acts_of_gord: (civvies)
Downtown True Value Hardware
San Pedro Plaza
Espanola, NM


An electronic chime rang out as Gordon opened the door, but the clerk behind the counter ignored it; there were other patrons in the hardware store that day, and the cash register didn't seem to be behaving. The most the clerk could do without irritating the woman in front of him was lift his eyes to the newcomer and offer a questioning look.

"Metric wrenches?" Gordon asked. He'd never gotten around to unpacking the last few boxes from his move until just that day. One of them had held his tools for working on the Mongol. At least, it had held them when he left Boston. There had been some mix-up along the way, though; he had no use for a marble mortar and pestle, a mezzaluna chopping knife, or a miniature hardwood cutting board. Rather than wait for the movers to clear up the issue, he'd opted to take matters into his own hands.

The clerk nodded towards the opposite wall of the store. "Aisle one. Right-hand side, after the knobs and the garden tools," he said.

"Thanks," said Gordon, and left him to his work.

The store was small and cramped, the kind of place that would've been driven out of business by a Home Depot or a Lowe's ages ago in any other town. Not that it didn't seem to be doing a brisk trade- Gordon noted an absence of dust on the stock, and none of the price tags were particularly old or faded- but a store with aisles only barely wide enough for one and a half people at a time wasn't likely to stand up to large-scale competition. That was all right, though. The big-box places rarely carried the kinds of equipment Gordon tended to need, and the nearest bike shop was in Los Alamos, hours away. Small stores, he'd found, had weirdly eclectic inventories- this one had pots and pans in the back, cheek by jowls with household cleaning supplies and Testor's model paints. 'Garden tools' apparently encompassed pick-axes and gopher removal traps as well as the usual spades and whatnot. The hand tools were hung so closely together that determining which ones were standard measurement and which ones were metric took peering, squinting, and occasionally rearranging items that'd been put back in the wrong place-

"Sorry, sir," Gordon heard the cashier say. "You're gonna have to put most of these back."

Gordon glanced up at that- he hadn't taken any of the wrenches down yet- but it looked as if the clerk was still behind the counter. "Just ring me up, dammit," someone else said.

"Can't do that," said the clerk. "Sorry. Espanola city ordinance. You can't buy this much lye at once without a permit."

"You're shitting me."

"Nope. Either show me a permit or put it back."

"You can't just sell it to me? Who's gonna know?"

"There are laws about this kind of thing, man. Six cans of lye? Not worth my job."

The hand tools were too far into the aisle for Gordon to see any of what was going on. You didn't pass through the firing range segment of the hazard course a few times without learning what a safety being clicked off sounded like, though. He froze, one hand resting on the nearest rack of hammers.

"Listen," said the customer very calmly, "I don't have time for this bullshit. I've got my own customers breathing down my neck. I'm gonna walk out of here with everything I came in here to buy, and you're not gonna say anything about it, are you?"

"... no."

"And you're not gonna call the police, either. In fact, you're gonna stay away from the telephone for the next fifteen minutes. Isn't that right?"

"Um. Yeah."

Gordon realized he was almost holding his breath. If the man with the gun hadn't seen him come in...

Unfortunately, the next sentence dashed his hopes. "And you, with the glasses," called the gunman, his voice raised. "I wanna see that cell phone you're carrying."

Gordon didn't move.

"Get your ass out here. Now."

It would be hard to say afterwards exactly what the thoughts were that went through Gordon's head just then. That would require translating scenarios into words, and they all flicked through his head too quickly to make use of language. The first involved stepping out and getting shot. In the second, he stepped out and was promptly robbed of everything of value he was carrying (he had no doubts that the store was going to lose the contents of its cash drawer at this point). The third possibility involved staying where he was and the cashier getting shot. But the fourth-

( "Finally," the holographic advisor said, "if nothing else works, you could try breaking the objects in your path..." )

Getting a hammer off the rack would make too much noise- and would probably cause a fatal injury anyway. The only wrenches heavy enough to be any use were out of reach. But the line between the garden tools and the hand tools was marked by something very familiar indeed. "Hold your horses," he said. "I'm coming."

