Half-Life (c) 1997-2005 Sierra and VALVe Software

That's what he called this place. Stasis. It feels like floating and sounds like drowning, what else could it possibly be?

How long have I been here? Irrelevant, I suppose, as time has little meaning. That's what he said before he sent me here. He...

He who?

The man in the blue suit. I never did figure out where he came from; it was obvious he wasn't a doctor at Black Mesa. He had some connection to the facility, I'm pretty sure, since I had seen him there several times before and during the resonance cascade incident, silent and watching like some kind of wraith in the shadows. Here one moment, gone the next. And his voice, that terrible stuttering, slurring dialogue...

It sounds like everything's slurring together now. But then, how can nothingness slur?

Under normal circumstances, I would be wondering how I got here. It's almost like that guy snapped his fingers and, bam. Or maybe I clicked my heels together. But given the events of the past day, this is just par for the course.

Xen. Resonance cascade failure. Black Mesa. Teleport... something. Crowbar.

Oh my God, where is my crowbar? That thing was positively invaluable during my fight out of Black Mesa, and even though I technically never made it to the surface I'd be damned if I let it out of my sight now. Unfortunately, the only thing the stuttering enigma left me with was my protection suit. He claimed everything else was "government property". Whose government would that be exactly?

In any case, I wasn't exactly in a position to refuse. This G-Man seemed to have power incomparable to anything I had ever seen before. The vanishing acts, the bouncing around from place to place, making all my weaponry disappear into nothing... The Xen alien stuff was weird, sure, but this guy was on a whole other level entirely.

So here I am, spirited away from an extraterrestrial-infested underground research facility in the middle of the Arizona desert to... nothingness. Stasis. Wherever that is.

I almost wonder how long I'll be stuck in here before reminding myself again that time doesn't matter. Instead I wonder what exactly the G-Man meant when he said he'd "see me up ahead". Am I actually travelling somewhere imperceptibly, or was it more of a figure of speech? It's not like knowing will make a difference, it's just a nice bit of information to have.

So many players in this little game... those creatures from Xen, my fellow scientists, the military that tried to cover everything up, that G-Man person, me. I seem like the most insignificant part, actually. So why am I the one floating here and everyone else is dead? Is it because I'm the one who "caused" the cascade failure in the first place? Surely he wouldn't think me a hero for that, if he wanted to sweep everything under the rug, too.

"Rise and shine, Missster Freeman..."

And there he is, the blue-suited stutterer, briefcase and all. "Rissse and shinnne..."

I can see him, standing there beside me, leaning over me with a glint in his eye. He smiles, a reptilian, almost sinister, expression.

"Not that I wish to imply that you have been sleeping on the job," he hisses. "Surely no one is more deserving of a rest than you, and all the efforts in the world would have gone to waste until..." his voice trails off, as if he's intentionally keeping some dark secret from me. "Let's just say your time has come again."

I open my mouth to respond and realize our surroundings are changing. Like looking through fogged glass I see the Black Mesa test chamber, before the incident. God, that seems so long ago now. And then I see something else, something I can't comprehend. Metal pods, large enough to carry a person, being carried by a rail down a huge corridor. Hundred of pods. Thousands...

"What, you mean I'm not done?" I choke out, my voice weary from disuse. "Is this because of my 'employment?' Why am I here?"

The G-Man raises a finger. "The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world." More riddles. He smiles and takes another step back, as the nothingness around me begins to take shape again. "So, wake up, Mister Freeman," he makes a picayune gesture and fades away.

"Wake up and smell the ashes..."

I open my eyes. I'm on the back bench of a train, slowly rocking back and forth as it speeds along its way. I groan and sit up. My protective suit from the lab is gone, and I'm wearing some plain blue thing. I blink, but everything around me doesn't want to focus all the way. My glasses.

I find them in my pocket. At least he had the dignity to let me see where he put me. I bring them out and put them on. The train is slowing now, pulling into a station. The city outside the windows doesn't look familiar, but the architecture is vaguely European. I stand, my legs aching, and ease the dull pain in my shoulders.

There are two other men in the car, both dressed in the same plain blue uniforms. One of them looks over at me, casting me a suspicious eye. "Didn't see you get on..."

"I tend to just blend into the woodwork," I offer, giving a wry smile. Even smiling hurt; it was like my whole body was a little atrophied. How long had I been in that "stasis"?

"Right," he tries for a smile back, but it doesn't seem to come to him. He's not that old, but obviously carries a great deal of emotional mileage. It shows in his eyes, especially now as he turns his head and looks out the window at the inside of the train station. "This is my third transfer this year," he says quietly, as if just wanting someone to listen to him. "No matter how many times I get relocated I never get used to it."

I cast a glance over at the other man in the car. He's sitting on the far side of the car, arms folded on his knees and slumped over nearly in half. He doesn't seem particularly thrilled at this ride, either.

The train comes to a complete stop and the doors open. The first man turns to me with an anxious look. "End of the line."

He steps out onto the platform, and I'm right behind him. End of the line, maybe, my friend, but the beginning of something else, at least for me. I needed to find out where I am, and quickly, to gain my bearings.

As if on cue, a ten-foot screen mounted on the wall of the station begins a recording, and a man I had previously known as Doctor Wallace Breen, administrator of the Black Mesa Research Facility, began his oratory: "Welcome. Welcome to City Seventeen..."