the far end, only to be caught by the long whips of the creature. Tripping from the pain as it burnt through the clothing, he turned around for a small peek, only to see a roaring monster being stuck by the airlock door, twitching his appendages all across, giving sparks off from touching the metal walls. Overcoming his pain, to use this window of opportunity, ignoring everything, he barely got up from the floor, lamely running to the exit and out into the freezing cold of early northern morning. Forward on, don't look back, not now, not after all that.

Blastwave knocked me off and out into the snow, only this time I didn't want to get up, too tired. Want to close my eyes and wake up, back home where none of this happened, when I was still a kid and went to school, doing stupid childish things with my friends and nothing more. I didn't even want to see what was making the snow crumbling noise, but morbid curiosity overtook as I raised my head with tears into the dark blue sky, to take a last look at whatever will take me out before I lose it. Three Combine Soldiers stood with their glowing eyes and helmets, pointing the OSIPR at me was the last thing I saw, that and the last radio message coming from the leader, "Benign Gromov Target Zero Three, Apprehended. Overwatch, request medical evac."
 
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