Then he stepped forward and silently slid the first crowbar off the rack.
acts_of_gord: (right man wrong place)
Black Mesa Central Complex
Sector C Control Facilities
Anomalous Materials Offices


There are certain things that earn a man respect: good mentorship, academic brilliance, scientific accomplishment; even the ability to overcome office politics. Dr. Isaac Kleiner had all of those in spades. What he did not have was the common sense to remember that his keycards had to be on the same side of his office door as he was at all times. In the afternoons it wasn't such a problem, as there were seldom deadlines to be met then- but this was morning, and there was work to be done. The sight of the older scientist crouched in front of his office door, peering hopelessly at the card reader, was... disquieting. At the very least.

“Ah. Freeman.” That was Dr. Magnusson, doing his best to smooth out a scowl of disapproval at the new arrival. “On time today, I see.”

Gordon had only been late once so far for the morning's work in C-33/a, but he had yet to finish his first full month of employment, so he bit back his response and just nodded. It was easier not to speak to Magnusson, anyway. The man had the sort of personality that didn't encourage talking.

“Not that it matters at this point.” Magnusson glanced meaningfully at the locked door. “It may be a while before any of us make it into the lab today.”

Dr. Kleiner snorted. “I'm telling you, Magnusson, we can get past this! I'm positive the security team'll waive protocol just this once-”

“Not too likely, Dr. Kleiner,” came another man's voice; Gordon turned in time to see one of the security guards- Calhoun, that was his name- arriving with a sheepish expression. “I just checked with the Area 3 boss. You used up all your mercy unlocks for the quarter already.”

“Oh. Oh dear.” Dr. Kleiner straightened up at that. “You're sure?”

“'Fraid so.” Calhoun spread his hands. “Officially, I can't help you.”

“I see.” Kleiner worried at his bottom lip for a moment. “What about unofficially?”

“Wellllll. . .” Calhoun eased his weight from one foot to the other, then back again. “That kinda depends.”

“On what?” Magnusson interrupted. “We're in a hurry here, Officer.”

Calhoun shot the scientist a brief, black look; Gordon concealed a smile. “It depends on whether you gentlemen would mind clearing out for a while. I can't say anything one way or the other. You never know who might be paying attention.”

Magnusson and Kleiner exchanged glances a moment.

“Sorry, Doc. I can't do anything if anybody's watching me.”

“Dr. Kleiner,” said Gordon suddenly. “I could probably get in there.”

“Hmm?” Dr. Kleiner blinked at Gordon, confuddled. “Dare I ask?”

“When did you become a lock picker?” Magnusson inquired, one eyebrow arched. “Have you been reading Feynman again?”

Well, he had been- especially the parts about breaking into safes at Los Alamos- but Magnusson didn't need to know that. Gordon silently counted to five before answering, “Not this time. They've been putting us through a lot on the hazard courses-”

“Yes, you mentioned you'd been considering making a run at the next hazard course decathlon,” said Dr. Kleiner.

Gordon nodded. “I've been doing pretty well at the tube crawl segments. Even around corners.”

“Son of a bitch,” muttered Calhoun, who'd recognized where Gordon's train of thought was going.

Magnusson looked back and forth between the two men. “Is anyone going to fill me in on the details of their plans today?”

“Eheh... you know, Arne, I don't think we need to be here right now,” said Dr. Kleiner. “We probably don't need to see what these two are planning. It'd just get in the way...”

Over a stream of indignant protests, Kleiner led the other scientist away. Gordon watched them go, then turned to Calhoun.

“You're gonna break in there, aren't you,” Calhoun said.

“Maybe.”

“You're gonna pry open one of the air vents and you're gonna crawl in there, aren't you, Freeman.”

Gordon suppressed a smile at that. “Possibly.”

“God dammit, Freeman, I oughta stop you right now for even suggesting that kind of damage to company property!” Calhoun paused. “I mean. You ought to know better than that, Mr. Freeman.”

“You don't have to be here for this, you know,” Gordon said. “I'm not going to object if you want to be somewhere else.”

“Like hell I will!” Calhoun retorted. “I'm gonna get Dr. Kleiner's key cards myself, thank you very much- and I'm gonna do it without ripping company property apart.”

