Half-Life: Resonance

Saturday November 30, 2002:

I met Freeman at Recreation at 7pm. It was weird to see him out of a labcoat or HEV suit. Instead he wore a baggy hoodie that read ‘MIT’ on it.

“Hey, what is this?” I joked, “You on your way to a lecture?”

He laughed and said that he didn’t own many clothes. He told me that he was like Einstein that way: less hassle to just wear the same shit every day. I told him to try wearing body armour five days a week, see how he liked that.

We went to a bar called Feynman’s, right next to the arcade. It’s still a week from payday, but I did owe him one. We got a bottle each and sat in the shade, watching the freight trains pass by. There was that awkward tension you get when guys don’t have anything to distract them from an actual conversation. I thought about asking Freeman if this was date or not, but thought better of it. Instead I just asked:

“So Freeman, what made you wanna come work at Black Mesa?”

He took a gulp of beer and told me that anyone would. He was getting to work with people who had been his personal heroes since he was a kid: Eli Vance, Wallace Breen, Richard Keller, Walter Bennet, Arne Magnusson, and even Isaac Kleiner.

I laughed at that. “Kleiner? You mean the bald guy who always loses his keys?”

He nodded, so I told him what happened the other day. Freeman shook his head and said that nothing changes. It turns out Kleiner was Freeman’s physics tutor over at MIT. Kinda like a mentor to him. And he’d read his book, ‘From Here to There in Under a Second’, more than a dozen times.

“Bet you never thought you’d spend your twenties passing him test tubes, huh?” I joked

Now, Freeman always gave off the impression of a closed book. But when you get him started on theoretical physics, you can’t get him to shut up! It was all ‘exotic matter’ this and ‘dark energy’ equations that. Trying to keep up, I asked what his thesis had been.

”Observation of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Entanglement on Supraquantum Structures by Induction through Nonlinear Transuranic Crystal of Extremely Long Wavelength Pulse from Mode-Locked Source Array,'” he said.

“Shit,” I replied. “Try saying that after a few drinks.”

“Well, I had to make the word count somehow,” he said.

At this point, I realised that he’d gotten so excited that he’d ordered us two pitchers. I was too grateful for the free booze to interrupt his flow, so I just kept nodding my head, waiting for a lull in his explanation of how quark–gluon plasma was key to achieving quantum resonance, before I asked:

“So, like, hold on man. Whaddya guys actually do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Quarks this, entanglement that. What are you actually working on in Anomalous Materials?”

He got a bit sheepish.

“I can’t really say,” he said. “It’s confidential.”

I was disappointed, and I must have shown it. But it’s exasperating to feel like I’m never gonna know what’s really going on in this damn bunker, like the truth is always going to be locked away from me, just outta sight.

But then Gordon took a deep breath, fixed his glasses, and told me:

“Teleportation.”

“Get the fuck out of here!” I exclaimed. I had to order my second pitcher for this. “What, like portals and stuff?”

He shushed me, but leaned in and nodded. In a nutshell, he told me that they’ve built this machine, the Anti-Mass Spectrometer, which they’re trying to overload with energy to make tears in spacetime. Tears that you could use to move objects from one place to another, instantly.

Freeman’s job is to handle samples of Xenium, analyse the energy readings, and try to tune them to right frequency. He told me it was like playing a cord with strange particles: too flat and you’d waste energy, too sharp and … well, he said he didn’t even want to think about that.

“Why not? What happens if you play a sharp note?”

Gordon started cleaning his glasses to avoid looking me in the eye.

“Well,” he said, “The chances of it happening are incalculably remote. Basically impossible, but in theory, in certain specific circumstances, it could, maybe, lead to … to a Resonance Cascade.”

His face had paled. He wasn’t like a kid in a candy store anymore. I could tell those words, ‘Resonance Cascade,’ had been playing on his mind. I asked what that meant.

“Ah, now I really shouldn’t tell say any more,” he said, “Anyway, it’s astronomically unlikely.”

“Holy hell,” I said. “So can you actually teleport stuff? Does it all really work?”

Freeman said he was too new to know yet. He’d certainly never teleported anything. But he was sure that Dr Vance and Dr Kleiner knew more than they were telling, and those secrets were causing tension.

“What kinda tension?” I asked between gulps of beer.

Gordon said that the Lambda Complex and Anomalous Materials had a big rivalry and competed for grant money, even though they were trying to achieve the same thing. The Administrator was pushing Anomalous Materials to take bigger and bigger risks with their equipment, but Dr Vance wanted to be cautious.

I tried to interrogate Gordon some more, but it was clear he’d reached his limit for spilling secrets.

“Say,” he said, “Ever heard this one before? A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage. He says, ‘No, I’m traveling light.'”

“Jeez, don’t quit your day job Freeman,” I laughed. “Stick to physics.”

We sank a few more beers, told a few more jokes. Time slipped away and the bar began to empty while we bantered. I excused myself to take a whizz, and as I was washing my hands I realised that, even though I only understood half of what Freeman was talking about, college boy or no college boy, we were really getting on.

I sat back down, and tried my best to say I was enjoying having a drinking buddy.

“I mean, the other guards are nice guys and all,” I said. “But the conversation isn’t exactly intellectual, you know?”

Gordon smiled and said: “Well, I get on with most of the science team-“

“-Apart from Dr Magnusson,” I added.

“Apart from Dr Magnusson,” he agreed. “But sometimes it’s like all anyone can talk about is work work work. I don’t have anyone here who’s like, you know … just a friend.”

There was a pause. I thought about what the other guards, Hunter and Miller mostly, would think about me fraternising with one of the brainiacs.

Ah, what the hell?

“Well Gordon,” I said with a smile, “Like it or not, you’ve got one now.”

We said our goodbyes, clapped each other on the back, and staggered back to our dorms, drunk and content.

… For the record, it was not a date. Can I just make that super-clear?

Published by itshendo

Callum Henderson is a carbon-based life form who graduated with a degree in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Strathclyde in 2016.

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