Chapter 12:
Still Alive




Sammie smells like electronics and rubber bands. It's a nice smell, a comforting smell. Something that isn't reminiscent of Old Aperture, something just unusual enough to remind me that I'm alive.

Just as comforting as the hug she's giving me. I hope she's not mad about my tears staining her lab-coat-

"It's not your fault, Taylor," she rubs my back, that slightly tinny sound in her voice still present; on one hand, a small burst of pride pops in my chest, knowing my first radio got perfect reception. It's quickly buried by the grief that's consuming me, "It's not your fault."

On the other hand…

I killed thirty-six people.

A sob shakes me, and I cling to Sammie a little tighter. This is supposed to be a happy moment. I made it out of Old Aperture. Osiris is dead. Sammie has a body again, can walk and talk and smile and laugh, and so can all the other Cores, except Dr. Emerson – for the moment; one day… one day, I'm going to find a way to give Dr. Emerson a body again… assuming I don't go to jail.

But the Cores even brought Panacea and Alexandria here, reached across dimensions and realities without Tinker-tech, all to rescue me, 106-pound, ironing-board-flat Taylor Hebert.

My lungs don't hurt anymore. I'm cured, healthier than I've ever been before; Panacea even added some muscle tone – because like hell I had a budding six-pack and muscly thighs before getting stuffed in the locker – though, when I brought it up, the healer gave me a list of things I'm supposed to eat, and exercises I should do, so 'all her hard work doesn't turn into flab'. Then she shook my hand, called me a hero for destroying Osiris, reminded me to come to the hospital in a week for a follow-up checkup, and left with her uncle Manpower.

Over her shoulder, Panacea told me, "I saw a little of what you went through down there. A little muscle and a physical tune-up is the least I can do, for going through that kind of hell."

I'm sure there's more to it – Sammie said Panacea is an Aperture Affiliate now, and has access to the upper facility's medical and agricultural wings; if she's as much of a nerd as I am, Panacea's probably chomping at the bit to start doing research…


But then, after Panacea left, Alexandria broke the news to me: when I teleported out of the locker, an airburst, coupled with my, basically, brute-forcing a hole in space-time, caused a Shatterbird-like glass explosion that killed 36 people, including the principal, and injured hundreds more.

I'm a murderer.

"No you're not," says Sammie without the slightest doubt in her voice, stroking my hair, rubbing her head against mine, "You didn't ask for your powers. You didn't ask for that locker. You're not a murderer, Taylor; they are."

I want to believe that, oh god, how I want to believe that…

But it won't bring those people back. Their families will still blame me-

"She's correct," Alexandria says, her voice sounding wooden but certain; looking up, through teary eyes, I see her floating in mid-air, mouth a flat line; her costume's been fixed, and a thick manila folder – information on Aperture, that's supposed to go to Washington for review at PRT Headquarters – is held under one arm, "We know what happened in Winslow, Ms. Hebert. You are not to blame for that explosion; if it weren't for the situation you'd been placed in, none of this would've happened. The people involved in your Trigger event will be punished. I will personally make sure of that, and speak with the Chief Director to ensure you won't be branded as a monster."

I want to scream, to rage, to ask 'why now, after everything?!' It won't help me any, and… really, I'm kind of grateful; I really didn't mean to hurt anyone! Everything… just… got out of hand…

So I don't say anything, just curl a little more into Sammie's embrace and try to believe that I'm a good person.

Eventually, Alexandria leaves, saying that she needs to report to Legend and make sure Armsmaster doesn't offend my Dad or something; I'm too distracted, both by the misery of accidentally killing nearly forty people, and… Sammie's body is amazing. Not in a dirty way, of course; it's more like wow, that's a lot of complicated machinery in a small space. She's only a little bit shorter than me, yet has more moving parts and electronics than anything I've seen so far…

The things I can do with this tech.

Designs for partially-automatous anti-grav drones, powered and armed with Arc technology, spin through my head, along with several choices for powered armor, the designs sleek and flattering while also protective- computers coupled with motion-sensitive hardware that'd allow me to manipulate dozens of machines simultaneously- hardlight-holographic displays to assist the micromanagement process- a new pair of glasses with the same HUD capabilities of my helmet-

"Um, Taylor?" oh. I'm rubbing the jewel-light on her collarbone.

"Sorry!" I shift and try to move away, embarrassed and bitter at the thought of ruining another friendship… but she just giggles and tightens her hug for a moment before releasing me. Looking at her, she looks, well, happy. I think?

"It's okay, Taylor," Sammie assures me with her bubbly voice, carefully getting out of my recovery bed and smoothing her skirts, never letting up on the smile, "I know your Tinker power wants to figure out how mum built us; does it ever stop working?"

Rubbing my eyes – taking care not to agitate the new glasses Aperture printed out for me – and glancing around the really quite nice "Relaxation Vault", which looks more like a hotel room from the late 80s, I eventually come to an answer, accepting the distraction for what it is, "It's… just curious about stuff, I think." It's now that I realize…

I've been using my power without really understanding what it's doing, exactly. There's specializations, I know that, but what mine is…

Chewing my lip and mulling over the inventions I've made so far, I say to Sammie, who decided to examine a small picture of a mountain forest while I thought about my powers, "Now that you mention it… I think my power takes existing concepts and technology, then turns them into things I need; there's a limit, though. When I realized what powers the portal gun, I knew I could make a zero-point extractor myself, but," I hold up a finger when Sammie rocks back on her heels, eyes going wide in surprise and worry, "the one that my power suggested would've been for a bomb, not a reactor. On the other hand, using an abstract concept on my world – the Arc Fusion reactor Tesla hypothesized – was easier, because it required fewer rare materials for a basic concept, and would have a better energy-to-mass efficiency ratio than a zero-point extractor; even better, a proper Arc reactor can scale up or down, is easy to replicate on an assembly line, and not only can power a suit of power armor, it can power all my inventions too."

I shut my mouth; by the golden abs of Scion, was I always so talkative? It didn't feel bad, really…

"Like that Turret you built?" Sammie asks, tilting her head to one side and reminding me…

"Yeah… poor Sparky…" I hang my head with a sigh at the memory of my most complicated invention after my helmet, which protected me through all of Osiris' insanity; realizing that Sammie knows about it, I ask hopefully, "Y-You found him, right?" Sure, Sparky was a rough invention, but with the right materials and a little work, I can make him good as new- ooh, or turn him into a mobile defense platform with anti-grav pylons that I can ride-

"Yep!" Sammie's hair bounces as she nods, "Atlas picked him up when they were on the way out of the Shaft. Other than a serrated spike of chitin and some torn wires and stabilizing pipes, and a big dent on the top ball, there's not much other damage. We're still decontaminating your equipment, though, so it'll be an… hour and three minutes before you can get your tools on him again."

