Disclaimer: Neither BlindAcquiescence or Super Chocolate Bear own Half-Life. They just like it a whole lot.
Day One by BlindAcquiescence
"Do you think it wise, Calhoun, that we stop here?"
Rosenberg tugged at his tie until it loosened slightly. Sitting in the passenger seat of the SUV, the former employee of the Black Mesa Research Facility wasn't looking in his best shape ever. His lab coat was ripped and torn, his pants stained with blood, his as well as others. His fellow scientists, Simmons and Walter, looked no better. Walter had used part of his lab coat for a tunicate that was now wrapped around Simmons' arm, an improvised sling keeping it in place. Walter's blue business shirt was caked in dirt, his tie long gone.
Barney Calhoun leaned his weary head against the steering wheel. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, feeling the grimy clothing, stained in sweat and alien blood, slide uncomfortably against his skin.
"Unless you've got a better idea." His eyes flickered to the gas gauge; it's needle dipping far below the "E" symbol. "We haven't got any gas, and I'm fresh out of cash. Didn't think I'd be going on a road trip today." He sourly remarked.
Rosenberg rubbed the weariness out of his eyes and looked again at the motel Calhoun had chosen to stop at. Dust crawled across the parking lot; the neon sign above the office had the words "Vacancy" lit. In the middle of nowhere, in a town choking on the sands of the New Mexican desert, the motel was probably as good a place as any to stop and take a breather.
"Looks like something out of Psycho," Simmons chuckled slightly, his mouth splayed wide in a morphine-induced grin.
Calhoun couldn't help but smile himself. "Alright, I'm going to go inside and get us a room." He pulled the 9mm Beretta 92FS and handed it to Rosenberg. "Just don't shoot yourself in the foot, okay?"
Rosenberg took the pistol and held it in his lap, nodding silently. Shrugging off his Kevlar vest and helmet, Barney opened the door and stepped out into the searing sunlight. He brought a hand up to shield his eyes from the intense light as he walked towards the office.
The door opened with a chime, a small bell ringing annoyingly. The office was empty; a small television sitting in the corner behind a counter with several out-dated and faded brochures advertising this particular circle of hell. Calhoun waited at the counter, tapping his finger impatiently as he watched the small television.
"Reports are coming in of an accidental explosion in the middle of the New Mexico desert, near Black Mesa. Preliminary reports suggest that a supposedly decommissioned nuclear missile base may have sustained a catastrophic nuclear detonation," a young female reporter in a stylish business suit said as pictures of the blast site were flashed across the screen.
Jesus, Barney thought, we survived that.
Memories of that frantic drive away from Black Mesa filled his mind. As soon as the eggheads had them teleported out of the facility, they were able to hotwire one of the SUV's, and make a break for it. Barney had the accelerator floored the entire time, racing across the barren terrain, the terrible horrors they'd witnessed becoming less of a threat with each passing mile.
That was until the blast. Barney remembered feeling the heat on the back of his neck before he heard the rest of the men screaming.
"Don't look into the blast!"
"Oh God, they did it, they really did it, those bastards!"
"Oh my God we're doomed!"
The Black Mesa Research Facility had been wiped off the map, along with dozens of people Barney had known, many of them his friends…
Gordon, buddy, I sure hope you made it out alright… But Calhoun's thoughts were interrupted as a greasy old man, looking almost worse than Barney did, stepped out from the back room, a half-eaten sandwich in his dirt-crusted hands. He chewed on a portion of it, not saying a word.
Finally Barney, a frown crossing his face, spoke. "I'd like a room, please." The clerk's expression didn't change in the slightest as he rummaged behind the counter. Pulling out three laminated pieces of paper, he set them in front of Calhoun.
"Which one you want?" They were floor plans for the different sized rooms. Barney didn't bother looking, grabbed one, and pushed it towards the clerk. The man raised his eyebrows at the dismissive action, and set his sandwich down grotesquely on the space in front of Calhoun as he walked to the other wall and grabbed a set of keys off of the wall.
