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Borealis (Aperture Science ship)

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This article is about the Aperture Science ship. For the location cut from Half-Life 2, see Borealis (cut ship).

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Borealis logo.svg
Borealis Ep2.jpg
General information

Combine occupation


Aperture Science


Research icebreaker


20th century[1]


Stranded in the ice in an undefined Arctic location[2]

Game information


"Our peers at Aperture Science were at work on a project of some promise, but in their rush to beat Black Mesa for funding, they must have compromised ordinary standards of risk. We heard their research vessel had simply disappeared. Vanished - with all hands... even part of the dry dock!"
Isaac Kleiner[src]

The Borealis is an Aperture Science research icebreaker introduced in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. According to Isaac Kleiner, Aperture was working on a promising project, but in their rush to beat Black Mesa for funding, they neglected ordinary safety rules and the ship simply disappeared with parts of her drydock, which earned her an almost legendary stature. It is assumed that the Borealis contained an immensely powerful and dangerous secret, yet to be revealed.


Mossman sharing her discovery with the Resistance.

Half-Life 2: Episode One[edit]

“I'm fairly sure I've pinned down the location of the Project. It's hard to say how much of it might have survived intact, or whether there's anything remaining that could compromise our work... if it were discovered by the Combine. We'll need to take a close look at it, of course, but I should be able to give a better opinion within a few hours. If the site is where we think it is, then it should be no more than... I'm going to cut this short. We may have been spotted.”
— Dr. Mossman[2]

Many years after the Combine invasion of Earth, Judith Mossman, Resistance operative, finds the Borealis in an Arctic location. She is attacked by Combine forces soon after, and is only able to send an incomplete transmission of her discovery to White Forest. This is intercepted by the Combine, and in turn stolen back by Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance from the Citadel Core during their flight from City 17.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two[edit]

After safely reaching White Forest, Alyx and Gordon deliver the data to the Resistance, which reveals that Mossman was cunning enough to encrypt Borealis photographs, coordinates, blueprints and hailing frequencies within her message. Once Eli Vance and Isaac Kleiner have decoded these and realize the full significance of the transmission, a rift opens between the two Resistance leaders. Kleiner believes the technology the Borealis contains could be used by the Resistance against the Combine; Eli, haunted by memories of the Black Mesa Incident and not wanting a second Seven Hour War, believes that the Borealis has to be destroyed at all costs.

It is not clear whether the Combine know of the Borealis, and consequently if they themselves have some interest in the ship's contents. Given the attack upon Mossman's forces, the interception of her message and the death of Eli Vance, it seems very likely.

While the nature of the secret hidden within the Borealis is unknown, one of the blueprints indicates the presence of at least a Material Emancipation Grill and an Unstationary Scaffold within the ship.

Portal 2[edit]

The Borealis' empty drydock.

In Portal 2, a large drydock for the Borealis' can be found in the 1970s section of Test Shaft 09, near the offices where Chell finds GLaDOS in the bird's nest. The dock is completely empty, save for several life preservers bearing the ship's name scattered on the floor. This reveals that the Borealis had been in existence since some time around 1971.

Unlike other rooms in the same area, this room was not vitrified. In fact, the large bulkhead door has been blasted straight out of its hinges. There is no gate or exit of any sort through which the Borealis could have been entered or left the room, so it can be assumed it teleported out, perhaps through some violent portal event. Kleiner says in Episode Two that the ship disappeared with parts of its drydock; he likely refers to scaffolding, cranes, or similar machinery as the drydock itself appears intact.


As suggested by the end of Episode Two, the Borealis is expected to be focal point of the next Half-Life game. The three pieces of concept art released in 2008 show the Borealis stuck in ice, covered in Combine technology and flanked by Advisors, suggesting the Combine will have a presence around the ship.

Related Achievements[edit]

Portal 2
NO BOAT.jpg Ship Overboard (10G)
Discover the missing experiment.

Behind the scenes[edit]

Main article: Borealis (cut ship)

The icebreaker Borealis was originally to appear in Half-Life 2 as the Hyperborea, then the Borealis. In one of the earliest versions of the story, Gordon was to start the game by boarding the ship.[3] Later in the game's development, it was to appear between two other cut chapters, the Air Exchange and Kraken Base,[4][5] before being eventually cut with the whole part set between the Depot and the City 17 uprising.

The original ship was based on the real world USCGC research icebreaker the Polar Star. However, the design of the ship seen in Episode 2 is based on the USCGC Healy rather then the Polar Star. The reason for the change is unknown.

The name "Borealis" is likely associated with the term "aurora borealis", the northern polar lights only visible in the Northern Hemisphere. "Borealis" comes from "Boreas", a wind god in the Greek mythology. "Hyperborea", the early name for the ship, was the name of the land of the Hyperboreans, a mythical people who lived far to the north of Thrace. "Hyperborea" means "beyond the Boreas", thus beyond the land of the wind god Boreas.

The Borealis’ teleportation mishap shares many similarities to the urban legend of the Philadelphia Experiment in which the warship USS Eldridge was rumored to have been rendered invisible by experimental technology. In some versions of the story, the ship had accidentally teleported from its dry dock to a U.S. naval base over 200 miles away. In the most radical versions of the story, the ship achieved accidental time travel. When Marc Laidlaw asked about it, he stated that he had it in his mind way back.[6]

The images hidden in Mossman's message are located in the Episode Two texture files in the folders "effects" and "Props". One of these images shows two of the unknown scientists of Kleiner's Black Mesa main team photography, a bearded man and a woman, posing in front of the Borealis. Other images include three blueprints of the Borealis. The original images are not blueprints for any of the United States Coast Guard research icebreakers mentioned above but those of a naval warship, the USS Newport News, a United States Navy heavy cruiser launched after World War II. They also feature tables taken from other blueprints. The images also shows a QSL card, originally for the USCGC Polar Star.

The ship serves as the central focus and climactic location of Marc Laidlaw's Epistle 3, a short "fan fiction" story that gives a summary outline of the events in a planned iteration of Episode Three.[7]


While the Borealis was apparently located in an area of the Enrichment Center built in the 1970s, the ship's blueprints feature GLaDOS' name where the corporation's owner would sign, as well as the modern Aperture Laboratories logo. This issue has yet to be addressed or retconned.


Game files[edit]




List of appearances[edit]

Main games[edit]