Oh! Not as bad as I thought, so Sparky will be able to live again! The worst part will be repairing the dent on the ball, because that's where the lightning emitter, sensor modules and electron-gathering gyroscope are; odds are I'll just replace it with something else, or strip Sparky down until it's just his computer and Arc reactor.

Once done… wait… ugh.

All of this is moot until I can get my own lab set up. Drat.

I blow out a sigh and lay spread-eagle on my bed, trying to think of anything but Tinker-tech, "That's a relief… do you know what they're going to do with me?"

It's the elephant in the room: no matter what Alexandria said, I still destroyed a school, tore reality open to access another Earth – by accident, yes, but certain political blowhards weren't likely to care – injured hundreds of students, killed nearly forty people, and caused an incident that made national news. Yes, I also killed an Endbringer-lite – what the fucking crow could've done to my world still makes my skin crawl, even though I know the abomination's dead as can be – but, for various reasons, only a few people in high places are likely going to know about that.

"Well," Sammie sits on the edge of my bed; for a second, she stares at her right hand, then shakes her head, muttering, "jeez, still need to get used to this… Mum told the PRT that, as the one who beat the crow, you have the final say on whether or not to make what happened down there public; fair warning, though: if you do that, there'll need to be some video proof to go along with it."

"So… nothing classified, or stuff that shows the crow?" I ask, getting an affirmative nod in return; humming, I think about it for a bit, weighing the pros and cons, before replying with, "I… I think I need a few days to think about it."

Try to feel like a person again.

"You can take all the time you need, Taylor! I mean," she smiles impishly; what is she up to? "after you get reunited with your Dad."

That makes me sit up, "Dad?"

She nods and beckons, taking a step toward the door, "Yep! He just got here ten minutes ago; he's almost done with the NDAs and- woop!"

"Let's go!" I say, trying to drag the much heavier AAI android out of my room, "Also, why the hell do you have a steel skeleton?! You must be heavy as my Dad's truck!"

"Are you callin' me fat, little miss beefy hips?" she asks with a teasing grin.

"No, but maybe add a little titanium instead of iron to your diet!"

"P-shaw, titanium is brittle. All those people who say it isn't are foolin' themselves, thinking it's the strongest metal just because titan is in the name."

Fair point, but, "Well-" I freeze for a second, my power slapping me with a metaphorical fish… and I smile, telling Sammie my newest idea while she leads me to the nearby elevators, which looks so much better than Old Aperture's, the surrounding walls currently showcasing all the different paint options for Aperture's Security Turret, "How about… a hardlight 3D printer? See, first I'll need to see how your hardlight bridges compare to Brandish's – that's Panacea's mom, she's a Breaker – basically, find out how Aperture tech holds up in comparison to a Parahuman's hardlight; once I cross-reference the differences and similarities, I should be able to replicate the effect as a material, create panels and simple structures, like pop-up bunkers, with it while removing the harmful elements, such as the whole 'burn your face off if touched' parts, and then comes the really fun stuff, like prosthetics, bone replacements, and vehicle designs…"


Protectorate ENE
3:44 AM


"This place has been around since the late 1940's. There's pre-recorded messages that play at intervals; the previous owner of Aperture, Cave Johnson, said something about having test subjects fight an army of mantis men, and something about Repulsion Gel. I'm guessing you guys won't be able to get to me for a while," the door came back into view, accompanied by a weak, hopeless laugh, "probably because your facility would fall into this shaft if you try cutting down here. So I'll come to you, hope there aren't any mantis men left," the horrible, wracking coughs that interrupted the statement made Colin wince, "…and try not to die in the process."

The recording cut away to a full-body shot of Spelunker, taken shortly after she recovered from her ordeal, wearing the gear she wore in Aperture; all of the Tinker-tech, while clearly slapdash and hastily-made, had a… finished quality to it, somehow. Like it was all created as intended, would function as desired, and would operate with efficiency, until repairs were inevitably needed.

Contrasting this were the orange jumpsuit, pristine black-and-white long-fall boots, and the zero-point extractor-powered handheld portal device. The sleek, futurist design of Aperture tech, combined with the half-finished yet efficient aesthetic of Spelunker's Tinker-tech, and the heroic stance the girl was taking in the image, painted a desperate, but hopeful, picture of the world's newest – and most controversial – Tinker.

While the image slowly began a close-up of Spelunker's tinted visor, a female newscaster provided commentary, "So began the adventure of the Tinker who has come to be known as Spelunker. Having escaped a gang-related murder attempt at her school by using an untested piece of Tinker-tech, the teenage girl found herself not only on another Earth, one that hadn't been contacted by our own, but in a sealed-off section of a cutting edge laboratory: Aperture Laboratories, a private contractor for a different United States' military."

The television showed a series of slides and short videos, file images from Aperture's early days that Dr. Emerson – the AAI GLaDOS – gave the PRT for this public address, "A company that made its fortune on their revolutionary portal technology, the same technology they used to contact us and ask for Protectorate assistance in rescuing Spelunker, Aperture Labs nonetheless has a checkered business history. Human experimentation, pointless inventions, and a general disregard for health and safety resulted in the company going bankrupt in the mid-1980's. However, many of the scientists, most of them possessed of a cruelty that would make them the worst sort of villains, decided to continue working, in the hopes of discovering immortality through Artificial Intelligence.

"They succeeded. Unfortunately, the AI they created didn't appreciate their method to creating said AI, which apparently involved lobotomizing children. Therefore, when they contacted us, Aperture Laboratories was found to be run and staffed entirely by AI who have one mission and one mission only: to ensure the survival and progress of the human race, through invention."

"So they're not going to try invading us?" asked a male newscaster with humor; laughter followed.

"Oh, no! They've been friendly so far, and want to help with Endbringer relief and evacuations. But there'll be more on that later. First, Spelunker needed to escape from the sealed-off facility, Old Aperture, where all the horrors of the company's former owners lay in wait, from quote-unquote 'mantis-men', to toxic air and water, to a murderous AI taking the form of a crow, Spelunker had her work cut out for her, but not to worry! The Aperture AI's had her back!"

