A portal here, a portal here, and -
The rocket crunched into GLaDOS with all the velocity of a groupie chasing a tour bus. The room quivered, the lights flashed, the speakers gabbled gibberish...
And the next sphere popped loose, rocked on the edge of a catwalk far above, and fell neatly into the Riddler's open hand. "Yessss!" he crowed, holding it aloft like a trophy as he raced toward the incinerator. So far he'd torched the morality core and the curiosity sphere, and he was dying to know what came next. (Hopefully, not in a literal sense.)
The sphere's bright blue lens spun and gazed at his face. "One eighteen point two five ounce package chocolate cake mix. One can prepared coconut pecan frosting."
Eddie slowly trotted to a halt. Cake mix? Since when was cake mix a vital component of a computer? Then again, he mused, her programmers probably hadn't intended to turn her into the mechanical equivalent of that guy from Saw, either. Maybe it was yet another flaw in her programming. He shrugged, dismissing the thought, and incinerated the sphere.
Bam! The room shimmied again. Eddie ducked and weaved, playing target, until another rocket burned through the portals and collided with GLaDOS. Spang! The last sphere popped loose and tumbled to the ground. Eddie scooped it up with one hand, the portal gun tucked awkwardly under his other arm, and bolted for the incinerator. The sphere snarled madly at him, growling with all the passion and fury of an urban wolverine defending an abandoned cheeseburger.
"I'm done reasoning with you," GLaDOS snapped, cold fury freezing the edges of her words. "Starting now, there's going to be a lot less conversation and a lot more killing." Oh, she was mad. She was furious. And yet...the sphere was angry too, wasn't it? Something wasn't right here. In theory, he was holding her anger in his arms - so why was she able to be angry at him now?
Curiosity had always been Eddie's downfall. When faced with a question, he had to know the answer, no matter how long it took. Curiosity had set him spinning the tumblers in bank vaults long after the bomb timers had wound down to three digits or less. Curiosity had driven him across the rooftops, into the sewers, and into a lot of messes that he'd prefer not to remember if he could help it.
In this case, it meant that he promptly abandoned the snarling sphere in the middle of the floor in favor of flinging himself up onto the catwalk to take a closer look at GLaDOS. "Stop it!" she snapped. "What are you doing?"
He pried a rocket-loosened panel away from the side of the machine and examined it. It looked...worn, somehow, like it had been pulled away for daily maintenance. But the nearest maintenance man was probably a rotting skeleton in a pit of tricolored sludge. It didn't make sense!
Eddie dropped the panel, tucked the portal gun through a ragged hole in his jumpsuit, and shoved his hands wrist-deep into the brightly colored wires that nestled together inside GLaDOS like snakes in a coffin.
GLaDOS swung wildly below him, thrashing upward as if she was trying to peer up at her side where Eddie clung like a ravenous parasite. "Where are you?"
Fistfuls of wires sparked madly as he yanked them free. This wasn't right. It looked like a computer designed by Hollywood. It had wires, and little fiddly metal bits, and tiny blinking lights, but it wasn't functional. He'd torn out enough wiring to fully refurbish an average split-level house, and yet there hadn't been any effect on -
Beepbeepbeep! Eddie flung himself to the side and yanked the discarded panel over himself as a rocket smoked by, cracking hard into GLaDOS' exposed innards. Boom. Wires and twisted bits of metal puffed into the air like deadly confetti.
Eddie eased himself out from under the charred panel and examined the smoking black crater in the side of the massive machine. A spiderweb of wires stretched uselessly over an ashy, glasslike shell about the size of an airline bathroom.
With one folded-over sleeve, Eddie quietly rubbed away a patch of soot on the glass. There, in the glowing green darkness, was a person - a woman - kicking levers, pressing buttons, and barking commands into a microphone. "Stop it! Stop it right now!"
With a mischievous grin stretching his lips, Eddie politely knocked on the glass. The woman spun in place, controls forgotten, and glared furiously at him. "Morning!" he chirped.
"You stop right there or I will gas you," she growled.
Sometimes, finding the right answer involved a lot of research, and thought, and squinting over dusty books long into the night. And sometimes, all it took was a blunt object - like the back of a portal device - and a really hard swing against the missile-weakened glass. Like that.
The woman leapt for her controls as shattered glass exploded toward her. Eddie, with reflexes honed by far too many gun turrets and energy pellets, fired a portal into the tiles directly under her feet. She yelped and clutched at the panel, hugging it ferociously as her feet dangled over fifty feet of empty space.
"Gas me, and you gas yourself. Your choice," he said smoothly.
"I mean it! I'll kill you!" she shrieked, wriggling toward the button clearly labeled Turret Defense System Autofire.
"Go ahead," Eddie shrugged. "Blow me up. Of course, the explosion will probably knock you right off of your controls...and since you don't have heelsprings, I bet a fall from here would really hurt."
"You bastard," she snarled.
"Look who's talking!" he chuckled, toying with a palm-sized piece of glass that hadn't quite separated from the shell when he'd done his best Bane impression. "Ah-ah-ah!" he chided, pulling it free and frisbeeing it at her sneaky fingertips as they crept toward the button. The glass broke into tiny pieces, covering the controls with sparkling bits of light.
