His stock was plummeting. His investors were dwindling. Lawsuits and inquiries were piling up. Every day, Aperture Science teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. And yet, somehow, Cave Johnson, current (and, if he had his way, the only) CEO, refused to give up. Damn them and their "safe", science, he would bark to his employees. If you like safe science so much, why don't you just marry it?
And yet, when all was said and done, safe science seemed to wind up with fewer class action lawsuits.
Cave mumbled bitterly under his breath as he reached for another sheaf of papers and rifled through them. His office- by now a veritable nest of crumbled-up forms and old tax forms- had clearly seen better days; the linoleum was scuffed and dirty, his desk worn and scratched. “Lawsuit… lawsuit… union dues… lawsuit… resignation letters… health inspection… Caroline!” he finally shouted. “I need good news. Give me something to smile about. Anything.”
“Well, Mister Johnson,” replied his brunette assistant, walking into the room, “Test subject 704 managed to make it through enrichment sphere twelve in record time!” She smiled at him as she watched him hunched over his desk, eyes flickering from one crisply-worded formal inquiry to another.
“Hm? Oh, yes, uh… Seven-oh-four… that was the one we found slumped outside the soup kitchen, right?” said Cave absent-mindedly, scarcely paying his assistant a wayward glance.
“That’s right, Mister Johnson. The propulsion gel tests are right on schedule!”
“Thanks, Caroline,” said Johnson finally, gazing with what could only be dejection at the mountains of paperwork that lay ahead of him.
And so an hour- or perhaps two- passed uneventfully, before Caroline once again knocked on the door. Trepidation was on her face- she did hate to disturb her boss when he was in the middle of his work, but Cave could tell that something was wrong.
“There are some people here to see you.”
“They’re from the government? Worker’s union? Health inspector?”
Caroline ducked outside again for a moment. Cave heard snatches of conversation –two males, apparently- before Caroline stepped back into the office.
“They say it’s classified,”
Cave groaned inwardly and shuffled a few papers off of his desk. “Send ‘em in,” he finally said. There really was no point in trying to discourage these kinds of people; they would stubbornly get the facts somehow anyways.
The two men that stood before him were average in build and height; both carried identical leather briefcases and wore suits- Armani, Cave guessed. Both of them stood at his desk, fixing him with a look that Cave didn’t like. It was a look that he had seen at the Senate hearings, and it was one that implied that stern judgement was on the way.
“Mr. Johnson?” said one of them, placing his briefcase among the discarded papers.
“Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Science Innovators,”
The other man nodded curtly. “For the purposes of this interview, we are to be called Mr. White-“ here, he pointed to himself, “and Mr. Brown. We do not, as it is, legally exist; if you attempt to alert any authorities to our existence you will fail.”
Cave bristled somewhat at these two presumptuous men, but nevertheless, common sense- and perhaps a healthy fear for his own wellbeing- prompted him to call for Caroline. “Either of you gentlemen smoke?” he asked. Neither of them did, but as Caroline bustled into the room, clutching a box of Cuban cigars, Cave took one and lit it, chewing on it as he listened to his two mysterious visitors.
“So how do you know me?” he asked, trying to keep the suspicion out of his voice. “Don’t recall seeing either of you before.” Of course, he probably did know exactly which organization had sent these two, but intended to keep things civil- at least until he could ascertain just what they were really up to.
“The gel fiasco? The Senate hearings? Those missing astronauts? What happened in Test Chamber Twelve-”
“Now just hold on a damn minute,” whispered Cave, leaning closer to them. “What happened in Test Chamber Twelve never got out to the public. We made sure of that, and if you’re leaking information to the public I swear that I will-”
“Oh, Mr. Johnson, please.” said White, smirking slightly at him, “We’ve had undercover agents in your company for years now.” He stopped for a moment, watching as the head of the company sputtered and stammered at him, trying to think of a response even as his brain gallantly attempted to process this latest revelation.
“You don’t think those missing astronauts would draw attention to this company? Those Senate hearings were just a show- a distraction, if you will- while we did the real work. We know exactly what happened with those astronauts, Mr. Johnson, and we know that you have a lot of blood on your hands.”
Cave stood up, pointing an accusing finger at the two men. “So you’re from the government, huh? Trying to stick your noses into scientific progress? Listen, you clowns, I’m no lawyer, but I know my rights, and I’m pretty sure that I can take you and whatever organization you work for straight to court!”
“It says here,” said Brown, riffling through a sheet of papers and procuring a small phial full of a blue gel, “that you developed this as a dietetic pudding substitute.” “Really, Mr. Johnson? This substance is many things, but it is not edible. We’ve tried to reproduce this thing in our labs, Mr. Johnson, to no avail. You’ve created a kinetic weapon that could easily kill a man.”
“What the- how the hell did you get that?” snapped the CEO, reaching over and snatching it from Brown’s hand, hastily stuffing it into his pocket. “You know damn well that we pulled that stuff from the shelves as soon as we figured out what it did to the human skeleton. Aperture does not make weapons.”
This really was Black Mesa’s doing, wasn’t it? Send some corporate goons to rattle him up, try and trick him into spilling the beans on his company’s latest invention? Well, he wasn’t going to play along with them.