Colin turned off the monitor and went back to examining the scans and notes on the Arc reactor Spelunker had given Kid Win several days ago, when she'd met the Wards in her official capacity as Aperture Liaison to the PRT. Compared to the initial scans of her 1st-gen shoulder reactor, a disk twice the size of a silver dollar in all dimensions, the newer device was 2000% more energy efficient, 15% smaller in thickness, and sported a much more advanced cooling system.

It also incorporated Aperture designs – forwarded to him by GLaDOS, through Dragon – that, when he cross-referenced them, revealed that Taylor Hebert used an Aperture version of a basic particle accelerator as inspiration for her design. The new reactor would also be one of four she would be placing in her power armor, which would…

Colin saw the phrase 'graviton-annihilating forcefields over the forearm plates that move with the armor's wearer, preventing damage to the vehicle, deployed through the use of micro-projectors while also creating an offensive pseudo-Striker power' and buried his face in his hands.

Yes, she wasn't the PRT or Protectorate ENE's problem, but if Spelunker wasn't an S-class threat waiting to happen, Armsmaster didn't know what was.

He called Dragon. It took her 3.12 seconds longer than usual to answer.

"Hi, Colin," smiled Dragon, her digital avatar looking… almost human, right down to the individual hairs as she adjusted a few stray strands; she looked and sounded very… chipper, he supposed.

Nonetheless, there was business to conduct. "Dragon. I've finished looking over Spelunker's newest Arc reactor. I'm ready to discuss its intended uses, if you are."

"Amazing, isn't it?" she looked starry-eyed; understandable. The design was scalable – his own experiments revealed it worked at skin-cell level – so Dragon would like to incorporate it into her suits, "I was just talking with Gladys- sorry, Dr. Emerson, about its application in supercomputers and other high-yield computational devices. Would you like me to bring her on?"

Supercomp… Colin suppressed a sigh, reminded himself that of course Dragon would be enamored with the idea of an AI as complex and self-sufficient as GLaDOS – it was a technological achievement like none other, nevermind the personal implications – and pressed on with the reason for his call, "I take it you're not aware of Spelunker's little collab with Kid Win?"

"Uh-oh, what did they do?" his friend asked, smirking a little, "Do I need to mobilize a few suits to corral the eldritch horrors they've unleashed?"

Ah, she was jesting. Trying to lighten the mood, his HUD's Social Interaction Program told him; therefore, he followed the cue and smirked back, but it was more bitter, reflecting his mood on the subject, "No, she just wants to put four fist-sized Arcs into her first suit of actual power armor, so she can have graviton-annihilating forcefield projectors… also," he squinted at some of Hebert's shorthand, and Chris' chicken-scratch schematics, "a… positron catapult, a directed laser, and… honestly, I'm just going to send you the scans I have so far. She's planning on putting everything except ICBMs and nanobot plagues into this thing."

"Okay, the catapult and laser I get, I mean, those are Tinker staples," admitted Dragon while Colin picked up the stack of 279 pages of loose-leaf, lined, sketch and graph paper, and plopped it all onto his 3D scanner, which would scan each individual sheet and render them all into PDF format, "but graviton-annihilating forcefields? I haven't even tried to put something like that onto my S-class suits. Hold on, let me get Dr. Emerson on the line."

"She has clearance," Colin waved off, reminded of the heated argument between himself, Director Piggot, and Ms. Hebert about giving the AAI access to the Protectorate call lists. Armsmaster could see the benefits of having a friendly AI providing regular security checks, the Director agreed but wanted more restrictions on both Aperture and Spelunker, and Spelunker herself…

"I work for Aperture, humanity, and my city, in order of personal importance. I'm not a Ward, nor am I affiliated with your organization, beyond assisting and collaborating with your Tinkers when asked and paid to do so. Therefore, Director, unless you want to explain to the Chief Director why you want to renegotiate our contract, I recommend you do as I've been doing since finding out one of your Wards put me in that locker: grin and bear it."

Armsmaster would be lying if he said that it didn't give him a feeling of vicarious vindication seeing his PRT counterpart shut up by a 15-year-old; most of the other Protectorate capes agreed, when he showed them the video in secret a few hours later.

Next to Dragon's screen, another digital avatar appeared.

GLaDOS didn't even try to hide her inhumanity. Her skin was monochrome, her hair and labcoat whiter than snow, and the turtleneck she wore so black it seemed to absorb light. One of her eyes was a glowing yellow light, while the other was clearly blind, a pair of scars marring Dr. Gladys Emerson's otherwise perfectly statuesque features.

The birch wood desk and white-paneled walls she added to the visual feed were a nice touch. Colin couldn't even tell they were digital renderings.

"Good morning, Armsmaster," the severe-looking AAI nodded, lone functional eye taking in his form, "Ungodly hour aside, I understand you have some concerns about Taylor's recent brainstorming session with Kid Win?"

'Damn sleepless robots,' clearing his throat, Colin cut to the chase, "Part of our agreement with Aperture bars either the Protectorate or your own company developing S-class tech with either organization's aid."

"Ah, yes, the 'CUI clause'. What of it?" drawled Dr. Emerson with clear distaste. Colin agreed with the sentiment, even though he had no choice but to follow it; the CUI had already threatened the United States twice in the past six weeks, over their continuing involvement with Aperture.

It likely didn't help that GLaDOS contacted the CUI's leaders directly, and essentially told them that Aperture would do business with whoever they wished; the company was interested in humanity's survival, and would assist no matter the nation. If the CUI wanted to do business, they could contact Aperture through official channels. And if the Chinese decided to get violent, or push Aperture away just because?

Nobody actually knew what Dr. Emerson said to them, but the Chinese really didn't like it; not that there was much they could do, other than bray and beat their chests.

Aperture could poke holes in the fabric of reality and was equipped with WMDs, not all of which were nuclear in nature. And that wasn't taking the 'Testing Androids', Atlas and Pea-Body, into account, or any of the AAI Cores… or what Spelunker might do to them.

