It has been a tumultuous few weeks for Earth’s inhabitants. City 17, formerly one of the most beautiful surviving urban centers of our planet, has been destroyed. An almost spontaneous uprising has destabilized the Combine Empire’s stranglehold on humanity in two decades. It is a time of danger, but also of hope, and we owe a lot of it to one woman: Alyx Vance.
Vance has not received as much attention as her colleague, theoretical physicist and military hero Gordon Freeman. But a recent chronicle of her early days in the resistance has sparked new interest in her background and achievements. The story itself is worth hearing in full. If you’ve been confined to official Combine media for most or all of your life, you may want to refresh the context. To get everyone on the same page, we’ll answer some questions you may have about Alyx Vance, but we’re too embarrassed (or busy fighting headcrab zombies and antlions) to ask.
Who is Alyx Vance?
Alyx Vance is a leader of the human resistance to the Combine and the daughter of Eli Vance, a former physicist at Black Mesa.
Wait, make a lot of backups. What exactly are the Combine?
The Combine is an interdimensional realm that has occupied Earth for about the past 20 years. Their goal is to completely colonize our planet, remove its resources, force its inhabitants into prison-like cities, and effectively eradicate the human race by suppressing our urge to reproduce. This plan has been widely condemned by the resistance and many other inhabitants of the earth.
Yes of course. But what to be she?
Giant brain-eating psychic worms.
It is more complicated than that, because the Combine Empire has included many exotic species. But the worm-like advisers, as they are called, seem to rule the Combine Empire on Earth.
More practically, ‘Combine’ refers to the entire range of the Empire’s biomechanical weapons, including trans-human military forces. So if a neighbor warns you about a Combine attack before screaming or shutting up abruptly, that’s usually what they mean.
Why has the Combine been invaded? And what is Black Mesa?
I’m glad you put those questions together. The Black Mesa Research Facility was a top-secret laboratory in the former US state of New Mexico. As the name suggests, it was the location of the Black Mesa incident that indirectly led to the Combine invasion.
In the early 2000s, a team of Black Mesa researchers discovered an alternative dimension called the Xen Borderworld. An expedition recovered a crystal from Xen, and the research team examined it with an anti-mass spectrometer, an extremely large device designed to test exotic materials.
However, for unclear reasons, the test produced a so-called ‘resonance cascade’ – essentially an unstable response that opened a fracture between Earth and Xen. This allowed an invasion of several hostile species, including species we still see, such as the Vortigaunts.
Hostile? Are the Vortigaunts not our allies?
Surely! Vortigaunts are an essential part of the resistance – they can fire electricity, heal wounds, communicate through a collective hive and see (some sort of) a future. They have played an increasingly central role in the fight against the combination.
But then Vortigaunts were enslaved by a super powerful and apparently hostile creature called the Nihilanth.
Who is the Nihilanth again?
A giant floating psychic fetus that ruled the Xen Borderworld.
And the Nihilanth worked for the Combine?
Actually the opposite. The Nihilanth was a refugee from another Combine invasion. It settled in Xen and disappeared or died during the Black Mesa incident. We’re a little vague on that point – all our accounts come from the Vortigaunts themselves, and human language doesn’t seem complex enough to grasp the nuance of their explanation. Either way, you don’t really have to think too much about it.
How did the Combine get here?
By means of a series of ‘portal storms’: hurricane-like extreme weather conditions that create interdimensional openings. Portal storms are now uncommon, although they have skyrocketed in recent days. But a wave of them hit Earth shortly after the Black Mesa incident. While presumably related to the resonance cascade, it’s hard to be sure as Black Mesa was destroyed by a targeted nuclear attack and many records were lost during the Seven Hour War.
Did the Combine conquer Earth in seven hours? Had we no longer kept it up?
Probably. But most experts say the Combine had a decisive advantage over the human armed forces. So the real question is: should Does the earth last longer?
It is difficult to say. The rapid surrender by Wallace Breen – who was the administrator of Black Mesa before being appointed planetary administrator – may have saved countless lives. However, since the Combine’s clear goal is human extinction preceded by unspeakable atrocities and massive internment, the ultimate effectiveness of this choice is questionable at best.
But the resistance has recently won victories against the Combine. What changed?
Usually Gordon Freeman.
I always thought he was a myth.
That is reasonable! Few people survived the Black Mesa incident, and some stories about Freeman are probably exaggerated. For example, it seems unlikely that someone can neutralize hundreds of hostile aliens with a crowbar. And he disappeared without a trace for 20 years.
But eyewitness accounts indicate that Freeman left a train in City 17 about two weeks ago. Since then, the headquarters of the Combine Earth (also known as the Citadel) has been neutralized – albeit not without massive collateral damage, as it appears to have caused an explosion that also caused City 17 to soar. Apparently, he also helped resistance fighters close a “super portal” that might have allowed Combine reinforcements to arrive.
Does this mean that Gordon Freeman saved the world on his own?
By no means. Freeman was a crucial catalyst and the resistance would certainly be doomed without him. But his greatest enemies and allies tend to simplify his achievements too easily. For example, Breen’s recent claim that “some of the worst excesses of the Black Mesa incident have been put directly at his feet” is questionable.
Based on interviews with refugees from City 17, Freeman has played a predominantly front-line role in the recent conflict, leaving large-scale logistics and strategic planning to the resistance. Despite his scientific background, he is not involved in resistance research and development programs. Some reports have stated that Freeman just doesn’t speak at all. Again, that may be an exaggeration or a joke, but it speaks for the sake of his allies. That brings us back to Alyx Vance.
Turn right. So seriously, tell me about Alyx Vance.
Alyx Vance is also a survivor of the Black Mesa Incident, although she was a young child at the time, and the exact circumstances of her escape are unclear. Her father, Eli, has since helped with the resistance. As a result, she actually grew up within the movement and received extensive training in combat, machine building and computer hacking. She is also one of the most charismatic figures of the Resistance, with a tone of hopeful pragmatism that has prompted citizens. And in a move dominated by first-generation Black Mesa researchers, she’s delivering some much-needed new blood.
Vance reportedly accompanied Gordon with large amounts of firepower for much of his travels in recent weeks and helped him infiltrate Combine facilities. Recent accounts have provided much more details about Vance’s past life – and the history of the resistance – before the recent uprising. But like we said, they are worth watching alone.
Where is she now?
We are not sure. Rumor has it that she and Freeman are trying to locate an Arctic research vessel called the Borealis, created before the invasion by a Black Mesa rival called Aperture Science. But we do not know exactly what they want with this ship and we have received virtually no new information since the closing of the super portal. Hopefully, we will not wait too long for an update.
Wait, one last thing. There is a thin man with a suit and briefcase sneaking through my neighborhood. But every time I try to catch it, it’s like he’s magically disappeared. Does this man work for the Combine? Is he actually human? Should I be afraid of him?
We have no idea.