"What do you want?" she snapped, giving him a death glare that probably would have intimidated an average person. Eddie, who was used to getting that glare at a much higher intensity from the Batman, ignored it.
What did he want? Well, for starters, he'd like to know where he was, and what he was doing here, and who she was...but he'd never been particularly fond of interrogations. Interrogations always implied that the questioner didn't know what was going on, and Eddie hated looking like he didn't know everything.
"First things first," he said, sucking lightly on a bleeding fingertip. Chucking shattered glass around barehanded probably hadn't been the best idea in the world. "What do you want with me?"
The woman craned her head around and examined the air near her feet, as if wondering whether a fifty-foot fall would really be all that bad. Then, with a sigh, she began filling Eddie in on the things he'd missed while he was...resting in Aperture's antechambers.
Cave Johnson had a dream. It wasn't a particularly stunning or inventive dream - in fact, he wasn't actually dreaming anything new - but it was his dream, and he had the ambition and the touches of obsession necessary to start his own business.
Aperture Science, maker and manufacturer of the world's finest shower curtains, opened its doors in 1953. By 1956, the company had made enough of a name for itself to be awarded the contract to supply shower curtains to every branch of the military - except, curiously enough, the Navy, whose Appropriations Committee dismissed the newcomers in favor of their old contract. It was a decision that would leave a lasting mark on the world. For decades afterward, Johnson agonized over the outcome. What didn't the Navy like about him? Why weren't his products good enough? Was it just that he was new on the scene? Eventually, through a complicated series of disguises, diversions, and distractions, he weaseled his way into a Naval base for a personal inspection of their oh-so-superior shower curtains.
They came apart in his hands. The stitching was shoddy, the grommets were rusted, and the material itself was subpar. Who would want this over his own beautiful work? There had to be an explanation for this!
There was, and it was very simple: Nepotism. The Appropriations Committee, under advisement from a certain high-ranking man named Pike, had chosen this trash calling itself "Pike's Finest" instead of his own little works of art. This would not be tolerated. Something had to be done.
And, since he had been the CEO of a major industrial company for more than twenty years, he was just the man to do it. They didn't like his shower curtains? He'd give them some shower curtains they'd really love.
Seven members of the Appropriations Committee - and it didn't matter that they'd been replaced by younger men in the sixties, he was trying to make a point here - and seven deadly rubber shower curtains. It was brilliant. It was visionary. And maybe, just maybe, they'd smarten up and sign with him...
All in all, the plan was perfect right up to the moment when he accidentally landed head-first in a barrel of gleaming mercury. After several rounds of hospitalization and every medical treatment known to man, Cave Johnson knew that his time was short. His kidneys were failing, among other things, and he was going to die.
Inspiration took him deep into the world of plans as he frantically tried to make sure his company could weather the ravages of time. His underlings smiled, and nodded, and just as frantically tried to piece together some kind of functional plan out of the old man's wishes - because, as they'd soon discovered, the mercury had soaked right into his brain and killed off most of the cells responsible for little things like logic and sanity.
To put it simply, Cave Johnson now believed that time was running backward. In order to take full advantage of this knowledge, he laid out a three-tiered research program. Tier One was known as the Heimlich Counter-Maneuver, and was fairly straightforward in its design to stop people from stopping people from choking to death. Tier Two, in a similar vein, was designed to purchase last wishes from children and instead redistribute them to deserving, healthy adults. Thus, the Take-A-Wish Foundation was born.
And then the respected Mr. Johnson had grown weary of outlining his grand plans. "Tier 3," he muttered. "Some kind of rip in the fabric of space...That would...Well, it'd be like, I don't know, something that would help with the shower curtains I guess. I haven't worked this idea out as much as the wish-taking one."
By the end of 1980, Johnson's wishes were being fulfilled at a breakneck pace. People were choking to death, dying children were sobbing, and the government was starting to get very, very suspicious of their pet shower curtain company. An investigative committee was promptly convened. During the proceedings, a panicky engineer let the details of all three initiatives slip in a babbling stream of explanations and frantic finger-pointing. The Senate members, recognizing the potential value of a 'man-sized ad hoc quantum tunnel through physical space with possible applications as a shower curtain', sent the Aperture execs home with stern instructions to put an immediate halt to Tier 2. (Tiers 1 and 3, however, definitely had some military potential.)
Things clicked along quite merrily inside Aperture Science after that. They had government funding, they had a secret project, and they had a new CEO who was slightly less insane than the mercury-poisoned Mr. Johnson. Early tests were looking good, and inconveniently ignorant or stubborn personnel were mysteriously choking to death on lamb chunks. Truly, it was a golden age for Aperture Science.
The golden age promptly became ungilded on the morning they discovered that Black Mesa, a rival with an irritating habit of winning government contracts, was working on a very similar portal device. With the typical calm shown by creative types, they panicked and immediately began looking for a way to get the edge.