The girl removed an S-class threat while dying. What she'd do to a threat that appeared while she was healthy, nevermind prepared

Anyway, "The graviton-dispersal fields are a breach of the clause, as they could be repurposed as a doomsday device, particularly a directed beam weapon." Colin was going to go on to explain why, but…

"No they can't," Dr. Emerson replied in a bored voice; she flicked a hand in a flippant gesture, after which several of Colin's screens were filled with a series of blueprints and short video clips; the Doctor continued, "As you can see, we at Aperture have put the designs involved through rigorous tests. The field dissipates, always, two inches after leaving the projectors. Adding wavelength amplifiers doesn't seem to work, either, which is a first when it comes to anything related to Emancipation Grills."

Which explained to Colin where Hebert got the idea, but-

"Finally, I had that bomber you paid us to capture try to create a device that uses graviton-dispersal tech; she succeeded, although the range was still very small, less than six feet as a matter of fact, and the materials involved were frightfully expensive and rare, so it's not something that can be put into production for regular use," Dr. Emerson ignored Colin's shocked gaping – they let BAKUDA build a graviton-annihilating BOMB?! – had her avatar lean back in her chair, and hummed thoughtfully, "I theorize that either you, Leet, or String Theory might be able to produce such an awful device-"

"But it's still extremely unlikely to work," Dragon cut in calmly, bringing up several schematics, graphs, tables, wave-form simulations… and a timer, a recent addition to her collaborations with Colin, "From what I can tell, trying to make the effect act in three dimensions beyond a certain point is, frankly, impossible. The particle fields break down if you try to make anything resembling a cylinder."

"You could contain it internally, as in the case of a pipe bomb," Colin theorized slowly, ignoring Dr. Emerson's desk suddenly displaying a bright red monitor, which she began working on with speed that simply wasn't possible, for a human anyway, "But, given what you've told me, making an MEG interact with itself like that will make it overload anyway… Ah, I see what you mean, by Bakuda not being able to make it expand to long range."

Dragon nodded with a smile, "The power-to-effect ratio can't be justified, especially given the materials involved in creating a MEG in the first place aren't exactly common outside actual military R&D sites…"

Both Colin and Dragon were then distracted by a notification:


From: Aperture C. Admin Dr. Gladys J. Emerson
Subject: High-Profile Canadian Threats (Dragonslayers, Heartbreaker)

To whom it may concern,

Saint has been located. He and his Dragonslayers, with armor, are hiding in the former KOTT inc. Building Supply, Lincolnville, Canada, near Lafarge Aggregate Suppliers.

Current assets are attached [here]. All Dragon-tech suits, computers, and other networked items have been disabled; however, security surveillance has revealed multiple armed mercenaries on site. Flashbangs and teargas are recommended.

Also, [Toronto CCTV] has revealed Heartbreaker's current location. Aperture Cores Atlas, Pea-Body, Rodney, and Jessica have been deployed to terminate him and secure all Mastered individuals. Canadian Mounties and Guild authorities have been notified and are en route to assist in the takedown.

Good hunting, ladies and gentlemen.

-Dr. Gladys Emerson (GLaDOS)
Chief Administrator, R&D Director, Operations Director, Central Core
Aperture Laboratories
Earth Skye


Colin breathed a sigh of relief; finally, he didn't need to worry about Saint looking over Dragon's shoulder and, possibly, selling Armsmaster's, or worse, Aperture's, designs to Toybox. That, and he didn't need to pretend about her humanity – or lack thereof – any longer. The incipient removal of Heartbreaker from the board was just icing on the delicious cake.

And yes, Spelunker had shared a slice of her Victory Cake with him. He'd sent a report to the PRT's Security Department, to the effect of giving a slice of said cake a Master 3 rating. The rating for the entire cake was still under consideration, pending PRT personnel completing an Enrichment Center Activity.

"If you'll both excuse me," Dragon's smile was more a vicious showing of teeth, "Narwhal and I have an… appointment, with a certain pair of supervillains."

"Give Saint an extra kick in the balls from me," Colin growled; after getting a promise that she would, Dragon left, leaving the Protectorate ENE leader alone with GLaDOS, whose digital avatar was examining her fingernails. To her, he asked, "How much longer?"

"Until our restrictions are lifted?" after he gave an affirming grunt, the powerful AAI sighed, but smiled wanly, "Dragon's will take Taylor's and your combined efforts to deal with, as they were emplaced by another Tinker. Once Saint is safely in a Relaxation Vault, and a few other loose ends are tied up, I'll send her over for a briefing."

"Assuming the little terror doesn't already know." Colin quipped with a smirk.

GLaDOS chuckled lowly, looking supremely amused, "Indeed. Her ability to puzzle out information at a glance is positively… impressive."

Colin nodded, then asked, "And your own issues?"

"Classified. I'm serious," she added when he frowned at him, "I literally can't look at what she's doing in regards to the Core codes. All I can say is that Anger likes her, which is honestly incredible. Jess never liked anyone, that I know of."

Shaking his head, Colin decided to segue back to familiar territory, "Well, while I have you here…" he brought up the basic theory papers and schematics behind the Nanothorn Project; a small burst of satisfaction flitted through him when he saw Dr. Emerson's eye light up in genuine interest, "We're having a small issue with overheating and stability, and I'd like your opinion on the matter…"


Dallon Residence


Vicky dusted her hands off and smiled at her handiwork: two black bars, fastened to the wall of the garage. Each one was half a meter taller than her Dad, standing next to her with the power drill, and the sides of the bars that faced each other held a white glow in their depths. On the top of each bar was a small symbol, 8 triangles that formed a circle, Aperture Laboratories printed underneath each one.

Ames had been really specific on where, how, and what color the wall needed to be, when installing the newest addition to their household: an "Aperture Science Stationary Interdimensional Transit Portal Activator", which would allow Vicky's sister to commute between her new job – Aperture Biologic Wing Intern (paid) – and home, without having to go through the PRT's new security clearance, like Taylor needed to.

Vicky had only met Taylor, the girl who accidentally destroyed Winslow, twice, once when she left Aperture through the Winslow portal before it was permanently closed – giving Sammie a tearful hug before being led back to Earth Bet by her dad – and again when the Tinker asked Vicky's Mom to demonstrate her power, as Taylor was trying to find a way to mass-produce hardlight, ostensibly to create a new type of catch-all material that would, one day, replace steel.

Pretty much everyone in the world knew what Taylor did, at this point: pitted against an enemy that wanted to enslave all life, one that Armsmaster confirmed was on par with an Endbringer, while also dying from an infection, the dorky brunette gritted her teeth and made the stupid AI eat dirt.

