[This is part of an ongoing series. See my ‘Half-Life Story‘ page for more information.]
CHAPTER 1 – RESCUED
I could see the new guy walking in. He carried the common characteristics of a man used to oppression. His back bowed unusually, as if held taught by an unseen archer’s grasp. His head slouched as if a hinge in his neck only held it loosely. His arms held stiff at the elbows, though it wasn’t enough to hide the tremors causing his hands to tremble from side to side.
Standing behind the small window of my door I watched him. He had suffered much. Not only did my resources tell me this, but his features displayed it. “And to think, this man was only in custody for three days!” I exclaimed through my teeth. No one heard me behind the heavy submarine door that served as the entrance to my office. I took out my handkerchief to wipe off the condensation I had formed on the circular glass.
This man peered through low eyelids at his surroundings, as if he had never expected to see a mahogany table, or a mattress, or a simple glass of water ever again. His eyelids rose a little. I watched him drink the water in grateful but reserved sips. His escort continued across the room to the front of my door. Two large knocks were followed by four small ones. I unlatched the metal door to let him in and promptly closed it at his heels.
“Seems you have come a long way to see this day. Glad to see you well, Brice. And glad to see you still remember the password.” I gave the heartiest handshake I could to the man who had hands that could crush mine. My guest only smiled and stood at attention with a nod. I glanced out the door to continue my observance of the man on the other side. “How is he?”
Brice waved a large hand like a see-saw, “He’s shaken. Physically and mentally.”
“But he’ll be okay?”
His wide shoulders shrugged. “That’s a hunch.”
I nodded. “What’s his name?”
“I hear he was rescued only hours ago. Your dual operation against the City Service Center was quite a success then. Dealing a blow to that precinct’s machine factory as well as rescuing this man from the adjacent prison facility. I am impressed as always. Thank God you worked quickly. Another day’s time and he might have cracked.”
Brice raised a bushy eyebrow.
“Not that they were trying to get information out of him. Not that he had any important information to disclose,” I added for clarification. “But cracked in such a way that his will, his desire to live, would have broken. That is their goal. Once the will breaks, the enemy reprograms the poor soul to their service. Almost literally. The best we can tell, they use some sort of Trans-human technology.” I paused before adding with a whisper, “He could have become a Stalker.”
Brice only shook his head.
“But enough of this talk,” I blurted, eager to remove us from the melancholy mood I had so easily allowed to encroach upon us. “We must welcome our new friend!”
As I opened the door and approached, the man raised his head with a gleam of curious but reserved anticipation. I had decided to speak frankly with him. Recently freed prisoners are not usually in a state of strong-mindedness, but experience told me that the one thing that irks them most is knowing they are being talked down or lied to.
“Welcome to City 14. A simple, impersonal name I understand. But, as you know, that is also how the government we rescued you from conducts all business. Simple and impersonal.”
“Not much hope for anything else,” he responded with a mumble. Nonetheless, he stood up and shook my hand. He seemed slightly abashed at his cynicism, and added with a shrug, “Besides, there is little hope it could be any better, right? Without a strict government we would not have likely survived.”
I regarded him for a brief moment before responding. “The world has indeed changed as we know it. Changed rapidly at that. The drastic changes this world has endured did not allow much time. Not much time at all for proper adaptation. We all,” I motioned to both Brice and our guest, “heard Dr. Breen as he preached his message, about how only a powerful government would provide the precious time necessary to adapt.”
“Who would have thought that Dr. Breen, the scientist, the Black Mesa administrator, would step into politics so quickly,” I said.
“Who would have known that his new dictatorship would simply hand the world over on a silver platter?” I added.
The other two acknowledged their own surprise at such a turn of events as we sat down. But something still bothered me. Was he defending the new government? Was he okay with the way Dr. Breen betrayed humanity? He had given the entire earth to our new oppressors, and he has since been the representative of their iron fist all over the world for nearly two decades. Was enslaving Earth really the best chance for survival?