It was a terrible moment of fear and confusion. To call it a war would be to imply two sides fighting with both sides having non-trivial chances of victory. But it was not a Seven Hour war, it was not even a Seven Hour conflict. It was very much a Seven Hour surprise of the darkest nature. There were no great counteroffensives by the Earth military, no battle lines drawn or redrawn. No valiant struggles between heroic defenders and alien invaders. Indeed, there were no heroes. No defensive measures taken, no forces deployed, there was not time nor were there means. Communications were disrupted, by the portal events and by the Combine jamming technologies. It was isolated units, isolated armies and garrisons fighting the dark expanse from which came only ruthless and complete annihilation.
Within Seven Hours the products of an entire history of conflict, strife and warfare were rendered completely impotent. Centuries of practice, of development and of refinement of the tactics of war, of the strategies of conflict of the management of troops and vehicles and all manner of sophisticated devices meant to destroy and dominate were all proven inconsequential. No more than target practice.... a nuisance. The victory was total, complete. Mankind was at their mercy even before the war began, but when it ended we were powerless. And this was a powerlessness that eclipsed any during our entire history. We could do nothing. Had we thrown ourselves at them until none remained, it would have made no difference. Had we a thousand times the machinery, the resources and the training, we would have been still unprepared and powerless. Within Seven Hours the Combine had destroyed our military and our communication aparatti around the world. But this was not their brute force, this was not their broad swatch of wretched and uncontrolled destruction, this was their precision and intention.
Had they wanted to lay our world to waste, they could have easily done so in less than Seven Hours. Had they wished to extinguish all aspects of human civilization they could have done so easily and immediately. That we even had Seven Hours of struggle was because they were not looking to make our planet a desolate wasteland, at least not immediately. They are conquerors, and they had seen a new planet to conquer, to exploit and to do so as efficiently as possible. Thus they set up my, that is their, administration on Earth. Some would ask, given the Combine's extraordinary sophistication and technology, why they need the few vestiges of human administration.
Why a human administration? Why even negotiate a surrender? Why even attempt to reason with a species so completely backward compared to them, an empire spanning not just the stars but the different dimensions of the multiverse. What could such great conquerors have to say to our own race, confined to a single planet and incapable of even administering that with efficiency and foresight? As it turns out, technical sophistication has led the Combine to a conclusion, and countless ages of experience have lent that conclusion their support.
The combine, by virtue of necessity, have become great anthropologists, they have been forced by campaign after campaign against countless aliens and lifeforms so different in culture and in nature from themselves to study and to understand the nuances of the social interactions of these species. To study and comprehend the social structures, the importance of social institutions and the like. To properly integrate a new lifeform into the Universal Union, or more precisely to properly enslave one, the conquerors must understand them, so that they may control them. To impose upon the human population, for to destroy it would be counterproductive, one must be careful to weigh the variables and the consequences.
An alien administration, boldly built upon the ashes of the former world order would serve to do nothing but completely alienate and antagonize the populace. How can a person whose life has been taken away possibly follow the orders, even if they are logically sound, of an alien? An outsider unlike any outsider? A fraud, a conqueror, something, someone, who can be easily de-humanized, for they were never human in the first place. How can one sympathize with the inscrutable countenance of the aliens? Their featureless faces, their expressionless eyes, their cold stare. Unsympathizing, ruthless, emotionless and cold, one would have a better chance of making friends with a brick wall, at least its purpose is easily divined. Someone who can be so easily hated and loathed and fought against, for they have nothing in common with the human race. They would become the incarnation of evil, and they would be such for all humanity and they would invite disaster and opposition and constant civil strife. An empire cannot tolerate such inefficiencies within its administration, and so the Combine have found a better way. A more insidious way. A way designed both to utilize the infrastructure which exists in the conquered world, and a way designed to control the conquered.
To prevent the eventuality of rebellion, the Combine had long ago recognized that incorporating even the image of previous social structures was of paramount importance to controlling their new conquered territory. Even a human administrator who was completely subservient to the Combine in every fashion, even if he was but a mask, but a cover over a wholly alien and unsympathetic intellect, he would still be seen as human. A traitor, a collaborator, but a human. He would look human, he would identify as human and he would be subject to sympathy from those who have been completely conquered. Even if he was completely hated, it would not be the same hatred as that of an alien conqueror, it would not be the same endless determination to topple him as it would be if he were an alien. There would be a connection between the conquered masses and their oppressor, if only it was one of species. It would not do away with civil strife or opposition, surely, but it would stabilize it, make the masses if not apathetic, then not utterly fanatic. This same reasoning which led to the 'negotiations' between the Human kind and the Combine led to the creation of the Overwatch, composed, at least in the initial ranks, of humans. For a human enemy, however different, is a human worthy of sympathy and pity as much as he is worthy of hate and contempt. And to combat, to kill a fellow human, even if all that has remained of his human mind has been removed and replaced, still requires the training of fighters, of combatants and armed opponents and guerrillas. And this case would be different were the police, the army and the guard staffed by aliens or their machines.