"You're in room 25, end of the walkway out this door," he said, swapping the keys for the sandwich. Calhoun grabbed them and turned to leave. "What do you think 'bout all this?" The clerk asked, motioning to the TV.
"White House Press Correspondent Dana Perini has issued the following statement: 'The White House is currently investigating what has been dubbed the 'Black Mesa Incident' and, as of yet, has no definitive answer, though the possibility of terrorism has not been ruled out.' The reporter set the piece of paper with the statement down, Barney saw the clerk smirk and make a masturbatory gesture. "Recently released files under the Freedom of Information Act have indicated that the Black Mesa facility, after it's offensive abilities had been withdrawn, was used for the decommissioning of unused nuclear warheads. Could it be that during one of these routine procedures, something went terribly wrong? Our correspondent in Chicago has more on that possibility…"
"Goddamn Taliban, or Al-Qaeda." The clerk slammed his hand on the counter. "Or maybe it was the Chinese, those sneaky bastards." Barney didn't bother responding. The clerk looked him over. "You look like you had a rough day, pal."
Barney sighed and turned to leave. "You don't know the half of it."
"…That's the safety, and this, this button you push to eject the clip when it's spent." Rosenberg thumbed both buttons, and the black, gunmetal clip slid out the bottom of the pistol, hitting the bed with a dull thunk. Barney smiled slightly. "That's it." Rosenberg pointed the pistol around the room in an action-hero-esque manner. Barney ducked instinctively as the barrel swept by him. "Whoa there Rambo! There's still a live round in the chamber!" Rosenberg immediately safetied the weapon and handed it gingerly to Calhoun.
"My apologies." His face was bright red.
"It's fine, you're doing better already." Barney slammed the clip back in and checked the action. Tucking it into his holster, he fished through the duffel bag at the foot of the bed. Pulling out another holster, a replica of the pistol he carried tucked inside, he handed it to Rosenberg. "Like I said before, just don't shoot yourself in the foot." The scientist stared in disbelief at the weapon presented to him.
"Do you really think all this is necessary?" Walter whined from the other side of the room, sat up on one of the beds. "The facility is gone, do you really think there's any need for you to teach us how to fire those damned things?"
Barney turned to Walter, his lips drawn tight. "Look, those soldiers hunting us were sent by our own government. Do you really think that they're going to stop looking for us?" Barney spat. "They'll kill us for what we know!"
"That's absurd. Once we've spoken with the president, explained to him the situation-"
Barney cut the man off. "I saw my friends gunned down by those death squads, people executed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and you're going to sit here and tell me-"
"You're being paranoid!" Walter yelled, standing up from the bed and meeting the former security guard face-to-face. "You guards are all the same, all gung-ho, with no respect for reason or log-"
Calhoun took a step forward, as if to strike Walter. "Hey pal, I saved your goddamn life, if you haven't already forgotten." In a flash Rosenberg was in between the two men.
"Gentlemen please! Right now we need to rest and regroup, we don't have time to be at each other's throats!" There was silence for a moment, and Calhoun heard the sound of a fifth, unfamiliar voice. Turning, he saw that Simmons had turned the television on.
Another reporter, an older man in a gray suit, stood shielding himself against gale-force winds. The sky behind him was dark and brooding, and Barney half-expected him to be reporting from the middle of a hurricane.
Over the roaring wind, the men could barely make out what the reporter was screaming. "This is Ryan Sellers, reporting from Black Mesa, New Mexico. Government vehicles stopped our reporting van forty miles south of the facility, threatening us with deadly force if we didn't turn back…" An arrogant smile crossed his face. "But this reporter always gets his story! We're standing on an outcropping, a cliff twenty miles east of what experts are dubbing 'Ground Zero'. Now I've been told there's minimal fallout, something to do with radiation dampening technology that decommissioning facilities use-"
Barney turned to Rosenberg, who nodded numbly.
"-so hopefully this scoop won't cost me my future children." The reporter grinned at what he thought must have been a hilarious joke. The camera shifted as several small pieces of debris flew by. Ryan Sellers ducked, screaming several profanities not fit for television.
