Sunday, November 09, 2008


(Might be a sequel.)

The two men walked ever onwards, deeper within the ruined city. Dark was falling; the blood-red sky turned to rust. Fires burning here and there provided some illumination; so too did the light of the taller man's flashlight, held in his hand. He played it here and there before them, trying to avoid stumbling on the masonry and twisted metal cluttering the road.

"Need to find cover soon," the shorter man noted.

"Yes," agreed the taller.

They were rather tired of walking.

After a few more minutes, the taller man offered the opinion, "They should've really built better. Poor craftsmanship."

Indeed, so far as the two men could see, not one structure yet stood; they had been smeared backwards, rendered brick-by-brick into rubble. Slopes of such rubble covered the sides of the road; at this point, the bricks had themselves been disintegrated by the force of the 'Big Boom', broken into pieces of size inversely proportionate to their closeness to the blast.

Several minutes later, the shorter man replied to his companion's comment. "We did see one place that hadn't been knocked down." He jerked his thumb backwards. "Back there."

"Yeah," the taller man agreed. "But that doesn't count. Was a Combine place. Ugly blue-black metal. Force fields." He thought a moment more. "Plus, they might've put it up after the blast, to catch guys trying to do exactly what we're doing."

"Sneak into the city."


The shorter man reminisced. "They nearly got us, too."

"Yeah," the taller man agreed. "Good thing you spotted that camera-bot before it spotted us. Took it out with the SMG and ran before any of the CPUs managed to leave their base."

"You think there actually were any in there?" the shorter man asked. "Could be they died in the blast - just the automatics left."

The taller man shrugged. "Just as well we didn't stick around to find out."

They resumed their respective tired slouches, walking down the long road.

Then a strange, unearthly moan came from ahead.

Both men froze. "What the hell was that?" the taller man asked, no longer exhibiting signs of fatigue.

"Look," his companion said, having spotted an obstruction several hundred feet away. "Care to guess what that is?"

The taller man took a step closer, shielded his eyes, whistled. "Is that... a strider?"

"That'd be my guess," the shorter man told him. "Fifty-foot tall, three-legged biomechanical monster. Probably patrolling the streets when the Big Boom hit. A miracle it's still alive enough to moan."

The two men approached the creature, SMG in the hands of the shorter man. The taller man still held his flashlight, but his free hand was on the butt of his gun. He alternately directed the light at the crippled strider and at the two men's feet, trying to avoid stumbling in the increasingly dim lighting.

They reached the strider without it making any other noise, or moving in any way that they could percieve. From their closer vantage point, its wounds were far more evident: cracks in its hull were filled with congealed yellow ichor, and its legs were mangled beyond usefulness, bent in unnatural ways. "It could be dead," the taller man surmised.

"Could be, yeah," the shorter man said. He showed no signs of pointing his SMG anywhere other than the strider's head.

Neither man really wanted to get any closer to the strider; yet they'd have to if they wanted to continue onwards, that or take a long and strenuous detour. The taller man occupied himself by shining the flashlight around, looking at their surroundings. "Hey!" he cried as the light shone upon a hatch on a ground. "That's a cellar! Good a resting place as any, I say."

"Could be, but I'm not really fond of the idea of sleeping near... this thing," the shorter man dissented. "And could you keep your voice down? We're at least twenty miles from anything or anyone you could call 'friendly', and we've already run into one Combine outpost."

The taller man shook his head, walking towards the cellar door. "All right," he said somewhat more quietly, "But I'm damn tired, and I don't think we'll find a better place to sleep before sunset. And look at this thing!" he said with a strange anger, kicking at the suppurating head of the strider. "It's not moving, it's silent, it's bashed up six ways from Tuesday, it's dead. We need to -"

Behind the taller man, the strider's nose-cannon jerked. The shorter man, horrified, shouted, "Get down!"

The taller man froze for a fraction of a second; then, without any questions asked, his legs collapsed under him and he fell toward the ground, a flurry of blue-yellow energy-bolts passing mostly overhead. One, glancingly, caught him in the shoulder, leaving a smoking pit behind. As the taller man cursed frantically, trying to crawl away from the strider and look over his shoulder at it at the same time, his companion stepped up to the strider and unloaded two clips of his SMG into the nose cannon. It fell loose after the second burst, attached only by a thin strip of flesh and wires; some foul, alient scent came from within.

"God damn it!" the taller man swore, standing now that the danger was over. He felt his shoulder with his other hand, wincing at the contact. "Damn it, damn it, damn it straight to hell. I do not deserve this!"

His companion snorted, walking up to him. "You don't think you were asking for it? Kicking the strider and all?"

"Asking to be shot?" the taller man complained, outraged. "Asking to be reprimanded, sure. Slapped on the wrist, maybe - but be shot? No! And this after I was the one who had to defuse the hopper mine, too..."

"Quit your moaning," the shorter man ordered. "We've solved two problems at once with this. If we use the strider to cover the cellar door, we'll be able to rest without fear of detection; no-one will be able to see it without moving the strider, and I doubt anyone will be in any hurry to do so."

"Does this mean I have to lift it?" the taller man asked.

The shorter man raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure not lifting something that size alone, I'll tell you that."

"Look at me!" the taller man cried, turning his back to his companion. "I was just shot in the back, and now you want me to lift a twenty-ton monstrosity thirty feet?"

"You're exaggerating," the shorter man said tersely. "We've all had worse. Suck it up."

Sighing, the taller man set to the work; fifteen minutes later, the two men were safely ensconsced in the underground cellar, preparing a simple supper on the portable stove they'd brought with them.

As they had hoped, their sleep was untroubled.

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