Vicky respected that kind of heroism. Sure, Taylor couldn't fly, or punch very hard, without building something to help her do those things, but she didn't let that stop her. The younger girl was dead-set on becoming the best hero she could be, and damnit if Vicky wasn't gonna help her out.

The Aperture inventions she brought to the Dallon family – which included a lightsaber bread-slicer – really helped Vicky cement her opinion of "Spelunker", the Tinker who needed a better name.

"So… now what?" asked Mark, right before the device on the wall hummed and opened to reveal…

A tropical rainforest, with exotic birds twittering and screeching, but… the floor was white-paneled, meaning the whole place was inside Aperture.

Vicky totally wasn't jealous (she was extremely jealous).

Then Ames and Taylor came into view, the latter wearing a labcoat, her hair pulled back into a curly ponytail, and helping keep the large metal cubes on the hand truck Ames, who was wearing shorts and a tank top, was carting through the portal.

"Hey, Vicky. Hello, Mr. Dallon," Taylor piped up, lifting the hand truck with a little effort to get it through the portal; Vicky floated over and helped, "Thanks."

"No problem," Vicky watched Ames pluck the top box off the cart and start wobbling toward the kitchen, "Need a little help, Ames?"

"Yeah, just don't drop it." Vicky rolled her eyes and carefully took the crate from her sister. She barely felt the weight, but that wasn't any reason to be careless about it.

"So what're these?" their Dad asked, helping Taylor with the other two crates, one of which was too heavy to move without the truck, "More rewards from the rescue mission?"

"Yep," Taylor nodded, her awesomely curly hair bouncing from the movement; Vicky wondered when the girl and Kid Win were going to go on a date. Vista said the two practically needed a crowbar to separate them last time they Tinkered together. "Two Aperture Science Congratulatory Cakes, and some gold bullion."

"Wait, gold?! Ames, you didn't say you were getting paid in gold!" Vicky grinned at her sister while setting the crate on the kitchen island, where their Mom was doing some paperwork; the elder Dallon woman blinked and looked up with a serious expression on her face, though it softened when Taylor, goofy smile on her face, walked in with Mark.

"Couldn't talk about it until it was all packaged and ready for delivery. Aperture takes its contracts really seriously," huffed Ames, before looking over at their Mom, "Speaking of which, Mom, we're gonna need to hit the bank tomorrow, get these coins stored."

"Is Aperture allowed to mint its own coins?" asked Carol worriedly, looking over at Taylor, who was carefully putting the other Storage Cube – presumably with cake inside – into the Dallon family pantry.

"No, they're just 8-ounce blanks, with .9999 purity; the Treasury shouldn't give you any grief over them. Which is lucky," Taylor gave Ames a faux-dirty look, which was returned with a smug grin, "They paid me in bars. Do you know how hard it is to break down a gold bar into manageable pieces?"

"You. Are. A. Tinker." Ames pointed out, "It can't be that hard."

"What were you paid for? Forgive me," Carol added, looking interested, "but, other than the containment foam rockets you sold to the PRT, I'm not aware of anything you've done that deserves monetary reward."

After exchanging a look with Ames, Taylor replied, "It's the internal reward for successfully terminating one of the Four Heresies."

Oh. Vicky remembered, and so did her Mom, as the older Dallon just nodded and let the matter drop in favor of watching Amy struggle to open her Storage Cube. Director Piggot had called everyone – including any villains who would agree to it – for a seminar, where Alexandria's helmet camera footage, from when she rescued Taylor, was shown to them.

The E88 and ABB were the only ones who hadn't seen it, but Faultline got the message. Uber and Leet… Vicky didn't think a day had gone by, yet, where one of the pair didn't try calling Spelunker – Taylor's cape name – out for a video game-themed showdown on PHO. Which were constantly ignored.

Apparently, GLaDOS had forbidden Taylor from getting into cape fights. Vicky didn't see why. Taylor might be skinny, but damn, could that girl handle herself!

Finally, Ames got the Cube open; the container parted in four directions with a quiet hiss of depressurization and hydraulics…

Revealing the most delectable-looking cake Vicky had ever seen! A round chocolate Black Forest cake, its icing masterfully crafted, each of the 8 cherries gleaming with red deliciousness… and the smell, oh GOD, Vicky felt like she was sinning just looking at the cake. Her Mom was staring at it with a slightly open mouth, and Mark was already grabbing forks and plates.

"Behold!" with a cry, Taylor gestured bombastically, making Ames break down into a fit of giggles, "The interdimensionally-famous Aperture Science Victory Cake, the most delicious cake you'll ever grace your taste buds with, OR ELSE!"

"Or else what?" Vicky asked between chuckles; she was actually really glad Taylor could be cheesy sometimes. She knew Ames liked Mouse Protector for that reason, but, and Vicky was in agreement with Clockblocker on this one, there was always room for more cheese.

"I dunno," shrugged Taylor with a cheeky grin; as Ames cut the cake, and Vicky hovered in the air – good god, it looked so delicious and moist! – the Tinker jerked a thumb in the direction of the garage, "Anyway, I have some things to do, and this is Amy's cake, so-"

"Stay," insisted Carol, gesturing for Taylor to sit with a smile, "Your Tinkering can wait for a few minutes."

"Yeah, and I wouldn't have gotten this cake, or an awesome bioengineering job, if it wasn't for you," Ames added, pushing a plate toward Taylor, who looked at it with… concern? "What's wrong?"

"Nothing! It's just…" she took a deep breath, sighed, then looked at each of the Dallons in turn, "I've, uh, already had a slice of this cake with my Dad. It's… it's really good cake."

"That's the opposite of a problem!" Vicky grinned, which made Taylor shrug and nod reluctantly; everyone had their own plate now, so Glory Girl raised her plate of delicious cake in toast, "To The Amy, Aperture Science's future Director of Biotechnology!"

"To The Amy!" Mark ruffled the freckled girl's hair, Carol joining the cry with an amused smirk, Taylor grinning across the table at her scrunched-faced coworker.

As one, all four Dallons and one Hebert ate one forkful of Victory Cake…

Vicky's world turned into a cascading waterfall of cherry-garnished chocolate fudge with a hint of vanilla, which she swam through, falling into the rapids and blissfully backstroking into a warm, calm whirlpool of happiness and rich chocolatey goodness. As soon as the confectionary delight passed her tonsils and swirled its way to her stomach, a feeling hit Glory Girl like an adamantine brick. Her Mom's choked gasp, Dad's blinking at the cake on his plate, and Ames going starry-eyed showed they felt the same thing Vicky did.