“Why don’t you go back and tell your CEO that Aperture’s not for sale?” said Cave sharply, trying to regain his composure as he settled back into his chair. “So who sent you? Black Mesa? Builder’s League United? Reliable Excavat-“
“None of those companies, Mr. Johnson,’ said Brown, picking up a piece of paper at random and looking through it before placing it back on the desk. “I’m not at liberty to divulge that information at the moment. But I will tell you that we have our ways of gathering information."
"Yes, but what do you do? Damnit, stop dancing around the question and give me some straight facts.
"We… we find the things that are overlooked, the things that pose a threat to our society, and we contain them.”
“So you’re going to try containing me?” laughed Johnson. It was a harsh, bitter laugh, the hoarse bark of too many nights up late trying to save an ailing company with everything around him slowly crumbling. “Well, I gotta warn you boys, I was a prize boxer in university and I don’t go down without a fight!” He laughed again and lit another cigar, leaning back in his swivel chair and taking a long drag. “Gonna try and contain my facility? It’s already at the bottom of a salt mine, there’s no way that we can be any more contained!”
“Mr. Johnson,” said Brown, “don’t be ridiculous. We’re not here to lock you up."
“Even though,” put in White, “it’s an option we’ve seriously considered.”
“Listen to us, Mr. Johnson. Our organization has technology that makes Aperture look like- as you say- people banging rocks together. We have some of the most highly trained medical and scientific personnel on the planet. You ever wonder, Mr. Johnson, why your bean-counters and lab-boys aren’t up to snuff? It’s because we’ve already taken the best of the best. You’re an excellent manager, Johnson. We can guarantee you a cushy salary, flexible hours, a team of the greatest scientific minds in the world. You’ve built this entire facility from scratch, but don’t you think it’s time to move on?”
Cave paused. Was it time to finally lay Aperture to rest? The megalithic testing complex-perhaps on its last legs- bore no vestige of its origins as a humble shower company. He paused, realizing that the next words out of his mouth would impact the rest of his life forever. Even for a man as gung-ho as he, here, subtlety paid.
“Tell me… what kind of work do you do? What exactly do you keep contained?”
“Many things, Mr. Johnson,” said Brown, “things that are both wonderful and terrible. Sensitive things, that could be easily abused in the wrong hands.”
Brown sighed, but nevertheless continued talking. “Ten years ago, a rocket crashed in the desert. It bore no resemblance to any contemporary rocket and incorporated unknown materials into its structure.”
“A- rocket from outer space?” Cave clenched his cigar and took another nervous puff on it. His mind was reaching only one conclusion, and it both thrilled and horrified him. “You don’t mean it was an al-“
“-The only thing we know about it,” interrupted Brown, “was that it was sent by someone named Doctor Grordbort. The rocket was full of technology- guns, helmets, weapons, and hats- far in advance of any Earth technology we are aware of- and out of all of the people on Earth who could have found it, it just had to be a team of mercenaries with a questionable grip on reality.”
“But don’t you think they’d- wait, a sec."
“Exactly, Mr. Johnson,” said Brown, nodding curtly. “We made sure that nobody ever found out about Doctor Grordbort’s rocket, or the mercenaries who found them. “And no, we’re not proud of what we did that day. But we did these things for the good of all of us.”
Cave’s patience was wearing thin by this point. “Yeah,” he grumbled, “except for the ones who’re dead.” Lighting another cigar and chewing on it. All this business about Grordborts and moon rockets and mercenaries and secret foundations was wearing thin. Cave Johnson was many things- shower curtain salesman extraordinaire, business tycoon, corporate mogul and legend, but he was not a murderer. Not a deliberate murderer, anyways. People getting hurt in tests was one thing, killing people for a living was quite another thing. No, Cave Johnson, the face of Aperture, had a company to rescue from bankruptcy and science to do.
“Gentlemen,” he said, finally. “you make a convincing offer. But I’m afraid that I still have unfinished business- and unfinished science- at Aperture. You’ll have to find someone else to do your dirty work.”
“This is your only chance,” said Mr. White, his already curt tone now positively frosty. “You will not receive this offer again.”
“Thought as much,” said Cave, extinguishing the burning nub of his cigar in his ashtray. “But… you're a persuasive pair of gentlemen. I’m sure you’ll find someone else to help you. Maybe Black Mesa?” He paused and allowed himself a roguish grin. “No, that was a joke. Fat chance. They’re all busy with some other project. Something about trying to find a crystal.”
“I understand,” said Mr. White, closing his briefcase with a succinct snap and making for the door. But before he turned to walk down the hall, he paused for one moment, regarding Cave with that cool glare of his. "Mr. Johnson, your company and Black Mesa are creating things not even they understand. Your Quantum Tunnelling Device? Analyzing crystals of unknown origin? Creating portals through an unknown dimension? If anything ever goes wrong with your inventions Mr. Johnson, then… well…”
White stopped for a moment. “… we’ll be meeting one another again.”
“Caroline?”, said Cave.
“Yes, Mister Johnson?”
“I need a stiff drink.”