“By picking a magnetic keycard coded lock instead.”

“... maybe. I'm not tellin'.”

Gordon snorted. “Look,” he said. “You heard Dr. Kleiner. We're all in a hurry today. We don't have time for an argument over methods- he needs those keycards. How do you feel about a compromise?”

Calhoun eyed him suspiciously. “What kind of compromise are we talking about here, Mr. Freeman?”

“Just this.” Gordon indicated the door. “You do your magic, and I'll do mine. Whoever gets into Dr. Kleiner's office first lets the other one know, and they walk out the door with the keycards. We clean up whatever messes we make, and the loser buys the winner a beer after work.”

That got a wide-eyed look; it took Gordon a moment to remember that Science Team personnel mostly kept to themselves after hours- “Okay,” Calhoun said. “Okay, you're on. But if you damage anything while you're in there-”

“It'll all be on my head, I know,” said Gordon. “Do we have a deal, then?”

Calhoun grinned. “You're on, Mr. Freeman.”

“My name is Gordon.”

“Mine's Barney,” said the guard. “See you in the office.”




Well, thought Gordon as he eased himself out of the vent and down onto one of the filing cabinets, that was surprisingly easy. That pipe crawl stuff came in handy after all. He braced one hand against the wall and looked around. Dr. Kleiner was, it seemed, an avid participant in the tradition of absent-minded professors; there were papers everywhere, scattered writing implements, sticky-notes tacked to the wall- but no sign of the keycards. He grimaced and swung his legs over the side of the cabinet. The suit wouldn't keep his landing quiet, but at this point it no longer mattered. There was no one underneath to hear, after all.

He probably should've let Calhoun in and searched the office together for the keys, but the prospect of opening the door with the prize in hand was too tempting. One quick sweep of the desk couldn't hurt, could it? Just a riffle through the top level of papers-

Hey, some of these looked familiar. Dr. Kleiner had been working on equations like these the last time Gordon was in his office at MIT. Only- he adjusted his glasses and peered more closely- only they were a lot less complicated at the time, a lot less fully developed. . .

Huh. 'Resonance Cascade'. Looked like Dr. Kleiner'd been hypothesizing again. This was purely theoretical stuff, unless Gordon missed his guess. Most of it looked like the mathematics they normally used to describe the probability of major quantum events, but Gordon had never seen any kind of maths used to describe the possibility of event momentum becoming self-propagating. It almost looked as if Dr. Kleiner had been trying to forecast the worst possible scenario that could result from the transferrence of quantum characteristics from one object to another, and project it onto the supraquantum scale-

The doorknob rattled. Gordon shoved the papers aside, grabbed the newly-revealed keycards, and grinned at Barney as the door finally swung open.
acts_of_gord: (just the suit)
Black Mesa Central Complex
Sector A Training Facility
Reception Area


You expect a safety orientation on your first day at a new job. It’s par for the course. The nature of the orientation varies. In an ordinary office job you can look forward to the location of the exits, and maybe the fire extinguishers. In an academic job in the hard sciences, you get ‘here are the decontamination showers’ and ‘don’t put anything magnetic inside the yellow and black tape lines’.

At Black Mesa, the orientation is just a bit different.

“Uh… Dr. Kleiner said to report here this morning for mandatory equipment safety training,” said Gordon Freeman, glancing at the neatly typed note that’d been waiting for him in his quarters. For a reception area, the room was surprisingly empty; there was an unoccupied desk and two chairs. One of the innumerable blue-clad security guards was unlocking a grey door on the far side of the room. “Does this have anything to do with them needing all my measurements?”

“You’re science team, aren’t you.” The guard, a dark-haired man a few years younger than Gordon, looked up and grinned. “Hoo boy, are you in for a treat.”

Gordon lowered his glasses fractionally, the better to give the man a long, dry look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothin’,” said the guard as he opened the door. “If they haven’t told you yet, I don’t wanna spoil the surprise. Haven’t seen a science team member yet who didn’t fall in love with their new present just as soon as they got it.”

“Present?” Alarm bells were going off in Gordon’s head.