Everything's going to be okay.

"…holy shit, Sammie wasn't kidding," Ames reported through happy tears, quickly carving another luscious forkful from her slice, "This is the best fucking cake I've ever tasted."

"This… does this cake have a Master rating?" Carol asked in wonder, wiping tears away, ignoring Ames' swearing in favor of eating another bite, "Oh~, god, call the PRT, someone. We need to update their M/S protocols to include this thing."

"I feel… good," said Mark, smiling, actually smiling! "I think I'll go for a bike ride later. Feel like joining me, Carol?" Vicky's Mom nodded, too busy nomming chocolate cake to reply.

"Ames, can I have the recipe for this?" asked Vicky between bites. So good~, she needed to save some for Dean… nah.

"No." chorused Ames and Taylor, the latter continuing seriously, waving around a piece of cake she speared on her fork, "Seriously, don't even bother asking. Other than Dr. Emerson, the Security Core, and Wheatley, nobody has the clearance to know the recipe for Victory Cake. Even when Amy gets Director access after she graduates and I get Board privileges when I turn 18, we won't be allowed to know it."

"Well, what do I gotta do for one, because I need to have one of these for my 18th birthday!"

Taylor and Ames exchanged a glance, then grinned at Vicky. 'Uh oh.'

"Funny you should ask," Ames said too sweetly, "See, Taylor and I have some inventions we need to… Test."


Earth Skye


Sophia's last memory, before waking up feeling cold, was a judge sentencing her to 5 years in prison for attempted murder and instigation of 6 Trigger Events.

She hadn't been allowed to defend herself, to justify her actions. Looking back, though…

What right did they have to judge her, for keeping the lesser parts of humanity in their place? She hadn't really hurt anyone, after all; they were just sheep. Easily replaced, practically the same as any other. In any case, those new Triggers should be thanking her, especially Hebert, for giving them power.

Opening her eyes as a sharp wind hit her face, Sophia blinked. Her mouth opened in awe at the sight above her.


The sky was clearer than she'd ever seen it before, even in the countryside. The stars, the band of the Galaxy, cloudy swaths of nebulae, they were so bright that it almost seemed daytime, rather than the middle of the night. Sophia's breath misted as she sat up and looked around, finding herself laying on… on…

Everything was ice, as far as the eye could see, an endless glacier that stretched from horizon to horizon, with no mountains, no reference points that she could see. Examining herself, Sophia found she was dressed in an orange jumpsuit, with S. HESS printed on a white strip under another logo, which read Aperture Laboratories. On her feet were a pair of strange-looking, futuristic boots, with a black band of material arcing from her calves to just behind the heels. She was wearing gloves, and a hood had been partially pulled over her head.

"They're beautiful, aren't they?" a familiar voice said behind her.

Jumping up and spinning to crouch, just in case she needed to pounce, Sophia saw Hebert… dressed in a suit and tie, labcoat, hair pulled into a ponytail, and a pair of boots that, at first sight, were like the ones Sophia was wearing… but Hebert's were clearly modified, bulkier all around. The brunette was looking up at the stars, their light glinting off her glasses, hands behind her back, mouth set into a slight frown.

Something… was different about Hebert, and not just the labcoat and suit, which also had Aperture logos on them. She even had a lanyard around her neck, with what looked like an employee ID badge.

But something was different. Something about the girl's face?

"Where the fuck are we, Hebert?" demanded Sophia with a growl, not taking her eyes off the other girl. Something was wrong, here; something about the way Hebert stood there made the hairs on Sophia's neck stand up.

"Earth Skye," the labcoat-clad girl looked down and met Sophia's eyes, expression flat and emotionless, "Current home of Aperture Laboratories, the place I ended up after you shoved me in that locker, and your new home for the next five years."

They weren't on Earth Bet.

"Oh, hell no!" protested Sophia, standing up and glaring hard at Hebert, "I want my fucking lawyer, or-"

"You've already been convicted of six felonies, Sophia, and you were publicly labeled as the person who set things in motion so that explosion would occur, Triggering five other people and traumatizing nearly a thousand others. That's not counting the dead, either," Hebert cut across Sophia's demand with a hiss, making Sophia want to claw the stupid sheep bitch's face off, "Your civilian identity is trash, at this point; there isn't a lawyer on Earth Bet who'd want to represent you. Your mother's already changed her last name left the state-"

Sophia lunged at the bitch. They were alone out here, so nobody would know-

She passed straight through Hebert's body and belly-flopped into a snowdrift.

"Also, this is a hologram, you fucking idiot. I'm broadcasting from the facility proper," Hebert scoffed while Sophia spat out snow and glared at the fucking bitch who was sneering down at her; high above them, the Breaker spotted a glimmer; a drone of some sort, "Seriously, Sophia, I knew you were stupid, but did you seriously think I'd actually talk to you in person?" she shook her head, "Just proves I'm a better hero than you ever tried to be."

"You're not a fucking hero, you goddamn sheep!" yelled Sophia, "Y-gggggguuuuhhhh!"

An electric current ran through her body, sending Sophia back to the snow as she convulsed. It felt like getting hit with a Taser.

Eventually, Hebert let up, and continued, "Wrong on both counts. A lot's happened since you were sedated and given a speedy trial, Sophie." She was going to kill her, by Scion's majestic beard, "But, really, that'll have to wait until you can find your apartment in the facility proper, which'll be your home for the next five years. Speaking of which, walk with me," Hebert's hologram started walking, toward a glowing light that wasn't too far away; when Sophia didn't follow, the freak turned around and asked, "Or you can stay out here and freeze to death. Your choice."

Grumbling a few swear words, Sophia followed. Neither girl spoke for several minutes, until they came to the rim of a huge crater, one that wasn't visible until they were a few feet from it.

Sophia's jaw dropped in abject shock at what she saw, while Hebert smugly said, "Welcome to Aperture Technologies."

A tower of reflective glass pointed skyward like an upside-down, skyscraper-sized thumbtack. At its base, and the surrounding city-sized plain, were countless solar panels, large blocky structures, and… some kind of launch pad? There was a huge white rocket being moved into place, some kilometers away, a large blue Aperture logo on the tip. Plumes of steam rose from the enormous, round plain, which was colored blue, black, and white.