"From where we're currently standing, we can't see anything resembling the complex we've been told once existed here. But what we want to show you is something much more terrifying, much more alien than what other news networks have been able to cover! Ladies and gentlemen…" Ryan seemed at a loss for words to mark the momentous occasion, and simply motioned for his cameraman to look to his left. As the scene shifted all four men in the tiny, cramped motel room cursed.
The clouds were black as soot, swirling around like a manic tornado, a giant red eye in the centre gazing angrily down at the Earth.
"Christ…" Simmons muttered. Suddenly the room was alive with arguments as the three scientists threw theories back and forth as to the nature of the giant storm.
"I never thought it was possible…" Walter moaned.
Simmons interrupted him. "Those boys in the Applied Quantum labs predicted it might happen, but never on this kind of scale-
"Those ones we opened up in the Lambda complex were nothing compared to this-"
"No, no this can't be!" Rosenberg moaned. "Dr. Green and Dr. Cross were successful in initiating the Resonance Reversal! I talked them through the procedure myself!" He cradled his head in his hands as he sat on the bed, his legs losing feeling.
"Doc, what the hell is going on?" Barney asked, not bothering to hide the fear in his voice.
"The satellite they launched, the one that would initiate the Resonance Reversal, it didn't perform like we planned! It was suppose to suppress the cross-dimensional rift growth. It should have slowed it to a halt, then cause the singularity to collapse in on itself!"
"English, please," Calhoun growled.
"What I mean is…" Rosenberg said quietly. "That the portal we opened, the one to Xen. We thought we closed it." Calhoun thought he could hear the man weeping behind the hands covering his face. "But… but it's still open."
Barney turned back to the television and watched as the reporter, who despite screaming into the microphone, could not be heard. He turned again to the giant portal, the clouds trembling and green lightning sparking across the great black sky until a clap was heard, and the whole scene disappeared in a blaze of white, the transmission cutting to static.
"So those…things… that came through it…"
Rosenberg lifted his head, puffy red eyes and damp cheeks indeed proving he had been sobbing, and whispered, "Aren't done with us yet…"
Barney sat in the old lounge chair in the corner of the room. Outside crickets chirped, but in the distance, thunder sounded. He felt goose bumps prickle across his grimy skin. That wasn't a normal storm brewing…
He couldn't sleep. Funny, figuring the last thirty-six hours of his life he had spent wishing all of this were just a bad dream. He'd like nothing more to fall asleep and wake up, back in the Sector C Dormitories…
The other men were asleep, and Calhoun envied them. Simmons snored as the last of the morphine coursed through his system. He'd be a bitch to deal with tomorrow. Walter and Rosenberg had stayed up, both scribbling down nonsensical equations and half-theories about what the hell was going on. Finally Walter had given up, and crawled into bed next to Simmons. Rosenberg almost immediately collapsed, Barney assumed from total exhaustion.
The man had been different after that last television report. Hell, they were all different. They thought they were out of the woods, but now it seemed those demons they all had fought so hard to rid themselves of were coming back, and in force. But Rosenberg took it especially hard. He had led those two poor women, Drs Colette Green and Gina Cross, into the depths of hell to finish this thing, and now it seems they might have died for nothing.
They'd all died for nothing. Barney shut his eyes tightly. No, he thought, not Gordon. He made it out. He's smart; he would have found a way to the surface, to the Lambda labs like Rosenberg had hinted at in the elevator. He would have used the teleporters to get out…right? The scientist, on their descent down into the older teleportation labs, had offhandedly mentioned that Freeman had single-handedly waged a war across the facility, hoping to make it to the Lambda labs, and end this whole goddamnedable mess.