They found that edge with GLaDOS - who was, at this point, little more than an idea for the perfect research assistant. She would be computer enough to do the most mindless or complex of tasks, and yet she'd be human enough to create new ideas and new configurations of machinery. She and she alone could make Initiative 3 a possibility. They began design and construction immediately.
Of course, the version of events narrated by the stranger under the glass wasn't nearly so concise. She wandered into digressions, alternately praising and railing against the man indirectly responsible for GLaDOS' creation, and equally loving and scorning the scientists that had put the bits of her massive machine together. Eddie bore it patiently, as he did every time a clearly insane person decided to share their background with him. Knowledge was power, after all, and he often learned more about a person in one crazy monologue than some people could learn in a full week of normal small talk.
The woman finally wound down, shifting her grip on the control panel so that she dangled from her inner elbows on a pair of convenient handles.
"That explains this," Eddie said, knocking the back of his hand against the scorched machinery surrounding him. "It doesn't explain you."
She gave him a look packed solidly with haughty disdain. "GLaDOS has a genetic lifeform component," she pointed out. "Me."
"You don't look much like a component of that thing," Eddie said.
"I wasn't, at first," she said, a dreamy look coming into her eyes. She was obviously remembering something happy. Eddie felt his legs tense automatically, preparing to run as fast as possible. A happy memory from her could be anything. "I was in charge of that part of things. We were going to run out of grant money if we didn't produce anything, so I volunteered to be...sort of a puppeteer, just until we got the GL up and running. The government was coming in only a month! We had to be ready, right away, so I spent days in here, learning GLaDOS, how she worked, inside her head..." A truly beatific smile lit up her face. "And then she spoke to me."
"I'm sure she did," Eddie agreed placidly.
"How would you know? You weren't there!" she snapped, irritated that her memory had been interrupted. Her face softened into happiness again. "She told me...oh, she told me everything...and on the day the government came..." That familiar burning hatred started smoldering behind her eyes again. Eddie casually snaked a hand onto a protruding panel outside of her field of vision, ready to yank himself away if necessary. "Farrigan told them that he'd been the one to finish GLaDOS, that he'd worked day and night when really he'd been at home with that fat wife of his...We couldn't let that idiot lie to them like that, not when it was us who had finished it together, us who had put together the portal gun..."
"What did you do?"
"Oh, we killed him," she assured him cheerfully. "And then, well, everyone started running around, trying to call security, trying to separate us! We had to gas them all, we just had to, and then we realized the device still needed testing. So, one by one, we loaded them into the Relaxation Vaults and we've been testing the device ever since..."
"That still doesn't answer my question," Eddie said, somewhat aggrieved that he'd had to ask it yet again.
"You," she said softly. "Do you remember trying to steal a truck full of anhydrous ammonia?"
"The last one." She scowled. "The one with the robot driver?"
"That was you?" He matched her scowl with one of his own. "That truck was mine," he said flatly.
"I got there first!" she snapped.
"I left a riddle for it two full weeks before it left the loading dock. It was in Gotham, I had a riddle on it, it was mine." No other rogue would have touched it with his mark on it. This woman, on the other hand..."Your robot torched my hat," he continued, recalling the one thing that had left a very permanent mark in his memory. He rarely forgot people who set him on fire.
"Your hat was stupid," she shot back.
"Your lab is stupid," he snapped.
"How dare you! You'll die for that," she snarled.
"Oh yes?" Eddie drawled. "Come and get me."
With a shriek of utter rage, she reached out for her controls. Of course, since she was only holding herself up with her elbows, this meant that her only means of support vanished and she disappeared through the portal in the floor faster than a cell phone dropping through a sewer grate.
There was a shrill scream from behind him, ending in a crunchy squish as whatever remained of the Genetic Lifeform splatted on the floor. Without looking at the mess, Eddie moved the portal to just below his feet and knelt down, poking his head through it into the little glass shell. Interesting. Very, very interesting...He reached inside and fumbled with a familiar-looking little lever about halfway up the wall.
Click. What was left of the wires over the glass shell broke away in a neat rectangle as a door swung open. Eddie banished the portals, propped the door open with the portal gun, and stepped inside. "Hate twas up," he muttered, running envious fingers over the panel. With a setup like this, think of the deathtraps he could build back in Gotham!
...Why go back to Gotham? The thought pinged around in his head like a tiny hummingbird. Why not stay here? Make it a proper deathtrap? Make it my own...
His fingers caressed a little button labeled MIC. As the smoke finally cleared away, and the lump of ex-human on the floor stopped twitching, a strangely flat giggle echoed into the tiled room.
Author's Note: Portalportalportalportalportal. In base four, I'm fine. Aperture Science's glorious history can be accessed after you login at aperture science dot com, provided that you know the super-secret username and password that certainly aren't lurking anywhere in this chapter for you to find and read. Really.
I know that some of you are waiting for the next Eddie/Jackie story. I'm rather impatient for it as well! I am working on it, I promise, but there are things that must happen first, otherwise bits of the story won't make sense. In the meantime, I urge you to check out 'Freak Accidents', 'Shattered', and whatever other bits of Gothamy nonsense I clutter up this site with.
Thanks for reading, and go have some delicious moist cake!