[This is part of an ongoing series. See my ‘Half-Life Story‘ page for more information.]
We sat silent. Her excitement from the moments before fizzled out in remembrance of the deadly consequences.
“Still not a day not wrought by sadness profound, nor a night not destitute by regret,” I quoted from a dirge written a month after the Seven Days War. No use faking a smile. These were dark days.
She sighed. I sighed.
She started to say something, but I interrupted with a sudden thought of my own, “You know, let us be thankful then that we are not just putting on an old hat. We are working with purpose now. We have this threat, and we are doing everything we can, using every resource available, to protect us from this threat. Before, everyone was focused on pushing the limits of science. The businessmen wished to earn competitive monetary support. The scientists desired acclaim and knowledge. The government wanted technological supremacy over other countries. All coveted their aims with recklessness as means by themselves. And what happened? Curiosity mortally wounded the cat. But know that this time we are not just pursuing old curious habits. We have a choice before us now to serve mankind, to help bandage that mortal wound and repulse the festering infection.”
Had I let her speak, she might have cried. As it was, though, I believe I raised her spirits, for what she had motioned to speak she now thought it best to let go.
Then I remembered that Dr. Mossman came for a purpose. “So there are some important developments?”
She enlightened at this thought and put away her solemnity for a moment, answering with enthusiasm, “Oh yes! We certainly do have good news. As you know, Eli Vance and Isaac Kliner have been experimenting further on teleport technology. We are very close to a breakthrough. The new resurrected teleport is almost up and running! While we have been helping people escape the city by foot, we will soon have a much better way.”
“Ironic how a previous preoccupation to enter the larger cities for protection has now reverted to an unconditional need to escape.”
“How, may I ask, does it work?”
“The transport technology is one of the most exciting things the resistance has come up with lately, something that the Combine has not yet mastered. They forgot to calculate the dark energy factor. The Combine can transport from their world to this one, though at the expense of much energy and in limited quantities, but they cannot teleport locally. Dr. Kliner compressed the Xen relay far beyond what was previously imagined. Xen is an unexpressed axis, effectively a dimensional slingshot. So we can swing around the border world and come back without fully going through their world. It requires only a fraction of the energy of the old Black Mesa teleport, though it has taken a great deal of fine tuning in order to convert physical organic matter into antimatter and back again without killing or mutilating the organic matter.”
“I thought as much.” She smiled. “Only a couple of cats have suffered any experimental side-effects…”
“Brave cats. Perhaps a couple of statutes are in order once this nightmare is over?”
She gave a soft chuckle. “And you? Anything to report?”
“Actually, yes.” I pulled out a map of the countryside. “Over here, just a mile from the former city of Ashland, we found Combine activity. Our scouts reported many civilian imports, and a good amount of Stalker exports.”
“Oh my God,” Judith gasped.
“It is as we feared. Civil Protection has been harvesting civilians from these smaller outlying towns, and transporting them to these facilities. Now this is only a small facility. I suppose it was once a minor emergency care clinic. Yet security was tough when our men moved in. This is because, unknown to us, there was a production factory for various Combine machines. It was apparently important, as they called for a lot of backup. However, we diverted their attention by blowing the factory, then escaping with our prisoner friend.”
“Unfortunately, they had already commenced with certain procedures on the rest of the prisoners. They were not salvageable.”
“Whatever do you mean by ‘not salvageable?'”
I gave a heavy sigh, “Its gruesome.”
“How many of us are ignorant of the macabre at this time in history?”
I had read Brice’s file. It reported all that had taken place and all that had been gleaned from the expedition that saved Elliott. We learned some distressing things I was not keen to revisit, such as how the Combine prepares their prisoners for becoming a Stalker, but their atrocities must be known if for nothing else but to spur our efforts for the Combine’s demise.
“When they entered the building and cleared the rooms of any threat, they found several bodies laid out on gurneys. Their hands and feet were cut off, and their eyes removed. And there were strange nodes stuck into their head and thighs. They were still alive by some sort of life support. But the power was connected to the adjacent factory, so the ‘patients’ quickly died when the factory was destroyed. Only Elliott was yet unharmed in a cell toward the back of the building. It seems that Stalkers are created by torturing the victims to the point where they are devoid of any humanity, and reassembling them into worker drones for the Combine.”
“That is truly horrible. Those poor men and women. At least this way they are finally free from tyranny.”
A perturbed expression suddenly pressed upon her face.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“Yes. I suppose. I cannot help but wonder what it would be like if we had someone like Dr. Freeman around.” She paused to stifle as sniffle. Her voice became thin and wavering, “If we suffer any more losses from the Black Mesa science team, I don’t know what we would do. I don’t know what I would do. These minds are mankind’s best hope of recovering from this modern stone age.”
I felt pity for this poor woman who has suffered so much loss. “Yes, I’ve caught myself daydreaming of such things too, Judith.”
“There must be something I can do.”
This was a surprising thing for her to say, someone so involved with the biggest breakthroughs of the entire Resistance. “What do you mean? You are doing something. Something big.”
“Its not enough, Winston. I feel as though we will loose everything. Unless we can ensure their survival.”
“Eli’s. And if I could have helped it, Gordon’s. I wish we had someone to inspire hope. Someone who inspires progress. Someone who can create huge breakthroughs for the betterment of what remains of mankind. Someone who exudes confident defiance no matter the odds.”
“History has the tendency to adore liberally charismatic leaders with a message of hope. But there is always a catch. Mind you, your description fits Dr. Freeman as much as it does Dr. Breen. Hope is a good motivator, I must agree. There is nothing corrupt about hope. What we need to be wary of is the underlying motivation. The motivation behind a message of hope can illuminate the good in any given situation. And I would be glad for it. But hope can also be used as a glare, like someone’s brights in your rearview mirror, to blind and distract, as a means to hide an ulterior motive. Often a darker motive. So please, continue your part in the hope we all share. But remember that at the tail end of every daydream that doesn’t actually exist is a deception. It tells us tempting things that we must do in order to obtain that which we hope for most. But like Abraham begetting Ishmael, getting what we think we need by the wrong way will only deliver strife and regret. Believe me, I know.”
I suddenly noticed she was giving me a startled look. I couldn’t tell if she was fed up with my preaching or curious of my past.
“Maybe another time, Judith. Is there anything else we need to discuss?”
She stood up and shook off the quizzical look. “That is all for now. If we require any further supplies for the teleport we will certainly notify all outlying stations, especially yours. And Winston…”
“I hope you really do know. I hope you are right.”
“About what, exactly?”
She raised one dimple. “About what you said,” was all she replied.