Static crackles over the airwaves, filling the small alcove with white noise. The barn below was filled with the sounds of resistance. Someone was building guns, someone else tearing apart combine tech to repurpose, a Vortigaunt called out curses in their native tongue. The sounds of Indigo Outpost, of home. Elaine gripped her shotgun close as she leaned out the window. Below what had once been a lush countryside dotted with farms rotted under the fading sun. She still wasn't entirely sure where City 8 had once been but the unmistakable landmarks gave her ample guesses. Somewhere in eastern Germany. The monument to the victims of a much more human regime with her family name among then had been the only clue she'd really needed. She'd wondered in her idle time if her grandmother had ever seen this farm they'd taken refuge in; if she was the latest in a long line of persecuted people to hide in this very barn; if maybe her grandfather and the other Allied troops had used it as a respite as so many resistance members did now.
She had a lot of time to think, being the last relay station before miles of ruins and decaying wilderness. Most folks either stayed here to fight for the liberation of City 8 or hopped a train towards Black Mesa East by way of City 17. But a quiet outpost was still an outpost, and the raids did sometimes reach out this far when Civil Protection got bored or the Combine had headcrab shells to spare. The later was becoming more and more common after the last message out of City 17, "Freedom's arrived."
Gordon Freeman, finally found after nearly 20 years. The rebellion was finally kicking off properly. All out war would be soon at hand. The shockwaves of his appearance were being felt all the way through humanity already. It was impressive how much one man had changed in one night without even leaving one city. They hadn't been waiting for him exactly, at least her crew hadn't. The Vortigaunts seemed convinced he was some sort of messiah but Elaine wasn't buying it. A little human spirit and a lot of gunpowder went a lot farther than the Vorts gave them credit for.
"The Elaine is lost in thought again." She turned from the view of the slowly setting sun to look at the Vortigaunt sat next to the radio. To some of the humans the only distinguishing feature this one had from all the rest was a habit of wearing wide brimmed sun hats and bandanas, but to Elaine this was her wife, and she was beautiful.
"Just thinking about Freeman." She said. "I met him a few times, you know Vanessa? Back in Black Mesa, before it all went to shit."
"So we've been told. Many times." Vanessa chuckled, deep voice rumbling with intonations Elaine couldn't quite grasp.
"Yeah well, I still can't believe that scrawny nerd's the One Free Man." She slung her gun over her shoulder and pulled the window closed. The last people on their way in would be arriving any moment, and the outpost would be slowing down for the night. The nightwatch was likely already up on the roof with their sniper rifles.
"What is so unbelievable about The Freeman? We were also there, in Black Mesa. We saw him as he fought and destroyed for freedom. Ours and yours." Vanessa took her hand and helped her down the ladder. The barn's floor was littered with the half completed projects of the day, vehicles, weaponry, and a lot of unused scrap in the perfect places to trip over. The hatch to what had once been a root cellar was propped open, below which the actual base had been excavated in recent years.
Alexi, the man who looked after the radio transmissions overnight, waved as he passed the two. He exchanged Elaine's shotgun for a warm mug of something that could, in some definitions, be called coffee. "It seems like it was a lifetime ago."
"In many ways it was." Vanessa nodded.
"Freeman was… completely focused on science and 'improving the world' like all the other assholes I was in charge of protecting. Some of the guys, the ones that survived it, thought it was his fault the Cascade happened in the first place. I almost believe that. He was the one in the chamber that day. Those stupid geniuses and their never asking is something should be tested only asking how to test it and how soon it could be." She glared down at her hands. "I know he couldn't have known this would happen. No one knew what was on the other side of Xen. He always seemed so kind, especially to the security, especially to Barney! But… I can't help but wonder if he did it on purpose."
Vanessa hummed and mumbled something in Vortigesse before cupping her hands around Elaine's, "Something distant steers the Freeman. Steers us and The Elaine as well. It is unresistable and constant, like a never ending storm pulling our bodies in the wind." She swirled the coffee cup until a small vortex formed, "The threads of vortessence stretch farther than we can possibly hope to see. The destruction of The Nihilanth was inevitable, as was the Cascade. Many threads were severed that day but many more were pulled to create it. If not The Freeman, another would have done the same. But if not The Freeman our threads may not have crossed. Does The Elaine understand?"
"As much as I ever will." She smiled. Vanessa was cryptic as any of her kin, difficult to follow on a good day. But she did understand the most important part. If Freeman hadn't been the gentle soul she knew him to be, if any of the other scientists had been in his place, her wife would likely have been killed in Black Mesa. Fate or luck or the vortessence, whatever they wanted to call it, had led exactly who needed to be there to exactly where they needed to be. "Well, whatever's steering us I hope it knows what it's doing."