This is why the Combine did not utterly destroy us, because we are an integral part of their plans, not irreplaceable to be sure. If we prove too much trouble, they can, and will, destroy us. But they would really rather not.....yet. This is why I 'negotiated' the surrender. This is why I, as so many photos show, went into the fields arms outstretched, beseeching the cold, calculating Combine intellect for mercy and compassion and for coexistence and for peace. What a charade it was. I had contacted them, yes, to try and save what remained of mankind. Perhaps if we made peace it would give mankind some breathing room, make sure that our future was not destroyed in one fell swoop today, as we stood against an unmatched onslaught uncertain, uneducated and afraid. This is why I contacted them, informing them I was the administrator of Black Mesa, pleading with them for an end to the violence.
They replied quite calmly, almost cordially. They knew of me, of my organization, of my experimentation. They knew of the governments of the planet, of the society which inhabited it. How, they knew they would not tell me. I know there are more factions in the heavens than just the Combine, I had met such actors and such characters, such servants of the Mephistopheles. Long ago, I, we, had sold our souls and jumped headlong into a galaxy, a universe we could not comprehend for the sake of.. science...power.... We had struck a bargain with forces unknown and incomprehensible, at least initially. We were not prepared for the consequences, unforeseen and unwanted. Our world was made their playground. I share a great portion of the burden of guilt... I was not the only one, to be sure. We were all taken in by the promise of a new world... a new universe, and our superiors, the military, the government men were intoxicated by the potential of a new advantage, a new substance or technology. We bargained with forces we didn't understand, alien intellects we couldn't handle. Distracted by the newly discovered crystals, we audaciously moved forward with testing and experimentation. We did not stop or think or consider what could happen, the betrayal, the abduction, the terror and the greater evil which lurked behind the agents. And those agents were... are every bit as cruel and ruthless as the Combine.
But there was a chance here, now, to stop the destruction. I asked for their demands. They demanded our surrender, complete and total, unconditional. They would rule over us, and I would be their figurehead. Abstracted from the daily suffering of the masses of my fellow humans. It was not an equitable solution, as if it was an equitable conflict! But humanity had no choice, fight now, to extinction, or surrender with the hope of future rebellion. I had made humanity's choice for it. I agreed. In a twist of irony, the 'photo op' was their idea, so was the conversation with their motherships. It was a display worthy of the most banal tabloids and producers and publicity agents. It was their first act meant to control us. I would walk into a field of fire, stare up at the heavens and beg for peace. All my words amplified by loudspeaker for all the leadership and populace of Earth to hear. But they were the Combine's words. The perfect propaganda from the start, countless ages worth of experience so easily executed. And thus, I was made administrator of Earth, my offices in City 17. My duty, to lead mankind into a new age with the help of our Benefactors.
Above the world I live, completely abstracted from the rest of my fellow man, surrounded by the alien devices, alien beings, alien thoughts... and empty husks of men. Their agenda is a secret from me, I am informed only every so often what they wish me to do. They gave me, a scientist, the full contents of their database, of their science and their knowledge, to keep me busy, distracted. Much of it so advanced that it was beyond my current understanding. It was not censored, everything was available, they must have thought I could not extract any useful knowledge from it to combat them, and they were right. It would be like finding one particular molecule of water from among all the oceans on the earth. It would take a thousand lifetimes to go through it, but they promised me that as well. And this I accepted, without question. I was administrator of the planet Earth, but my every move was monitored. By machines, by bio-simulants, by my 'human' bodyguards, who were too far changed to be recognized as such. I could only think of Human freedom, but I could not speak of it. I was to play the tyrant, the collaborator, the enabler. The facilitator of the oppression, with the interests of my patrons as my sole concern.
The resistance was the eventuality the Combine had worried about, but the event for which I had hoped for. As usual, I had to play the stalwart defender of reason, program after program, Breencast after Breencast, extolling the virtues and the benefits of this Universal Union, even as the truth was hidden from me, even as the powers of my office made apparent to me, more than to anyone else, the toll this incorporation was taking. On the Earth, on its people, its culture... I could not speak against it, however, or I would be replaced, or worse, changed by their cybernetics and pharmaceuticals and technologies. I had to play the part of loyal traitor to the human race, to earn their trust, to absolve myself from suspicion, to develop some way.... some opportunity where I could assist the resistance, where I could help mankind. But such opportunity was neither easily found nor easily exploited.
The leaders of the resistance, Eli, Isaac, Barney, Gordon, Judith, they were all colleagues, some even friends. But I could not risk telling them anything. We had taken the plunge into the wild
torrent, and we had end up on different sides. To have to fight against them, to have to order the
attack on this resistance group or that was difficult, but not without reason. I had gotten the power
to control the Overwatch in such a manner only after a long journey of gaining the Combine's trust.