“Yep. You’ll see- and I’ll see you on the firing range.”

“The- wait, what?” Gordon shoved his glasses back into place. “Hey!”

But the unmarked door had locked behind the guard. Gordon stared at it in frustration, then turned away. This was not a promising start to-

“Mr. Freeman?” It was a woman’s voice coming over the PA speakers. “You’re just in time. Please take the green door directly to your left.”

Definitely not a promising start. The industrial walkway that stretched into half-lit shadows on the other side did nothing to assuage the worries rising at the back of his mind. Putting the worst of it aside, he stepped forward.

The door closed behind Gordon with a click of suspicious finality.

This is insane, thought Gordon, following the catwalk towards the only possible conclusion- a dimly lit platform up ahead. What kind of safety orientation is this? Where’s everybody else? Don’t they have other people who need training today, too? Shouldn’t someone be meeting me? I admit, there’s no way for me to get off this catwalk without jumping- He paused, peering over the railing for a moment. -I can’t even tell how far, but still, this isn’t how you treat new people at a secure facility-

On the platform up ahead, lights started switching on, and a woman’s form flickered into translucent life. Her hair was pulled up tightly in a bun, and she wore an orange and grey suit of some kind of armor. ”Welcome to the Black Mesa Hazard Course,” she said, her expression a long-practiced, reassuring smile, ”where you will be trained in the use of the Hazardous Environment Suit. I am your holographic assistant.”

“. . . “

He hadn’t expected that.

”Let’s begin by stepping into your suit.” she continued as a door slid open behind her. ”You can see it suspended up ahead. If you require assistance, press one of the console buttons, and I will appear to assist you.”

Gordon could no more have resisted moving forward than he could’ve held back the rising of the sun. Whatever he had expected, this wasn’t it; but whatever was happening now was of so much more importance. . .

It was there, all right. Up ahead, in a display case that slid open at his approach. The same armor the holographic image had worn, but solid and real- very solid, he discovered as he rapped his knuckles against the lambda painted on the chest plate. He couldn’t identify the material it was made of, but he doubted that mattered. This was protection of the highest kind for everything from throat to toes, the kind of armor that made the stuff he wore on the downhill trails look like strategically painted cardboard by comparison. Gordon had very little doubt that it could stand up to punishments the human body could only dream of taking. And they expect me to wear this . . .

He should have been worried, he realized in a dim, distant sort of way, but the prospect only made him want to laugh. How could he not? He was being handed a piece of a Heinlein vision made real! The worrying would come later. For now, he had a suit to put on- and, he had no doubt, a whole lot of serious science ahead of him. You didn’t wear a suit like that just to push buttons and wash bottles, after all.
acts_of_gord: (right man wrong place)
Gordon starts at Black Mesa tomorrow.

Technically he’s already there. He finished moving his possessions into the employee dormitory in Sector C earlier today. But that’s different, that’s just the location and not the job, not the action, not the part where he finally gets to do real research again-

(He’s picking his way along an exceptionally narrow trail up to the top of one of the more promising-looking rock formations, one hand firmly gripping the Mongol’s handlebars. Carrying a forty-five pound bicycle over one shoulder’s just asking for trouble, and it’s not geared for pedaling up a trail this steep. But there isn’t a better downhill mountain bike made in the United States. On a day like this he needs something to bleed the nervous, anticipatory energy off. The country around Black Mesa’s practically made for a downhill racer’s dreams, as lumpy and narrow and challenging as any rider could ask for.)

The climate’s cold up here, and windy right now. Nothing like Boston, where he’s been since the doctorate, but it’s still cold. January’s January, he guesses, no matter where you go.

That won’t matter, starting tomorrow. Not much, anyway. Black Mesa’s underground, mostly, and whatever isn’t underground is still so tightly climate-controlled that it might as well be a Fremen sietch. Sixty-eight to seventy-two degrees, across the board, and the humidity adjusted locally to reflect whatever the most suitable balance point is between human comfort and experimental equipment’s needs. The staff only gets subjected to the environment around them when it’s absolutely necessary, or when they choose to do so. Otherwise? It’s all under control.