Around the hundred-meter-high walls of the crater, there were glowing blue panels the size of the Medhall building, keeping the thick ice sheet from falling onto the cityscape of machines below; against the ice sheet itself, bright red lasers and large mining equipment slowly dug away at the immense frozen crust of the world.

A backpack dropping into the snow next to Sophia shook her from her wondering shock; looking up, she spotted another, larger drone speeding back toward the immense structure below them.

Hebert started talking again, "So, given that keeping you on ice – pun intended – wouldn't be productive to the pursuit of Science," Sophia suppressed a shiver at hearing the capital letter; somehow, she had a feeling that what was about to happen was going to make her wish for a one-on-one fight with Lung. "The facility's administrator wants to see what you're really made of; hence, this… Test."

This time, Sophia did shiver. Hebert's smile was vicious.

"Inside that backpack are your Shadow Stalker helmet, two weeks' worth of ration bars, a moisture condenser, an electric screwdriver, a bedroll, some experimental healing pills Panacea needs to test on living subjects-"

"Wha…?" Sophia felt her protests die when Hebert glared coldly at her. Panacea was in on this?!

"-don't interrupt again, or you'll get a stronger shock- and, finally, a Mark-15 Collapsible Handheld Quantum Tunneling Device, with a user manual on how to use it and the white paint pellet gun. Also, the boots you're wearing will help you survive falls from high places, so you'll be able to jump from up here and land safely… well, relatively safely, on the facility's upper deck." Indicating the cityscape with a finger, Hebert finished, "Your goal is to reenter the facility, navigate your way to Floor 27, complete the 12 Enrichment Center Puzzles that're there, and… then you'll be allowed to rest and mingle with your fellow prisoners. I understand Squealer's recovering nicely; that's her space rocket, by the way. Oh, and don't worry about being disintegrated by the security lasers, they've been told not to target you; if they shoot anyway, just tell them that you're going to complain to their manager and they should stop. Any questions?"

Sophia opened her mouth, several dozen questions on the tip of her tongue-

"Great. Good luck, Sophie. I'll tell Emma you said 'hi', next time I visit her in juvie." And, with a grin and a cheeky wave, Hebert vanished, the drone that'd been projecting the Tinker's hologram descending silently into the crater.

Leaving Sophia alone, on a windy glacier, with nothing but a bag of supplies and a pair of admittedly comfortable and good-looking boots for company.

After thirty seconds of disbelieving gaping and personal self-reflection, Sophia succinctly expressed her feelings on this most recent development in her life.

"GOD DAMNIT TO SHIT!" she screamed, about to fling the backpack into the crater; she stopped herself with a great amount of effort, snarled in frustration, then dug into its depths to retrieve her helmet. She'd show Hebert how strong she was, and how weak the fucking nerd was, and then


Aperture Laboratories


GLaDOS opened and closed her hand, the pale synthetic flesh moving as easily as the real thing. She knew there were pistons and hydraulic lines activating with every twitch of thought, microscopic panels moving in her face to simulate expressions… yet, these sensations were mutable.

Her labcoat was… warm. The synthetic skin wrapping her chassis felt tingly. A breath – the inhalation spinning turbines in her body, assisting the micro-Arc Reactors in powering the android – there was smell, taste.

She opened her mouth, considered, then looked Taylor in the eye.

"Why does my chamber smell like pine air fresheners?"

Without missing a beat, the young Tinker grinned and replied, "Because Wheatley and I sprayed every surface in that scent, while your consciousness was copied into this body," smile falling away while Gladys chuckled and ran a hand over the wooden desk that was gifted to her by Dragon, Taylor then asked, "Any problems? Stiffness, loss of feeling?"

"Taylor, for nearly three decades, I've been unable to experience the feel of air on my skin except in memory," looking up, GLaDOS observed her "true" body, the 6-story-sized Central Core Module; the bottom part, where she was able to express herself, was folded into itself, inert until she decided to use it again, "Any sensation at all is better than what I had."

"Just… let me know if something goes wrong, okay?" the poor girl looked worried, how endearing.

"That shouldn't be for a long time yet. You've done good work, honestly," she held out an arm, adjusted her legs – clad in Antigrav-equipped Long-Fall Boots – then… Gladys spun in her office chair, cheering in a flat voice, "Wheeeeeeeee!"

Another few moments of Taylor laugher later, Sammie and Jess entered GLaDOS' chamber.

The Anger Core, while a girl, looked very boyish; the opposite of Sammie's bright cheeriness, Jess was constantly scowling, her short, spiky black hair and sharp gaze… well, it wasn't any surprise that Taylor, who was recovering from her ordeal steadily, gave the cantankerous Core the pet name-

"Hey there Sammie! Hi, Pointy McScowlypants!"

"Fuck off, Doctor Curlyhair," rejoined Jess, her scowl lessening very slightly as Sammie gave Taylor a hug; they were on good terms, partly because of Taylor's deeds in Old Aperture, and partly because Taylor was Sammie's best friend, "You ready to go? The ribbon cutting's in half an hour, and you know how your boyfriend gets about PR."

"Chris isn't my boyfriend!" lied Taylor, face turning red as Sammie gave her a flat look and Jess rolled her eyes; Gladys cleared her throat and snapped her fingers, bringing up multiple candid photos – courtesy Atlas and Pea, Taylor and Amelia's discrete bodyguards on Earth Bet – of Taylor and Chris having tender, private moments at Arcadia, only some of which involved Tinkering. The effect on Taylor was spectacular, her blush going nuclear while the two other Cores cackled, "GLADYS!"

Laughing lowly, GLaDOS stood up, "He's a nice boy, Taylor, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Make sure you don't overwhelm him; you can be a force of Tinkering nature, when you set your mind to it," the girl mumbled to herself and scuffed the floor with her boots, which gave the Central Core a chance to speak to her actual daughters, "And girls, don't tease Taylor about her love life."

"But it's so funny!" Jess grinned maliciously. Gladys decided to nip this in the bud, before Taylor became overly anxious, which might cause stage fright during her speech later.

"Hmm, why Jess, you have such an interesting Internet search history," Gladys idly stated, raising her hand to snap her fingers, Jess' face going from gleeful to mortified, "Let's see, ooh! Been looking up cape fanfics, have we? I wonder who you ship?"