And Lauren, Barney inwardly groaned, what the hell must she think? Barney lifted his left hand, closely to his face in the dim light of the dark room, and stared at his engagement ring. His girlfriend of three years and fiancée of four months, they had been forced apart as he worked his way up in the Black Mesa security division. She had been out several times to the facility to see him, and made it a duty to berate his chosen line of work. He loved her, with all his heart, which was why he took the job. With a high-paying government salary, he could afford that house they always wanted, the one on Spooner Street, with the big lawn for Rex to play in, and the white fence…
"Get a hold of yourself, buddy," Calhoun whispered to himself. Lauren was okay, she was living with her mother until Calhoun had enough to put a down payment on the house; she was safe in San Francisco. The security guard marvelled at his luck, though, as Lauren had been visiting just a week prior to this whole foul thing.
Grabbing the TV remote, Barney turned the television on to take his mind off the present situation. But no matter how many times he switched the channel, it was always the same thing.
"Reports of strange electrical storms-"
"Religious officials are calling it 'Judgment', as several senior Republican senators and congressmen have openly discussed the possibility of 'divine retribution for our national short-comings'-"
"…We've…we've just lost contact with our reporter in the field-"
Barney stopped flipping channels, as he saw the ubiquitous circular symbol representing the Aperture Science Corporation in the background of a news report. Barney turned the volume up.
"…As of yet," The reporter droned. "None of the calls made to either the public relations office or the board of directors own private line have been returned. Aperture Science, supposed rival of the recently publicized Black Mesa Research Facility, has had a suspicious eye cast upon it in light of recent events. The sudden silence from Aperture and its subsidiaries has called into question whether or not it had anything to do with what some are calling the biggest accident in scientific history…"
Aperture Science? Weren't those the weirdoes that were going around trying to buy out Black Mesa personnel? Barney distinctly remembered that ominous letter Gordon had received just weeks ago, offering him a competitive salary but strangely quoting a CV that the quiet scientist didn't remember ever sending them.
Calhoun sighed and turned the television off. Getting up, he walked outside, telling himself he needed some air. Outside the night air was warm; it felt heavy against his chest as he walked out towards the parked SUV. Checking inside, he rummaged through the glove box and looked inside the cup holders, until…
"Gotcha." He grinned triumphantly. He fished the quarters out of the cup holder, and pocketed them. Turning to look over his shoulder, he found himself alone in the darkened parking lot. He pulled the Beretta out of his waistband and checked its action again, quietly sliding it back underneath his untucked shirt. Making his way across the parking lot, and around to the back of the office, he saw what he had been searching for.
Underneath a lone street light on the deserted highway road, he saw the blue telephone booth. Calhoun looked around nervously, carefully trying not to look suspicious. Sliding into the cramped booth, he pulled the receiver off the hook and dialled the number.
'Please insert…" the automated voice hesitated as it calculated the long-distance cost of the call. Barney tapped his hand impatiently on the top of the phone box, all the while staring at the smudged ring on his finger. "…one dollar to complete this phone call." Barney parcelled out the quarters and slid them into the box.
The phone began ringing, his heart thumping in time with the rings. Finally he heard a click, and someone muttered annoyingly. "H…hello?"
In the background he could hear another, more angry voice.
"Who the hell is calling at 3 am?"
"Lauren?" Calhoun barely was able to utter the name.
"Jesus… Barney? Barney! Mom it's Barney! Baby…" Lauren began crying. "I've been watching the news… I… I thought you were dead…We didn't know what was…" Her sobbing obscured the rest.
"Honey, honey." Barney reassured her. "It's okay, everything's okay, I'm fine. Are you okay?"
Lauren stopped crying, though hiccups interrupted her. "Yeah… yeah, me and mom are fine. Everyone's talking about what's happening. What's going on, Barney? The whole city is going mad, the governor is talking about declaring marshal law…"
"I don't know what's going on. But I'm with people who might know how to stop it." Barney looked out of the booth, searching for ghosts in the darkness, figures that might spring out of the shadows and finish what the aliens had already started.
"Barney… where are you?"
Then he heard it. But it wasn't outside; it was on the other line, almost imperceptible, but there. An audible click, like someone picking up another phone.
But Lauren's mother only had one phone in the house.
The government was tapping their line, trying to trace his call. Barney had to think fast.
