Friday August 31, 2002:
… So that was the weirdest interview of my entire life.
It was a long drive from Alberquerque to BM. The orange desert is beautiful, in a desolate way. Looks almost like the surface of Mars. I passed a hydroelectric dam, a helicopter pad, and drove through a five-mile long tunnel to the south access. I pitched up at the parking lot, which seemed even bigger than Disneyland’s, at 10.33am.
It took forever to get through the security checkpoint, and I was running late. A monorail was about to depart when I finally got through. I hopped on without thinking, and it was only when we were moving that I spotted that the fifth stop was the right one: ‘Sector D: Administration.’
The train was packed with guys in labcoats and engineers in what looked like HAZMAT suits. A clinical woman’s voice came from the speakers:
“Regular radiation and biohazard screenings are a requirement of continued employment in the Black Mesa Research Facility. Missing a scheduled urinalysis or radiation check-up is grounds for immediate termination.”
I was blown over by how gigantic the place was. The carriage took off, and an enormous metal door, like for a bank vault only much larger, opened with a groan. We passed by huge pistons, great churning reactors, and vast warehouses. The place was like an underground city, sprawling and sprawling deeper and deeper.
We arrived at Sector D. I only had two minutes to spare, so I jogged as quickly as I could manage to the reception area, and spoke to the lady at the desk. She sniffed in the direction of a lounge and indicated I should sit. I stood. I was nervous.
A middle-aged woman with grey hair approached me, shook my hand, and told me to follow her. We weaved our way through a busy office, past rows of cubicles and flat-pack desks, until we found a quiet room to ourselves.
“Take a seat Mr Calhoun,” she said, sitting and pointing to the chair across the desk from hers. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Lara McDawlin, I’m head of recruitment for Support Personnel.”
“Hi,” I said. “And it’s Barney, thanks.”
“Alright Barney,” she said, glancing briefly at the resumé I’d faxed before shuffling it into a tray of others. “Why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about yourself?”
I launched into my well-rehearsed spiel. She nodded and frowned and asked me more questions as I played up my experience and talked around my qualifications.
“You have some very impressive references Mr Calhoun,” she said when I’d finished.
I grinned. I’d gotten those from dad. He’d convinced some of his old buddies down at the precinct to put in a good word for me. Made the summer I spent doing paperwork and making coffee in the district offices sound like an episode of The Shield.
“But here at Black Mesa we deal with some very clandestine government contracts. We believe that discretion is very important in our workforce, and confidentiality is a major paradigm within company policy. Tell me: are non-disclosure agreements something you’d take issue with?”
It was hard to keep up with all those twenty-dollar words. But I looked her right in the eye and said: “Ms McDawlin, I can tell you right now that they’re not. I know the value of trust between employer and employee, and I trust administrators like you to take good care of me.”
It was total bull, so I flashed her my most winning smile. Two breathless seconds passed, and then her frown broke and she smiled back. The old Calhoun charm saves the day again!
“Excellent,” she said. “Well Mr Calhoun, what’s your notice period? Can you start on the 16th?”
I couldn’t believe it. “What? You mean-?”
“I mean you’re hired,” she said. “Welcome to Black Mesa Barney.”
I was so pleased to be on a payroll again that I accepted right away. We had a lot of forms to fill out, and I rushed through the contracts without reading everything, but it still took an hour.
I shook McDawlin’s hand again and hopped back on the monorail. I was buzzing. The sun was shining, the buzzards were singing (okay, squawking), and I had a new job. Heck, even the train announcer sounded friendlier.
Sitting across from me was a black guy in a blue uniform, saddled with a helmet, a gun, and body armour. He caught me looking at him but tried to ignore me.
“Security, right?” I asked.
“Uhuh,” he said, without humour.
“I just joined,” I said, “I start in two weeks. Name’s Barney.”
“Hunter,” said the guard, in a way that made it clear we weren’t going to be on first-name terms. “So all the small print didn’t put you off?”
“No,” I said, “What small print?”
He looked at me for the first time, laughed a mirthless laugh and got off at Sector F.
“You’ll find out in two weeks, newbie!” he shouted over his shoulder.
I ignored him. I didn’t give a damn about any provisos. Shit, I’ll work anywhere as long as there’s air conditioning…