Had they still possessed the control over the military, they would have exterminated not only the
resistance, but countless innocents as well, to prove the futility of opposition. I managed to
convince them a finer touch was needed. If they allowed me to control the operations, the resistance
would be stopped, and combine rule will be unchallenged without the loss of so many 'assets'. This is
how I had managed to avoid taking in Eli for so long, giving him and the resistance time to grow. This was how Barney remained an undiscovered mole within the police. It was difficult however, to be viewed as such a collaborator by these people whom I'd considered friends and colleagues. They did not, or perhaps they did but did not show it, understand the position I was in, or the purpose I was serving. They would have me fight blindly, oppose so stubbornly, so foolishly, so stupidly. Death before betrayal! Death before collaboration! But I cannot do that. I cannot die, I cannot fight so obviously as they. I cannot lift up the gun or rifle and rip apart the revolting Combine edifice. I must do things differently. Patience, methodology, understanding is required, and for all the atrocities carried out in my name, they are the lesser of the evils which would have been carried out otherwise. Still, at times this feels more like a hollow justification, than a genuine statement of fact.
Of all of them, I think Judith understood the most. Double? Triple? agent, at times for me at times for the Resistance. But I saw in her eyes, she did not have the same hatred or contempt for me the
others did. There was pity coupled with the grim, stony determination that came with genuine
understanding of the situation. A burden borne. The weight not only the welfare of the resistance, but of humankind in general, and of my welfare..... She played her part well. I was able to give her information regarding the Borealis, subtly of course. And she played her part when Gordon was imprisoned in my office, along with Eli and his daughter. It was difficult for me, to keep up the appearances, and Eli didn't seem to have a clue. Such a brilliant man... nevertheless... And Gordon. The Combine had informed me that there were forces outside of themselves and outside the resistance who were pulling certain strings. In their cautious manner, showing me only the vague shadows of the true situation, they informed me that Gordon was an agent of some outside force, and that he presented an especially unstable element and that he should be destroyed completely and quickly. Some G-man fellow yes, we had heard of him. Back at Black Mesa, the engine of our destruction, the devil to whom we bargained off our souls, whose interest we did not know... who was he, truly? A conspirator of another universal power in opposition to the Combine? A spy from another government? An inter-universal madman bent on power? Chaos? Madness? A fighter or a liberator? Or a ruthless psychopath? Who would use humans for his purpose, imprison them... coerce them? I knew so little, but it was clear what I had to do. When Gordon was taken prisoner, I had to try and find out where his loyalties lie. His contract, open to the highest bidder. Would he serve the Combine as well as he served his current 'employer', the highest bidder as it were. Grim silence was his only response. A hard stare, as from Eli. The same hatred and contempt..... or something else....
His eyes darted briefly, from me to Judith. It was brief, but I caught it, instantly I knew what it meant. From the corner of my eye I was able to see her, making her way to the console with the emp device. I could have stopped her, I could have called the guard or initiated a contingency protocol, but I didn't. It was part of the plan, that she would free the leadership of the resistance and they would escape their judgment at the hands of the Combine, and I would not have to watch my friends and colleagues suffer death and exile, but more importantly, the Resistance would not fall. Gordon noticed, it seemed. In that brief moment, how could he not? His expression softened, but there was no time for me to revel in this new kinship with the theoretical physicist. Judith quickly disabled the panel, knowing full well what could happen once I 'retaliated'. But we each played our part in the great deception, and I ran off, destroying the restraining devices and leaving the weapon for Gordon.
And now, I am making my way to parts unknown... The platform is making its way to the Combine teleporter, almost unrealistically slowly, as if this were some great drama of the age. Can the hero, Gordon stop the madman from escaping? At once I hope so and fear so. I would want nothing more than to shed this disguise, even if I had to suffer death in order to. But my role is not played out. Who would take my place? A true madman? A true collaborator? A powerhungry maniac, deranged by the sequences played out in recent history? Or perhaps the Combine would give up on using us all together and return to their contingency, to wipe us from existence.... But I see Freeman, struggling against the odds, struggling to bring my demise to pass, and I hope he succeeds, a first, great step towards freedom, or, at least, a fighting chance. The destruction of this citadel would be a blow to Combine forces, and it would, if nothing else, be the culmination of my trials, my operations for the Resistance, however limited, however grim and dark. But it would be more than that, a culmination.. a justification of the suffering of so many millions of humans around the world.....
But I feel this is not the end of my part... it does not look like I will make it to the teleporter,
but the 'host body' the Combine promised is doubtlessly being prepared. I feel the strange things, the odd forces of alien science. Inscrutable at such a moment.. I continue taunting Freeman,
I must do something the charade is not fulfilled... I see him close to the reactor, breaching its defenses. Good, if nothing else than this has been worth the suffering... if nothing else......