Monday May 5, 2003:
The first day back at Anomalous Materials felt like being reborn. I was so happy not to smell garbage any more.
Lauren didn’t suspect that anything out-of-the-ordinary had happened to me the night before, and the weekend passed like any other. I was still a bit shaken by what went down, but the fact that I didn’t have to go back to Waste Processing made me feel ten times lighter. I apologised to her for acting like such a jackass, and made it up to her by inviting her round to cook her dinner. Didn’t turn out to be a four-star meal, but I think she appreciated the effort.
I checked up on Chumtoad. He was hungry all right; scarfed down two chocolate bars and a whole burrito. At lunch I looked everywhere for Gordon. I wanted to surprise him in the cafeteria with the good news, but I couldn’t find him.
Just as I was finishing up my club sandwich. I got a call on my walkie from Miller. He just barely managed to say: “Dr Kleiner-” before I shot off at the speed of light. I sure as shit wasn’t going to let Freeman beat me on my first day back.
I wriggled back through the vents and wormed my way back to Anomalous Materials. I went left, right, right again. I checked my watch: I was slower than normal. Freeman was gonna beat me! I surged forwards and clambered through the grille, dropped to the ground and-
“Well, I was wondering when he was going to show up.”
Dr Kleiner was already in the room, and with him was Gordon, Dr Vance, Otis, Lauren, and Hunter, who had a Band-Aid on the back of his head. There was a small cake on Kleiner’s desk, and a card with the words ‘Welcome Back Barney’ scrawled on the front.
“Wha-?” I asked dumbly.
“I found out about your transfer back to Sector C over the weekend,” said Dr Vance. “I told Izzy, who told Gordon, who arranged all this for you.”
“We wanted to welcome you back to Anomalous Materials Barney,” said, Kleiner. “You have been sorely missed.”
I’ve never felt so appreciated at work before. I had to clear my throat when I felt a lump forming in it, but luckily Otis came to the rescue:
“Hey, let’s try some of that cake ya baked Lauren. Looks pretty good there.”
We all had a slice each and started talking, with Dr Vance filling me in on what I’d missed over the last month. Dr Breen still hasn’t gotten off his back, and a big test is coming up in eleven days time. There’s a lot riding on it, and Dr Vance looked pretty anxious about it.
“Ordinarily I’d have Dr Olegivich handle the sample insertion,” he said. “But Dr Breen says he’s now on indefinite leave. I’ll have to find someone else to go in his place…”
He tailed off, looking at Gordon thoughtfully.
Eventually, Dr Kleiner told us all that we should get back to work, and everyone filed out. I high-fived Gordon, kissed Lauren goodbye, and followed Hunter.
“Hey man,” I said, “Thanks for covering for me. I owe you one.”
He shook his head. “Forget about it Calhoun. Nobody here owes me anything.”
He stopped and stared at me.
“I don’t wanna know what you were doing there. I’m leaving Black Mesa, and I’d advise you to do the same.”
“Yeah?” I said, “Cuz of what happened?”
“Cuz of lots of things,” Hunter said. “I’m going at the end of the month. This place isn’t safe man. What happened the other day, we all got lucky. But Black Mesa is a disaster waiting to happen, and I don’t wanna be here come doomsday.”
He walked away. Ordinarily I’d say it was just Hunter being his usual cynical self. But now I understood what kind of things weighed on his mind here.
Maybe I shouldn’t get too comfy at Anomalous Materials. Maybe I should stick to my original plan: grab Chum, find someone to sell him to, and get the hell outta here.