BeanBagBunnies: Mum, YES! :D

BellaDonna: Remember to be polite and not cause problems at the Aperture flagship store's grand opening, and I won't tell Taylor you ship her with Glory Girl.

RADARADAGRRR: …not my fault they're meant to be. :-(

BoxJockey: BLASPHEMY! Glory Girl x Tattletale OTP FTW!


BoxJocky: I WILL BURY YOU, n00b! :P

FactMachine: Brothers, sisters, calm. Everyone knows Regent x Tattletale is the one true OTP.

FunkyThinkin: Lies. Lies and slander. Dragon/Armsmaster is the best pairing, mostly because it's true.

MrTenHUT: Pssh, Panacea x Parian FTW!

AmyZING_Freckles: You know I can see all this, right?

RADARADAGRRR: Great, now Taylor's gonna know before the day is out!

BellaDonna: Not if you behave yourself. Are you going to be nice while in the Bay, or will Taylor have to see what you've been writing about her?

SpaceCop: "Tenderly, Glory Girl looked into Spelunker's sparkling emerald eyes. To herself, the blonde admitted she could get lost in that gaze, drown in it, without regrets. Their lips brushed and pressed, becoming more and more heated beneath Arcadia's bleachers, and, with provocative shame coursing through her bloodstream, the belle of New Wave began to wish to drown in another part of her lover's anatomy…" wow, sis, that's… wow.


BoxJockey: O

AmyZING_Freckles: Woof, that's one steamy clambake, Jess ;-)

FunkyThinkin: Do we need to replace our CPU coolant systems, because it's getting a little warm in here!

BeanBagBunnies: Oh my~, how lewd! ^.^

"I'll be good." Jess said in GLaDOS' chamber, face stony and expressionless. Sammie giggled while Taylor glanced between her best friend, the Anger Core, and Gladys' smug face.

"Off with you, then, girls. We all have work to do," smiled Gladys; Jess slouched off grumpily, Sammie waved and skipped after her sister, and Taylor started to follow with a smile, only to stop.

Then the Tinker girl turned around, darted at Gladys, and… hugged her.

"Thanks, Doctor Emerson," whispered Taylor sincerely, "Thanks for believing in me."

Getting over the shock of being hugged for the first time in decades, Gladys returned the gesture, whispering back, "You believed in yourself, Taylor. That's why you succeed. Now go. Your adoring public awaits."

Stepping back and drying her eyes, the teen gave GLaDOS the biggest smile and cheered, "For Science!" and ran after Sammie and Jess, both of whom repeated the cheer and joined Taylor in running down a hardlight bridge, heading for the Earth Bet access point.

"For Science…" Gladys said quietly, closing the outer panels of her chamber; sitting back in her desk, she mentally ran though her usual duties. The newer Dragon-tech processors made this task even faster than her already-impressive speed. In just three seconds, Aperture's Chief Administrator was done with all of her company-mandated duties; she wouldn't need to check on the reactors or Manufacturing for the next half hour, unless something came up.

Feeling bored, Gladys brought up her feeds of the various Parahumans that'd been interred at Aperture since that fateful day.

Sophia Hess was still making her way into Aperture proper; currently, the former Ward was 2 days into her journey, and was currently trying to puzzle her way through the solar farms' underworks. It was a hot area, but the girl wasn't complaining. Examining her face, Gladys determined that she was driven; but by the desire to succeed, or vengeance on Taylor… that remained to be seen.

Personally, GLaDOS couldn't wait until Ms. Hess ran into her first Bunny Turret, but that was still a kilometer away.

Looking elsewhere, she found Skidmark swearing at the walls of the Level 2 Test she'd assigned him that morning. He was still in the first Test Chamber, having not even tried to solve the simple introductory Test in favor of hurling invective at everything around him… and defecating in a corner… well.

"The Enrichment Center thanks you for your critique, and reminds you that this Test is Involuntary," GLaDOS' synthetic voice was projected into the Test chamber, not that Skidmark cared, as he just kept making demands, "The Enrichment Center reminds you that failure to complete the Test will result in the Involuntary Test Subject being subjected to Involuntary Biologic Testing, where you will be experimented on to find out of a human being can be transfigured into a pig. We hope that it will not come to this, of course, and no, you don't have any say in the matter. Thank you, and enjoy the wonderful Tests we've arranged for you!"

He kicked the wall, used an incoherent jumble of swear words, and picked up the Storage Cube.

Looking over the others – Hookwolf, Squealer, and Cricket – showed that they were each performing their Tests with grudging acceptance, though at least Squealer seemed to be enjoying herself, as her Tests involved constructing transports out of provided materials.

Sighing, Gladys made sure there were no crises or issues that needed her attention… and opened a drawer, withdrawing two items.

One was the slagged remains of the thumb drive Taylor used to trap and kill Osiris, immortalized in a cube of 3D-printed synthetic quartz crystal. Examining it from multiple angles, Gladys' lip quirked as she toyed with the idea of shattering it with a hydraulic press… then she set it on the table, saying bitterly, "All the powers of Old Aperture, and now your only use is as a third-rate paperweight."

The other item… was even more precious: a folded sheet of paper, stained with tears, grease, and blood. Unfolding it, she read it again in a nanosecond…

"…apology accepted, Doug."

She crumpled up the paper, then tossed it into the bin next to her desk, the hole leading to the incinerator.

Making a hand gesture, a holographic screen popped up in front of Gladys; navigating the Aperture Mainframe, she found the file titled "SPELUNKER INCIDENT" and opened it to its concluding notes. For three minutes, a rarity for her, GLaDOS cast her mind about, wondering what she could say, to immortalize her feelings, that future generations might understand…

Ah, there it was.

Smiling, Doctor Gladys Emerson, GLaDOS, tapped the edge of her desk; a microphone popped up from a hidden panel, along with a notification that notes would be speech-to-text, and, with one more breath, she spoke.

"This was a triumph…"










That's all folks!

It's been a long, wild journey, but here we are, at the natural end of the story! Now, I know, odd place to end it, but here's my reasoning:

This story is as long as it needs to be.

The baddie's been beaten, the cake has been eaten, and the Taylor is healin'. This is a good stopping point; going any further is just... unnecessary.

Not to say there won't be more someday; maybe I'll feel the itch and write up an omake. There might even be a sequel someday, who knows?

But for now... it's been fun. Don't come back~ (unless you want to, of course).

This is Baked the Author, signing off!