"Lauren, I love you, you know that right?"
She sounded confused. "I…where are you? Barney, tell me where you are, we'll come get you."
"I love you, baby."
"I love you too, but…"
"They you need to understand I can't tell you where I am." And with that, he slammed the phone down on the receiver. Hugging the phone box, Barney began to slowly weep.
The light that crept through the blinds hurt Barney's eyes. He strained to move his head away, but the rising sun followed his movements. He lay there in bed, his eyes half-closed, listening to the others wake up and mill about the room.
Simmons turned the TV on, but instead of the barrage of news reports, only static filled the screen.
"What's the news?" He heard himself ask.
"Nothing good," Walter snapped.
"The electro-static discharge must be interrupting the radio waves," Rosenberg said, walking out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.
"You mean the storm?" Calhoun mumbled. Christ, couldn't they speak English? Rosenberg set to putting his dirty clothes back on and pointed out the window.
"It's getting closer…" Simmons moaned in bed and gingerly poked his arm. Barney rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Standing up, he pulled several of the blinds down and looked out the window.
The storm was just cresting over the horizon. It spread out across it in every direction, threatening to swallow the Earth whole. Green lightning, the kind they had seen on the news, shot down through the clouds and buried itself in the desert floor below.
"Mother of God…" Calhoun mumbled. Simmons groaned again, and Walter went to his side.
"He needs to get to a hospital." He hesitated for a moment. "We all do, we don't know how many rads we were exposed to."
The thought of all that radiation coursing through his body, along with the accumulation of sweat and dirt caused Barney to head for the bathroom.
Stripping down, he stepped into the small shower and let the ice-cold water drip down his body. Though the temperature left something to be desired, the water felt wonderful. Looking down at his exposed body, Barney saw the scars of two days of fighting. He felt a cluster of bruises on his abdomen and winced slightly. Several high calibre bullets had impacted in his armour, keepsakes from those Marines. A circular scar, ringed with small gashes sat on his left thigh, where a bullsquid had tried to make a meal out of him. But the worst…
A hand gingerly felt the burn along his back, a consequence of letting one of those electricity aliens get the drop on him. Walters had treated it with anti-septic and a burn cream, but it still hurt like a bitch.
Suddenly a violent earthquake rocked the bathroom. Cursing, Calhoun half-jumped, half-fell out of the shower. Throwing on his pants and shirt, he ran into the bedroom, only to find it empty with the front door hanging open.
"Holy crap, guys," He said walking out, finding the men standing just outside the door. "What the heck do you think caused that earthquake…" Barney stopped in his tracks as he saw what the three men were staring in horror at. The storm had neared them much faster than they thought. Less than a mile off, lightning pounded the ground mercilessly.
"My word…" Rosenberg whispered.
"The Resonance distortion is causing multiple rifts to occur," Walter quietly observed.
"We need to leave," Barney said, taking his eyes off the impending storm. "We need to leave now."
That's when it hit. It sounded like a shrieking animal, but too high-pitched. The sound travelled across the mesa from the storm, howling loud enough to make the men cover their ears. Barney looked around, and saw several people leave the safety of their motel rooms. Some ran back inside, others ran for their car.
"What's going on?" Barney screamed over the shrieking. Rosenberg turned to Walter for a moment, and the two shared a brief, horrifying glance.
The scientist yelled something inaudible.
"What?" Barney screamed, his voice cracking.
"Magnetic Field Burst!" Rosenberg screamed.
"What the hell does that mean!"
The sound grew louder, and suddenly the air was filled with a blue hue, almost akin to the aurora borealis, which surged through the air wildly.
"Portal Storm!" He heard Rosenberg yell, as the force of the gale threw the men off their feet. The wave of blue energy careened past them, throwing Walter against the door, and Simmons through the window. Rosenberg hurtled behind a car, and Barney huddled against the wall.
The energy wave screamed through the atmosphere, and when it hit the motel, it ploughed through it with ease. Cars were overturned, smashing into one another, the Black Mesa SUV itself flung through the air like a toy.
