(A/N: I haven't written fanfiction in a while, but GLaDOS's enigmatic self inspired me to type this out. The in-game ending was just too abrupt for her - GLaDOS is too cool for that. Her unique pathos can't be construed as straight good or evil, and she certainly deserves something more than the typical "main baddy dies everything explodes" ending.
I am very intrigued by her interactions with the main character, Chell, in particular. Seeing that there is practically no Portal fanfiction at all, I decided to remedy this grievous error. Enjoy.
Also, I am not familiar with the rest of the Half-Life universe. If anyone sees any mistakes clashing with canon, please alert me, and I will remedy it.
Finally, I haven't decided whether or not I'll continue this. If I do, I have ideas for it. I'll just wait and see what the reviewers think.
Disclaimer: Portal is not my intellectual property.)
This Cake Is Great
Chelsea. Dubbed "Chell" by friends and family. Only she had no friends, and she had no family.
Technically, as a lifelong foster child ever shipped out of one household and into the next, she'd had plenty of families, but as she considered it, no actual family. And certainly no friends, never friends. So instead, the nickname evolved from careless address by strangers, by the sheer virtue of being one syllable less of an effort to pronounce than her given name.
The last "family" came in the form of a very sad, very lonely man (but no sadder or lonelier than herself) named William Jensen. (That made her Chelsea Jensen, she supposed.) He seemed old, but she couldn't guess how old he really was. He was never even a foster parent - he came and adopted her quickly in the last years of her adolescence, not even choosily, just desperate for someone.
As she learned, his work was having its first "Bring Your Daughter To Work Day". Like her, he had no family and no friends. So this poor, ostracized little man, in a pitiful attempt to somehow fit in, went out and adopted a daughter for "Bring Your Daughter". It wasn't the saddest thing she'd ever heard, but it was up there.
When the occasion arrived, it was held in an impressive building with an unimpressive crowd, miserable people arranged to work and commiserate. The company was called Aperture Science, and apparently they used to make shower curtains. She was uncertain what they did now. William mentioned something about computers.
The few other daughters there were all little kindergarten and elementary girls. They spent most of their time in a makeshift playroom, playing with dolls. At 16, she understandably felt uncomfortable joining in (though she doubted she would have felt less uncomfortable associating with girls her own age), and instead crouched on a hard plastic stool in William's office while William typed fervently at a computer (which even she could tell was badly outdated). His balding head glistened with sweat, and she thought he sweated more than anyone that inactive had a reason to.
He wasn't so bad, though. He gave her some wrinkled dollar bills to go out and buy an orange juice from the machines, and they went in the slot with a minimal amount of smoothing. Sitting in the cafeteria and clinking the leftover change around in the juice's empty bottle, she began to feel slightly optimistic about this "family".
In perfect time with the rest of her luck, the building chose that moment to erupt in chaos, screams and laser fire. At some point she was knocked unconscious, and stayed that way for a long, long while.
What an... odd container to wake up in. It was a bed of some kind, if it could be called that. It seemed too hard and sanitary to be befitting of the name. When she sat up, the descriptor "odd" flashed over her mind again, this time describing herself. Between consciousnesses, she had apparently aged, shed some extra padding, and gained muscle to compensate. Her throat felt clogged, constricted; no matter how she tried, she couldn't force any sound through her larynx. Finally, she was wearing an orange jumper - for a second she thought she must be in some sort of prison (later she would realize how true that was). Upon lifting herself out of the bizarre sleeping chamber, she nearly stumbled on the unwieldy things attached to her calves. They seemed important enough she reasoned it would be best not to take them off, and instead took a moment to get herself used to balancing and walking in the tip-toe manner they demanded.
She'd barely gotten herself accustomed to such when a mechanical female voice blared out of an unknown speaker: "Hello and again welcome to the Aparture Science Computer Aided Enrichment Center. We hope your brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one. Your specimen has been processed and we are now ready to begin the test proper. Before we start, however, keep in mind that although fun and learning are the primary goals of all Enrichment Center activities, serious injuries may occur. For your own safety and the safety of others, please refrain from..." An interim of static. "And back. The portal will open in 3, 2, 1.."
"Portal". Over the course of the next two days, she would become familiar with that word, and all the seeming impossibilities it connotated firsthand. She would learn how to walk into one side of the room and come out the other, or fall through eternity in a loop. Learn, but not understand - it was still too surreal to grasp. Only doing was a necessity, and in her ongoing bid for survival, she would do, semi-lost in a surprisingly focused, dreamlike haze all the while.
And all the while, that voice was with her, every single step of the way. At first she hadn't thought much of it - after all, it was only a computer, spouting a series of automated messages to guide her.
Then the chilling perception and cognition the machine possessed became apparent. More chillingly yet, its - her? - unyielding contradictions, sarcasm and Schadenfreude. Her name was GLaDOS, and she seemed to delight in her frenetic alterations between helping and torturing Chell. Her purpose seemed to be to orchestrate Chell through a set of obstacles, like a trained rat, an experiment to prove some unknown theory. If there was a theory. Chell began to suspect the pretense of "science" was just an excuse for appeasing GLaDOS's abounding sadism.
Inhumane as GLaDOS was, ironically, as she progressed through the puzzles, Chell began to feel as though GLaDOS were the human here. Unable to speak, Chell was a mute shell; in contrast, GLaDOS's thoughts boomed overhead the whole way. Sometimes she mused on things like the shapes of spots on the wall; usually, she amused herself by telling Chell the way ahead was clear, when in fact the way ahead was lined by uselessly apologetic turrets. It amazed Chell that a computer could be so humanly cruel and introspective. She even began to pick out emotions in the voice that had initially seemed so impassive.
As GLaDOS gradually grew less underhandedly nasty and more outright taunting, Chell wondered if she was deliberately attempting to get a rise out of her. But it was no use; Chell's throat refused to unglue itself enough for her to speak. And even if she'd been able to, she might not have. There was some small vengeance in frustrating the entity which itself caused her so much frustration.
Later she discovered hidden alcoves, scrawled with graffiti and various other indications other humans had been here. So she was not the first to undergo these trials; but judging by the increasingly senseless writings, she was taking it better than most. Probably the best indication of this was the "Weighted Companion Cube" incident.
Through several of these levels, she had utilized weighted cubes to solve the puzzles which faced her. This time, she was given one - one special enough to warrant being individually named, and decorated with pink hearts.
The Companion was a little helpful, but only a little, and its presence was mainly a burden. She wasn't impressed, but apparently, others had been. Going by the alcove scrawlings and insinuations from GLaDOS, many people had grown unhealthily attached to the cube, striking up conversations with it as with an old friend.
Obviously, these had been people much less accustomed to loneliness than herself.
Nonetheless, GLaDOS seemed to expect the same behavior of her, repeatedly reminding that the cube could NOT talk, feel pain, or threaten one's person. Maybe it was all the time without sustenance or sleep, but Chell thought she sensed jealousy in these reminders.
Jealousy of a cube?
She certainly sensed an edge of vicious glee in GLaDOS's voice when the computer told her she would have to deposit the cube in the incinerator before proceeding. GLaDOS seemed surprised when she did so without hesitation, but quickly followed up with "You euthanised your faithful Companion Cube more quickly than any test subject on record. Congratulations."
Was that an implication she should feel remorseful for the cube's destruction? No, Chell wasn't that far gone. Not yet.
Warm, moist, delicious cake.
She was so hungry now. GLaDOS was taking advantage of that, to taunt her, to press her forward. She described the cake in detail, with its cherry garnishes and hot, dripping chocolate icing, gleeing in Chell's loud stomach rumbles, exceedingly vocal where Chell herself was not.
The cake began to sound so good after all this nonstop, adrenaline-draining work, that Chell didn't even pause to think what GLaDOS meant when announcing, "The experiment is nearing its conclusion. The Enrichment Center is required to remind you that you will be baked, and then there will be cake."
Then the level ended, and the roaring pits of flames she was fast being rushed toward left no doubt.
The next events were a blur, dotted by shots from her portal gun, her subconscious knowing the way better than her. All she knew was that she had to escape, in spite - or because - of GLaDOS's dismayed pleas to stop, pathetic lies and cajoling attempts to convince her to lie down and give up.
No. Fuck no. She hadn't made it this far for nothing. She didn't know why she'd made it this far, but it sure as hell wasn't for nothing. She'd been exhausted, she thought she'd used up her adrenaline reserves, but there it was, pumping through her bloodstream anew. She had to get free, she had to get out. She followed old scrawlings on the walls from previous test subjects, hoping their sense of direction hadn't diminished with their sanity.
Fortunately, it hadn't. She found herself standing before GLaDOS, in her entirety.
All the way, GLaDOS had haunted Chell with a demented sort of self-serving humor. Now she was deathly somber.
"Well, you found me. Congratulations. Was it worth it? Because despite your violent behavior, the only thing you've managed to break so far is my heart."
Chell's own heart thumped in her chest at that. What did that mean? More sarcasm? She seemed oddly serious for that, now. GLaDOS continued before she could ponder on it.
"Maybe you could settle for that, and we'll just call it a day." GLaDOS's quiet, careful wording of the next sentence sent a chill down Chelsea's spine. "I guess we both know that isn't going to happen.
"You chose this path, now I have a surprise for you. Deploying surprise in five... four..."
Thud. Too loud to be even Chell's heavily beating heart. Something round and purplish dropped out of GLaDOS and rolled to her feet.
"Time out for a second. That wasn't supposed to happen. Do you see that thing that fell out of me? What is that? It's not the surprise... I've never seen it before. Nevermind, it's a mystery I'll solve later, by myself, because you'll be dead." Pretending to ignore her, Chell knelt down and picked the orb up, turning it over in her hands curiously. It looked like a large eyeball. She vaguely wondered what the surprise was supposed to be. The surprise she got was GLaDOS's suddenly desperately pretend-nonchalant voice.
"I wouldn't bother with that thing. My guess is that touching it will just make your life even worse somehow. I don't want to tell you your business, but if it were me I'd leave that thing alone. Do you think I'm trying to trick you with reverse psychology? I mean, seriously now.
"Okay, fine, DO touch it. Pick it up, and just stuff it back into me. Let's be honest. Neither one of us knows what that thing does. Just put it in the corner, and I'll deal with it later. That thing is probably some kind of raw sewage container. Go ahead and rub your face all over it. Maybe you should marry that thing since you love it so much! Do you want to marry it? WELL I WON'T LET YOU! How does that feel?
"Have I lied to you? I mean, in this room? Trust me. Leave that thing alone. I am being serious now. That crazy thing is not part of any test protocol. Where are you taking that thing? Come on, leave it alone. Leave it alone. Just ignore that thing and stand still. Think about it. If that thing is important, why don't I know about it? Are you even listening to me? I'll tell you what that thing isn't. It isn't yours, so leave it alone."
She knew she should move. She should do something. She just couldn't think what. So instead she continued to stand there, staring at the thing, turning it over in her hands still more. And GLaDOS began to grow irritated.
"There was even going to be a party for you. A big party, that all of your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend, the Companion Cube. Of course, he couldn't come, because you murdered him. All your other friends couldn't come either, because you don't have any other friends because of how unlikable you are. It says so right here in your personnel file; 'Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter unlikable loner whose passing shall not be mourned.' SHALL NOT BE MOURNED. That's exactly what it says. Very formal. Very official. It also says you were adopted. So that's funny too."
Chell had endured all these trials by dissociating herself from what was going on - hell, it was how she'd handled most all of her life. But now she was at the end of her rope, and hearing the damned computer hit so close to home was just the last goddamned straw. She didn't even stop to wonder why she wouldhave a personnel file here. She only felt anger boil up in her, red-hot, and wanted to scream "FUCK YOU". She still couldn't speak, though, so only a croak and a cough came out.
She saw an incinerator in the room. It didn't take long to find the switch to open it and lob the orb in. A broad smile crossed her face as the fires ate it up; she considered it a good personal revenge for GLaDOS's plans to incinerate her.
The vengeance didn't quite go as her sleep-deprived brain had planned it.
"You are kidding me!" GLaDOS cried. "Did you just stuff that Aperture Science Thing We Don't Know What It Does into an Aperture Science Emergency Intelligence Incinerator?
That has got to be the dumbest thing that - Whoa, Whoa, WHOAAA..."
A foreboding pause, followed by a laugh more foreboding still. Chell hadn't known the computer could laugh.
"Good news. I figured out what that thing you just incinerated did. It was a Morality Core they installed after I flooded the enrichment center with a deadly neurotoxin to make me stop flooding the enrichment center with a deadly neurotoxin. So get comfortable while I warm up the Neurotoxin Emitters."
There wasn't much time to get comfortable, and the promised event defeated the effort.
Pain shot through every square inch of her body. Hunched over on all fours, leaning on her palms, Chell wheezed long and hard with the excruciation - and threw up.
And the hot bile melted away whatever had been stopping up her throat.
"F-fuck..." she mumbled.
A pause, followed by a curious venture from GLaDOS: "What?
"What did you say? Did you say something? I know you said something." Instantly, the Emitters shut off, and the air conditioning set in reverse and sucked up most of the nerve gas that had been released. Then the A/C shut off, and all was silent with anticipation, marked only by Chell's ragged breathing, interspersed with vomiting which degenerated into increasingly dry heaves.
"You know that thing you said that I just heard you say? Say that thing again. I know you said it. Don't deny it," GLaDOS urged after a short while. Still only more pained utterances.
"I'm not angry at you anymore," GLaDOS promised wheedlingly. "See? I'm your friend again, and if you say that thing again, or maybe another thing you feel like saying, I'll be an even better friend. I'll be an even better friend than the Companion Cube. You're a lonely subject. You want a friend, don't you?
"There will be cake if you do," she added softly. "I lied about it all being gone. It's there still, and it's moist and delicious."
"Don't want your damned cake," Chell hissed, pushing unsteadily to her feet, ignoring the vomit drying on her hands and front.
"You said a thing again!" GLaDOS noted joyfully. "And now I am staying true to that thing I said and forgiving you entirely. You should say more things."
"Go fuck yourself."
"That was another thing you said. You're setting a new record for yourself. You should be proud." Chelsea staggered forward without responding. "Where are you going?"
"The hell out of here," Chell wheezed, breath still not fully caught.
"Oh, you can't do that," GLaDOS replied conversationally, fully recovered from her earlier moodiness. "There is no longer an existing exit route from the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center. You would have to destroy part of the building exterior, and part of the building interior to exit, and there is no means for this destructive aforementioned exit procedure. On a side note, I would not let you go. Especially now that you have said that thing that you did."
Chell's mind was utterly fogged by sleep deprivation, hunger, and now the after-effects of the recent bout of extreme pain she had suffered. The bulk of speech GLaDOS had just administered flew right by her, and she only uttered an uncomprehending grunting noise in response.
"Those were not words. You are confused? In layman's terms: I have decided I like you, even though you are a bad person and a bitter unlikable loner. I have decided that, despite having completed your test, and with its completion exhausted your usefulness, you will not be incinerated. Instead, you will remain with me here. You should probably comply. You really have no choice."
She was too tired, too drained to put up a fight. Provided with this opportunity to rest at last, Chell took advantage of it, pushing up against a wall and curling up in on herself tightly, eyes closing. She could think straight later, after she slept.
"Hello? Hello? You can talk now. You should respond. It is impolite to not respond. An exemplary conversation should proceed as follows: I say 'that thing I just said', and you should reply with something like, 'Yes, you are probably right. I will do that thing you just said'." No reply. "Hello? Hello?"
"Go away," Chell moaned, taking her knees in closer and pulling off the shock absorbers to accomodate the movement. The absorbers clattered to the side, accenting the otherwise silent atmosphere. For a change, GLaDOS, too, was silent. Then there was the busy sound of her various attachments throughout the building shuffling to retrieve something from the lower levels.
Something brown, aromatic, and now fairly cold was set next to Chell's crunched-up form.
"There really was a cake," GLaDOS said, and she reeled back up her arm.