Which has its perks, definitely, but sometimes. . .

(The trail is exceptionally narrow here, barely as wide as his feet are long. He’s ridden narrower before, but seldom with such a steep drop-off on one side. If he misses the curves in the trail on his way down he’ll be lucky if Black Mesa searching parties ever find what’s left of him without the use of a helicopter.)

Well.

(It’s a chance worth taking.)

The way Gordon sees it, control is absolutely vital to science. The importance of individual variables, each in their own time and category, can’t possibly be determined without it. Keep it tight, keep it neat, keep it precise and in line. Then you can test to your heart’s content, and you can make sure every individual piece of your hypothesis is correct- or you can correct it if it doesn’t match the observed data. And then- and this is the part he’s pretty sure even Dr. Kleiner forgets sometimes- then you can take that beautiful, polished, magnificently sound experimental procedure of yours and see what happens when all the perfect parts get thrown in the path of oncoming reality.

(There’s a spot where the trail widens, a few meters short of the top. Moving the Mongol up a trail like this is hard work. It’s a fair place for catching his breath. He glances down and to the left, and for a moment the plummeting rockface below him puts him in mind of the display in Milliways, if only in terms of scale.)

Because that’s the thing. Pure science is exactly that. Pure. There’s nothing in the world that’s genuinely pure unless it’s forced to be so. There’s always something unforeseen. There’s always entropy. The real world is one anomaly after another, irregularities stacking up and interfering with one another. It’s the sum of a million contradictory histories in every second. And once you’ve got your beautiful science down pat, it’s got to be able to account for that, for all of that, or it’s not going to do anyone any good at all.

Tomorrow he starts in the Anomalous Materials lab. One variable at a time, one test, one element. Then the next, and the next, and who knows how many others after that, and then-

(To the top, now, and no more putting it off.)

There’ll be practical applications eventually. There’ll be real-world testing. And if the pure science to which he and the people he’ll be working with have dedicated their lives so far is worth anything at all, it’ll make a difference. Even if it only starts off in quantum computing, his dreams of teleportation will be that one step closer to being genuinely real.

The thought alone is enough to set his palms to sweating, even in the January chill. Gordon pulls off his gloves and wipes his hands on his thighs before taking one last look around him.

(Forgiveness is a human thing. Neither the obscurest quantum principles nor the end of universes will extend it to you if you fail; nor gravity, neither, it’s all one and the same-)

The world around him blurs into a vast streak of brown and blue and white as he and the bike rocket down the trail he’s just so arduously climbed.

It’s worth it.
acts_of_gord: (black mesa)
Room 117, Sea Shell Motel
Espanola, NM


"-handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet, and his face lost all expression.
Said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy-"


The phone rang. A swat, a grab, the act of sitting up from where he'd been stretched out on the motel bed-

"Freeman here."

"Gordon, my boy!" He exhaled; it was Dr. Kleiner's voice. "And here I thought you'd have been out hitting the trails on that bicycle of yours. You did bring it with you, didn't you?"

Gordon's gaze flickered across the room to where he'd propped up the Mongol. "I wanted to wait for the news," was his only answer. He tried to keep most of the you do have an answer for me, don't you? vibe out of his voice.

On the other end of the line, Dr. Kleiner chuckled. "Ever the practical one," his voice said. "Well, all righty, then. I won't keep you waiting any longer. You're hired- over Magnusson's objections, of course, but you are hired. You'll be starting at Black Mesa as a research associate in two weeks' time. I'll e-mail you the information on moving into the complex- that's more or less mandatory, of course, it's only the very most senior staff who don't have to live here."

It'd come up in the interview, so Gordon only nodded and murmured something assenting.

"Excellent. I am looking forward to working with you again, Gordon. I always thought you showed incredible potential."

Gordon's lips twitched in something like a smile. "Thanks," he said. "I appreciate it."

"Right, then! See you in two weeks' time."

The phone made a quiet click! in its cradle. The radio got picked up from the floor and resettled on the nightstand. And the Oak Ridge Boys got the honor of drowning out Gordon Freeman's whoop of unadulterated glee.

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Gordon Freeman

December 2012

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