Then, above the sound of the storm, Calhoun could hear the distinct sound of rending metal. Looking up, he watched as the nearby radio tower bent like grain in the wind against the force of the energy. When it finally became too much for it to structurally handle, there was a loud pop as the tower was ripped apart by the wave and fell on top of the office, crushing it.
The shrieking was so loud, Barney was sure he was going to go deaf. The ringing in is head, due in part to the high pitched wailing and the bump he sustained whilst being thrown against the wall, was all he could hear as the storm finally subsided.
Pushing himself up, he felt his hands push into broken glass. Wincing in pain, Calhoun tried to stand, shaking his head and checking for blood. Finally the ringing subsided, and he could hear the moans.
"Oh God, Simmons!" He heard Walter cry. The scientist was crouched next to his friend, who lay dead underneath the broken window. What the aliens had started, the portal storms had finished. "One of the greatest minds of his generation!" Walter wailed.
Dusting himself off, Barney looked for Dr. Rosenberg, and found the scientist lying inert next to the car. Barney shook him; valiantly try to wake the man. "Come on, doc, don't crap out on me now!"
The scientist finally came to, rubbing the back of his head.
"Oh God, Calhoun, what have we done?" Were his only words.
"You going to be okay, doc?" He nodded yes, and Barney helped him to his feet.
Before Rosenberg could speak, Walter was on top of them, raving like a madman.
"You had to tamper with this. This would never have happened if you and your Entanglement Team hadn't poked its nose in things that shouldn't be meddled with! Now Simmons is dead…" Walter was having an asthma attack as he desperately tried to suck in air. Rosenberg tried to help the man from collapsing.
From off to his left, Barney could hear other people yelling, running out of their rooms to see what had happened. A mother and her two children rushed by them, running for their car, bags swinging frantically in their arms.
"What the hell is going on?" A man screamed into his cell phone as he kicked the over-turned heap of his expensive sports car. But all of that was drowned out by the scream of a young girl. Barney felt for his pistol, but unfortunately had left it in the room. He looked around and found the source of the scream. The girl couldn't have been older than eight or nine, as she stood next to her parents and pointed out across the parking lot.
"Oh fuck!" Barney yelled. Rosenberg followed his gaze, and uttered something similar.
A Bullsquid, flanked by several headcrabs, crawled across the broken pavement of the motel parking lot. It's tentacles undulating with hunger, it made a beeline for the young girl and her parents, who themselves were now shrieking with terror and marshalling their daughter into their room.
Barney turned to Rosenberg. "Get Walter to a car, any car, get it hotwired, now."
His companion looked confused. "But what about you?"
But Barney was already rushing past him and into their room.
It's time to act, Calhoun. Time to show the world, and your friends, that you give a damn, that you're no coward. He told himself. He felt his pulse quicken. Lauren, I'm coming for you, I promise.
Rosenberg threw Walter into the backseat of the Jeep parked at the end of the lot. Over the winds of the approaching storm, he could hear screams and shots as the panicked civilians desperately tried to defend themselves against the otherworldly creatures. Ripping the bottom out of the steering column, he frantically set about starting the car.
Gunshots rang out in the storm, and Rosenberg feared someone might end up accidentally shooting him. He ducked down, but slowly peeked up over the dashboard.
And saw Barney Calhoun. Dressed in his uniform and Kevlar vest like some knight in battered armour, the former security guard took aim and finished off the creatures scratching at the motel room doors. His clip empty, he ejected it smoothly and seamlessly slapped another one in.
A door to his left suddenly fell open as several bloodied bodies, topped with those horrific headcrabs, shambled out. They had only recently become infected, and so they clawed frantically at the pavement, trying to remove the parasites.
He saw Calhoun hesitate, and then bring his pistol to bear. Taking aim, he put a round in each body, leaving them inert.
The bodies stopped moving, and Calhoun looked around for any more. As silence descended on the motel, he felt the tears well up in his eyes. Holstering the pistol, Barney looked out across the battered landscape.
This is only the beginning, isn't it?