Wednesday December 25th, 2002:
I pitched up at Sector C for the party at eight, to find Freeman wearing an orange sweater with reindeer knitted all over it. I’d be sweltering in something like that, but he must be used to it, wearing those HEV suits.
The steel corridors and concrete walls were decorated with tinsel and fairy lights, festive music blaring from the speakers, and a buffet and bowls of hot punch were all laid out for us. I tried to look casual as Gordon and I mingled. Dr Keller was there, rolling around in his wheelchair, and even Dr Magnusson was complaining about how dry the turkey was. But I couldn’t see hide nor hair of Dr Cross.
Then Gordon bumped into the head of Anomalous Materials: Dr Eli Vance. He was younger and skinnier than I was expecting, but an easygoing guy.
“Barney’s a friend of mine,” Freeman said, putting his arm around me.
“Well a friend of Gordon is a friend of mine,” said Dr Vance, shaking my hand.
Turns out that Dr Vance is from Missouri, so we bonded over both being boys from the Midwest. He introduced me to his wife Azian; a really pretty lady, who was carrying their little baby daughter.
“Awww, she’s cute,” I said, waving at the kid.
“Don’t let her fool you,” said Azian. “She’s a real troublemaker.”
The baby giggled, as if she knew what we were talking about. She had these amazing big, green eyes, and kept trying to tug at Gordon’s ponytail.
“Hey Freeman, she likes you,” I joked, as he twisted out of her grip.
Dr Vance and Gordon started chatting about that damn Anti-Mass Spectrometer, and from the way Azian looked at me, I could tell she was used to waiting on the sidelines when her man was talking particles.
“So Mrs Vance,” I asked, “How do you like it here at Black Mesa?”
Her mouth was a firm line.
“Well, Eli’s doing incredible work here,” she said. “I’ve never seen him so invigorated.”
“Yeah, but how do you like it?” I asked.
There was a pause. I could tell I’d opened up a can of worms.
“Must be a bit of a strange place to raise a little girl,” I said, sympathetically.
“It is,” she said. “Eli says I’ll get used to it eventually but… oh, I don’t know. When we first came here I got a real bad feeling, and that feeling still hasn’t gone away…”
She tailed off, then shook her head.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. It just gets a bit claustrophobic down here.”
“Hey that’s okay,” I said. “I get what you mean. I miss my family sometimes.”
You know what? Saying it loud, I realised that I did. It’s weird how Black Mesa becomes your whole world so quickly. I should call Joe more often.
“So how does Dr Vance know Gordon?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Oh Eli’s always going on about the wunderkind,” she said. “He and Dr Kleiner are old friends, and when he recommended Gordon for a position here, Eli was desperate to poach him.”
“Please Arne!” bleated a voice behind us, “You don’t want to overimbibe…”
I craned my neck round, and saw Dr Kleiner tailing Dr Magnusson, whose eyes were unfocused. He was drinking mulled wine out of a large mug.
“Nonshensh Kleiner,” he slurred, “I can quaff wish the besht of them.”
“Merry Christmas Barney, Merry Christmas Gordon,” he said to us, “Eli, can you please dissuade him from further intoxication?”
“Yeah Arne,” said Eli carefully, “Maybe ease up on the-“
“Don’t be abshurd!” yelled Magnusson. He pointed at me imperiously, and said: “If the hired help ish invited then I’ll drink ash much ash I pleashe…”
He swallowed a hiccup and continued:
“Thish imbishile doeshn’t even know how to work a microwave. I think we musht hire these guards from shome community college or-GAH!”
He took a gigantic gulp of his wine and then spat it out immediately, coughing and spluttering. Everyone was biting their cheeks to hold in the giggles.
“Maybe someone should escort you to the bathroom Arne,” said Dr Vance.
“PAH PAH!” went Magnusson, blowing raspberries as Kleiner pushed him gently in the direction of the men’s room. We waited till he was out of earshot before we all started laughing.
“Man, did you see him?” I said, wiping my eyes, “What the hell happened there?”
Gordon grinned at me, and flashed six empty sachets of salt at me.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully, and we made it a merry one. Dr Cross never showed her face, but the night wasn’t totally wasted. It was nice to meet Dr Vance and Azian, and at the end of it all Gordon gave me two books as presents: The Truth About Aliens and Government Conspiracies.
I feel guilty diary: I didn’t get him anything!