[This is part of an ongoing series. See my ‘Half-Life Story‘ page for more information.]
CHAPTER 3 – BLACK MESA
I needed proof of what could have happened to Elliott. He was not even a resistance member; just a simple civilian. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time; sadly, that is all the enemy needs. If he could only see the horrendous figures of past victims who became stalkers, then he would surely abandon the notions that held him so unequivocally close to Dr. Breen’s mentality. How ignorant was he of this new reality of destruction and vice?
My attention was drawn back to reality when the familiar two large knocks and four small echoed on my heavy office door. I was about to call for my guest to enter, but checked myself. The door is barred shut–from the inside. One of the perks of being a fugitive leader. It also meant I had a wide variety of guests. Which also meant I had to get up and open the door each and every time. “Common Winston,” I thought to myself, “Don’t start getting lazy now.”
I got up, peeked through the circular window, and opened the heavy door with a slight bow, “Dr. Judith Mossman, it is an honor to have your acquaintance as always. Please, step in.”
“Colonel, your charm is a pleasant surprise. It is often forsaken in the mood of the times. I really am quite glad to stop by on my way back to City 17. We have several important developments.”
“Indeed I have heard. But please, won’t you sit down? One of my crews managed to salvage a Victorian sofa virtually undamaged from the wreckage of a legal office. They insisted I have it.”
“I suppose such luxuries are easily overlooked by the Overwatch. They have little use for such things–apart from target practice I suppose. Thank you.”
“How is the science facility? I hope they haven’t had to relocate again.”
“No, no. They are fine right now. Black Mesa East is still secure. Eli and the others are working around the clock.” She paused before saying with a sigh, “just as they did at the old Black Mesa facility.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t beat Nevada does it?”
“Nevada. That feels like a lifetime ago. At least here the only fresh air isn’t from dusty, desert wind.”
We chuckled. But there was hurt. I could see it, tightly wound up in dimples that were much deeper than in the years of her youth, the faint wrinkles beneath her ears, and the way her eyes had a shadow beneath them. She hid it well, but underneath she still held onto the disappointment of a lost life, a lost opportunity.
“At least we still have fresh air. I understand one of your fellow employees had a large role in preventing a hazardous environ from engulfing the world.”
“This is true.” She paused and assumed a forlorn, distant look. “Gordon Freeman. Dr. Gordon Freeman. He wouldn’t stand down. He wouldn’t give up. He pressed through all the odds to save the few of those who lived. Not many survived through the Black Mesa incident you realize.”
Her jaw clenched. “If only I was down there. If only I had been there. Perhaps I -”
“No. No. No. Don’t go down that road. It’s not worth it. I don’t like to go into ‘What ifs,’ no matter what may have went wrong back then. Besides, Gordon did pretty well, didn’t he?”
“You weren’t there, I’m afraid you don’t understand. It was supposed to be me. I was supposed to be in that chamber where it all started.”
“Where it started?” My heart thumped. Where it started? What could that mean? I knew that Judith and the Black Mesa science team were well educated in much of the current phenomena, as the rift occurred in their facility. But they had been involved? She anticipated my further questions.
“Yes Winston. Our whole team was there. Eli Vance, Issac Kliner, Wallace Breen, not to mention some others who didn’t make it. It was the very experiment they worked on in Black Mesa which opened the portal through which all hell broke loose. And I was supposed to be the one suited up in that test chamber to secure a new artifact we had received. Once secured, we were going to pass the specimen through an anti-mass spectrometer for analysis. This was an exceptionally pure sample from the other world. This was going to be our great breakthrough! But Gordon, having just graduated from MIT with a PhD in theoretical physics, was chosen for the job instead. His time with Dr. Kleiner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave him the edge, and he was chosen over me to to work in the anomalous materials testing lab.”
“I’m not sure I follow some of that jargon Judith.”
She smiled with large dimples, though not large because of the smile, but because her age was starting to show through her beauty from the stress of the last decade.
“I’m sorry Winston. I forget myself sometimes. You see, since Black Mesa was a research facility on theoretical physics it was only a matter of time before we stumbled into the existence of another dimension,” at this she grew even more animated. “This opened up myriads of opportunity. There was a new word to discover, abiding by what seemed to be entirely new laws of physics. There were strange creatures to study. There was the analysis of new technology. And most exciting for Black Mesa was the whole concept of teleportation.”
