When Gordon Freeman lost consciousness, he wasn't expecting to ever wake up again. Well, you wouldn't, if the last thing you saw before blacking out was a giant mutant brain hellbeast thing exploding in a giant corona of weird green alien light, would you?
It was therefore with mild surprise that he came to realize he was alive, sprawled face-down on what felt like some kind of nonskid flooring. He slowly raised his head to find that he was lying on the floor of what looked for all the world like a Black Mesa tram car, still wearing the dented and battered remains of his HEV suit. A quick check of his status indicators showed that all his weapons were gone.
This could be awkward, Freeman thought. He pulled himself slowly to his feet and looked around. Yup, a Black Mesa tram car, be it ever so industrial. Except... okay, that wasn't the Black Mesa Transit System outside the windows. In fact, it looked like nothing so much as a grand-scale version of the Windows "hyperspace" screen saver.
Okay. I was fighting a giant brain monster, it blew up, and now I'm on a Black Mesa tram that's flying through space at faster-than-light speeds, he thought. Let's face it, that's no weirder than anything else that's happened today.
"Ah. Mr. Freeman," said a voice. Gordon turned to see a tall, thin man in a blue suit standing at the other end of the car. With a shock of recognition, he realized that it was the same guy he'd seen over and over all day - on the tram that morning, in Kleiner's office, up on that catwalk. He'd kept turning up everywhere in Black Mesa over the course of the incident, always watching, always somewhere just out of reach. Blue suit, buzzcut, briefcase, like some kind of G-man from hell.
"Good work clearing up that... little mess in the borderworld," said the G-man. His voice was strange, the words perfectly ordinary but their inflections all wrong, as if he weren't a man at all, but some kind of machine that wasn't quite programmed correctly to emulate human speech. As he spoke, he regarded Gordon with cold, dead eyes.
"My... employers have recognized that you have considerable... potential, Mr. Freeman," he went on. "There have been some... delays in extending our offer of... employment... a member of a... rival firm was attempting to interfere in your recruitment." He gave a little smile that was just as forced and unnatural as his manner of speaking. "... But that's all been sorted out now. We'll have no further trouble from them. So I am free to make you... an offer."
Freeman eyed the G-man who was not a G-man with deep wariness. "What kind of offer?" he asked.
"A... simple one. You come and... work for us, placing your... unique... skills at our full disposal."
"Do you have any references?" Freeman replied. "I'm sure I don't have a job at Black Mesa any more, but that doesn't mean I'm open to just any offer that comes along. Who do you work for?"
"That is... not your concern," the G-man replied calmly. "But you always have... a choice. You can refuse our offer. Of course, in that case, we will have no alternative but to return you... to your previous location. There you will face a battle... of which you have no chance of surviving." Again he smiled his ghastly un-smile. "I will give you a moment... to collect your thoughts. Then I must have your answer." Turning away to gaze out the window, ostentatiously leaving Gordon to his deliberations, he added dryly, "Choose... wisely, Mr. Freeman."
Freeman's flesh crawled. He didn't know how he knew, but he was now absolutely convinced that this thing, whatever he was - he was surely not a human being - was the most dangerous and devious thing he'd encountered in this whole insane sequence of events. He had suspected for some time that this creature had engineered the Black Mesa incident. Now it suddenly dawned on him that it, or who- or whatever it represented, had done so just to force him to this moment. It and its "employers" had killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people, including almost all of Gordon Freeman's friends and peers, in order to forge him into some sort of... weapon. And then enslave him.
Why me? What the hell is special about me? he wondered, his mind racing. I survived as much by blind luck as anything else. Half the time I didn't even know what the hell I was doing! And now this... thing picks me out of spacetime and tells me I can work for its masters or die?
He looked around the tram car for anything he might use to change his situation - it had worked a number of times in Black Mesa - but there was nothing. It wasn't even really a tram car, he realized. He was unarmed, completely at this creature's mercy.
He hesitated, his survival instinct warring with his unwillingness to be anybody's puppet - and his fury at this man-shaped monster for all the misery it had caused in the course of this twisted experience. For a moment he considered just lunging at the G-man's back and trying to take him out with his bare hands, but he knew that wouldn't work. A couple of times back in Black Mesa, when it had become obvious to him that this sinister figure had had something to do with the incident, he'd taken shots at the G-man, but his bullets had had no effect. Surely his fists would do no better.
Just then, a glint of light caught his eye. He looked down and saw, lying on the floor at his feet, his crowbar. He could have sworn it hadn't been there when he awoke, but it was there now. Freeman felt better just seeing it there - there were times during the incident when it had felt like his only friend - but the lift was short-lived. Just as with his fists, if bullets hadn't fazed this creature, a crowbar wouldn't either.
... Wait. Was it... glowing?
"One minute left, Mr. Freeman," the G-man remarked without turning around. "Do make up... your mind, there's a good fellow."
Freeman bent down and picked up his crowbar. As his hand closed around it, he felt a shock of some indescribable vital energy race up his arm and suffuse his whole being. On the shaft of the crowbar, glowing runes appeared as if burning their way out from the inside:
I BELONG TO THE FREEMAN, SLAYER OF MONSTERS
Gordon didn't know what that meant, but he did know two things:
1) Just holding the crowbar, which was now visibly crackling with some unnameable energy, made him feel better, stronger, more on top of things, more alive than he had felt since the Resonance Cascade began; and
2) The taunting creature standing before him was definitely a monster.
"I've only got one thing to say to you," Freeman said.
The G-man turned his head, but still mockingly declined to face Freeman, as he replied, "Oh? And... what is that, Mr. Freeman?"
Freeman stepped into the blow with all the weight of his hazard-suited body behind it, swinging for the bleachers just like it was Little League, and just before the crowbar connected with the side of the G-man's head, he said,
"It's Doctor Freeman."
For the... what, he'd lost track now, third or fourth time that day, Gordon Freeman's world disintegrated in a blaze of unearthly light, and once again he wondered if this time was going to be the last one.
And then he was sitting up in what seemed to be a hospital bed. His HEV suit's familiar weight was gone; instead he appeared to be wearing a patient's johnny. Everything was blurry. He looked to his left and saw his glasses sitting folded on the endtable next to the bed, just like you would expect in a hospital - and next to it, rather less as you would expect in a hospital, his crowbar. He picked up the glasses and put them on just as a tall, beautiful woman with alabaster skin and long jet-black hair arrived smiling at his bedside.
"Welcome back, Dr. Freeman," she said. "You're safe now. I apologize for leaving you to deal with Muspelheim's agent by yourself, but there are certain protocols... " Her smile became a little sly. "... And I knew you'd be able to sort it yourself if I provided you with the right tool for the job."
Then she held out a hand, which, still blinking in bafflement, he shook.
"My name is Skuld Ravenhair," she said. "Welcome to the twenty-fifth century!"
"Whosoever Holds This Crowbar... " - a Future Imperfect Mini-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Based on Half-Life by Valve Software
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2010 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited