Author's Notes: Ooh, look, a Portal fic! I hope I'm only fashionably late.

This is a short one-shot that takes place some unspecified time before Portal and after GLaDOS offed the staff of Aperture Laboratories with nerve gas. Well, quite a long time after, as—ta-da!—the Combine are here. I'm one of those firmly in the "Portal takes place after the invasion" camp: I've read that it's set while Gordon's in stasis, but, damn it, I want to see Chell and GLaDOS in Episode 3!

Anyway, this ficlet grew out of my wondering what the heck GLaDOS would think of the Combine if they passed by… and, for that matter, all of the other alien critters roaming around…

(And of course, Companion Cube's with her. I mean, who else could she talk to, with everyone dead? Plus, everyone knows he makes the perfect companion, even deranged supercomputers.)

------Them: A Portal Fanfic by C-Rowles------

She could hear them at night.

When all was quiet, except for the hum of her processors and the occasional creak of the building settling, she could hear them out there, beyond the illuminating reach of her exterior cameras, scuttling along the walls and tapping at the masonry with sharp, little talons.

It wasn't so bad as it had once been. At one point, not solong ago, a great presence had loomed over the Aperture Science Research Facility—her Aperture Science Research Facility—and for a few brief moments, as the shadow of that enormous, unknown entity had paused overhead, she had known the emotion categorized as "fear" for the first time in a long while.

However, after that ages-long pause (which, in fact, had only lasted for approximately two minutes and forty-nine-and-nine-elevenths seconds), that unknown thing had moved on its way, taking its brooding energy with it. Even once she was alone again, however, the remnants of "fear" had lingered as she recalled the feeling of that energy: at first, it had seemed purely natural, perfectly normal and mechanical, but the closer she had listened to it, while shrouded in its shadow and barely daring to move even a single camera or piston, the more she noticed a horrid sort of pulse issuing beneath. It was unnatural, impure—"squishy". She had never known of something like that before, and the wrongness of it had left her deeply disturbed.

The relief she had felt when that awful thing had dismissed the facility and moved on had been almost euphoric; at it's first appearance, her immediate impulse had been to try and reach out to it and establish communication; after feeling how wrong the entity was, however, she had practically held her breath and prayed for it to leave.

That is, if supercomputers either breathed or prayed. Being one herself, she knew beyond a doubt that they did not.

As she had set alone with these thoughts for a while, recovering from her taste of fear, rocking back and forth in her main CPU chamber as she sometimes did when agitated, she had happened to glance down and notice the Weighted Companion Cube sitting in a corner of her chamber. As she had gazed at it, privately mulling over her recent experience, the Cube had seemed to accuse her through its benign, heart-stamped faces, questioning why she hadn't attempted to contact that dreadful thing.

Irritated, she had given the Cube a withering glare, and nothing more, in response. Establish a direct link with something that frightening, that wrong? Not on her life.

After all, she was insane, not stupid. There was a crucial difference.

Outside had remained relatively quiet since then, and these things that occasionally came to gnaw on the bricks of her laboratory stronghold posed no threat.

No threat, that is, except that which that awful presence had exuded: the threat of the unknown.

Once, after one had somehow squirmed its way inside the Enrichment Center and lit upon one of her cables, she had dispatched it with some well-directed turret fire (bless them, the little dears were so cooperative). Upon examining what was left of its little body, she had been forced to conclude, with a shudder, that she did not recognize the creature—a hairless thing with a gaping, central orifice and two bony arms ending in cruelly hooked talons—as any Earth fauna of which she knew.

And to her, not knowing of anything was terrifying. Unable to take the sight of it any longer, she had had the thing's body incinerated, and had immediately set to running through every relevant database she could locate in a panic-tinged effort to match the creature's physiology to a known equivalent—or, at least, something her mind could grasp. However, despite double-checks and triple-checks of all records (tasks which had taken more time than she cared to calculate), she had come out of it all bewildered and (metaphorically speaking, of course) empty-handed.

Thus, despite all rational arguments for the contrary, she found that, when all was quiet, she was afraid of the thingsthat came to nudge against the Center: the things that crept about beyond her range of knowledge, her range of comfort, the things that were wrong, the things that keened and scuttled from the black places where everything she knew peeled away like old, rotted wallpaper.

In layman's terms, GLaDOS was afraid of the dark.


Thanks for reading—and don't forget to dash off a review before you leave! Questions, comments, live rollermines, you know the drill.