She caught a glimpse of my face and stopped, sitting back with an apologetic grin, “Let me back up even more. Black Mesa was not the only secret facility in America. We had to compete for private funding with Aperture Science, whose focus was on portal technology. They had already developed a handheld portal device. It could be used to designate both the x and y coordinates, and therefore the wielder could transport from the primary portal to the secondary instantaneously. I’ve even heard the portals maintained momentum as a body passes through. But, for lack of better terms, they could only be located against solid materials within sight range and of certain densities. Though highly useful and a breakthrough of astronomical proportions, the prototypes were unsafe without a hazard suit, and they were made at a steep expense. During testing they had a mechanical problem and the majority of their facility was destroyed. At this point, we were both desperate. Aperture needed a breakthrough that could be used on a larger scale to recover from their own disaster, and Black Mesa needed to show they could produce equally momentous innovations. That’s when we found Xen. As far as we knew, it was a world from another dimension!”
Her motions revealed greater excitement still. I remained quiet, determined to soak this in. This was the most explanation I have received since it all started, and I was considered more knowledgeable than most when it came to lay resistance leaders.
“Of course, the generator required to create a beam powerful enough to bridge the gap consistently, even if for a brief few minutes, was larger than a football field. This could not compare with a handheld teleportation device, and that is why many were skeptical. But we had discovered the unknown! While their portals were merely transforming the chassis of two given surfaces in close proximity into a permeable passage, we could go where no amount of distance can reach! And so it was constructed within the deepest sectors of Black Mesa, both for security and secrecy. The model was based on the one which created the first breach into the opposite world, though vastly more controlled. While the discovery of this place was a mistake, we wanted to bridge the gap again, and on purpose. However, the sample they had used to tune the portal to intersect with Xen was either transported to the other world or destroyed during testing, so we had a bear of a time trying to rediscover the elements necessary to test the experiment a second time. They did determine the proper element, a rare one that was newly discovered and still scattered around the globe. Yet even these samples were not very pure, containing many inclusions. Even so, the experiment was reproduced successfully. And even though the scientific method would not be compatible with the physics of the other world, it was enough for us to configure a reproducible test on our end. We were eager to analyze the properties of this other world further, eventually sending teams in.”
“Wait. You sent people into that crazy place?”
“Well, of course. That was our only way to procure quantifiable evidence and return with more samples. That is the price of all exploration into unknown territory. Think of all the early American explorers.”
“Yeah, at a reckless cost.”
“Unfortunately, there was. We could not predict what would happen. We tried to send in robotics, but they were constantly trapped or destroyed by the terrain. As I said, the laws of physics do not behave the same as here. Therefore we could not build a reliable machine, as it would always be based on a limited protocol that relied on the physics of this world.”
“And, so, we sent out teams. And,” she paused, speaking so softly she was barely audible, “most teams never returned.” My eyebrows nearly penetrated my hairline at this news.
She spoke again, still soft, “Including Gordon Freeman.”
I whistled. The fate of our absent hero revealed. At the mention of his name again Dr. Mossman failed to conceal her hurt. Pain hung on her face like overgrown moss.
“Desperate times, desperate measures I suppose. I am sure you all did what you had to do. Including Freeman,” I offered.
She rested her face on her palms. “I should have been there,” was all she could say.
Then she shook her head. “We should have known,” she whispered.
“We successfully computed what was required to bridge the gap from our end. But like I said before, the scientific method was unreliable concerning the other world. When they tested the pure sample in the anomalous materials lab they created the most cogent connection ever made with the other world. The connection was so strong that the physics of the other world took over, instantly taking the experiment into dangerously unknown territory. The sample ruptured, yet the physics of the other world somehow maintained the connection, even expanding it. What we know beyond this is based on witness accounts from the few surviving members of Black Mesa. Creatures poured through the temporal fissure. Our guess is that some were pulled through by chance, such as headcrabs, while others were sent though like soldiers, such as Vortigant slaves.”
There it was. The single most traumatic event of human history. History books long discussed the effect of the shot heard around the world. It was nothing compared to this.
“The rest is history I suppose,” was all I could say.