It’s been nearly 10 years since Half-Life 2: Episode 2 was released and the long, fruitless wait for the series’ once promised conclusion began. Episode 3 (or just Half-Life 3 or whatever the hell it would’ve been called) has become one of gaming’s biggest mythological projects, a sequel to a beloved series that, last we saw it, was stuck on a nasty cliffhanger with few clues about where the story would go next. Outside of some concept-art leaks and anonymous interviews, Valve, the overlord of Steam and developer of Half-Life, has remained silent about what the finale would have been. But today, thanks to Marc Laidlaw, the former Valve writer who worked on the script for every Half-Life game and expansion, we may finally have an idea of how Episode 3 could’ve played out.
In a post on his personal website (which has buckled under the weight of frenzied Half-Life fans and can be found in archived form here), Laidlaw, who left Valve last year, dropped what he’s cheekily calling a bit of fan-fiction that’s a “genderswapped snapshot of a dream” he had many years ago. Titled “Epistle 3,” the short story is told from the perspective of Gertrude Fremont (Gordon Freeman), a heroic scientist who is retelling her journey to a lost ship known as the Hyperborea (Half-Life 2’s mythological Borealis). Fremont and her traveling companion, “the feisty Alex Vaunt” (Alyx Vance), crash land in the Antarctic while en route to the ship, and traverse a blizzard to reach the ship’s supposed location, where instead of the Hyperborea they find an installation where the sinister alien force known as the Disparate (Combine) are waiting for the ship, which has become unstuck from time and space, to materialize.
And that’s just the beginning. The story itself is a great bit of fiction, an easy read written in a Victorian epistolary style. If you’re at all invested in the Half-Life story and would like to take in this possible new revelation straight from the author, you should definitely go read it in all its gender-swapped, sequel-teasing detail. For everyone else, we’ll attempt a summary:
The letter goes on to reintroduce Dr. Wanda Bree (Wallace Breen), who’s consciousness has been replicated by the Disparate and embedded into the slug-like body of a creature commonly known as an Advisor. (Laidlaw previously toyed with this idea via a Twitter feed where the so-called Breen-Grub was attempting to communicate with Earth.) The grub and its minions detain Gertrude and Alex, and the two meet up with with Jerry Maas (Judith Mossman), who is revealed to have been a double agent working on the side of humanity and also happens to have the means of pulling the Hyperborea into this “plane of existence.”
The trio get the ship to materialize for a brief time and, along with a troop of Disparate soldiers, climb aboard before it goes back to blinking between realities. They find out that the powerful device aboard the ship was able to instantly teleport it to any location. When the Disparate invaded Earth and started ransacking research facilities, the ship’s crew panicked and activated the untested device, telling it to relocate the Hyperborea in Antarctica. Of course, something went wrong and the ship was stuck blinking through space and time.
Now trapped inside these timeloops and pursued by the Disparate, Gertrude, Alex, and Jerry argue about the ship’s fate. Jerry wants to deliver it to their human allies, so they can study it and use it against the Disparate. Alex argues a less rational, but far more video game-style approach: Set it to self-destruct “while riding it into the heart of the Disparate’s invasion nexus.” Alex eventually shoots Jerry, whom he still blames for the death of his mother (father), and sets the suicide mission in motion.
Suddenly the mysterious Mrs. X (G Man) appears and, in a strange turn, whisks Alex, not Gertrude, out of this reality, implying that more adventures with Ms. Vaunt may still be had. (Laidlaw has since commented on this.) The Ghastlyhaunts (Vortigaunts) later did the same for Gertrude, saving her and dropping her in the reality from which she wrote this letter. It concludes with what one has to interpret as a last bit of meta-commentary from Laidlaw about his view on the state of Valve:
At this point, the resistance will have failed or succeeded, no thanks to me. Old friends have been silenced, or fallen by the wayside. I no longer know or recognize most members of the research team, though I believe the spirit of rebellion still persists. I expect you know better than I the appropriate course of action, and I leave you to it. Except (sic) no further correspondence from me regarding these matters; this is my final epistle.
[via Rock Paper Shotgun]