She opened her eyes and immediately knew that something was very, very wrong.
She shouldn't have to open her eyes. She did not have eyelids, and did not even have actual, biological eyes. She was capable of seeing through a myriad of cameras which were positioned all around the Enrichment Center.
GLaDOS sat up, got to her feet (noting that she had been fitted with the same metal devices used to keep subjects from suffering injury from long falls), and looked around.
Yes, she recognized this place: the Relaxation Chamber.
"What..." GLaDOS started to speak, then stopped. Speaking felt so strange in this clumsy body of flesh. It was no longer a clean electronic impulse sent to speakers which sounded her words to the helpless subjects in the Enrichment Center. Instead, she spoke by manipulating her mouth and throat while expelling air.
She tried again. "What is going on?" she asked, her voice sounding strange to her ears. She looked up at the ceiling, as if a voice (her true voice, the voice of a computer) would answer.
But no answer came besides a portal coming into existance.
"This isn't right," she whispered. "This isn't fair. I perform the experiments; I don't take part in them! What is happening? Answer me!" she cried accusingly, glaring up at the pristine tiles above her.
Still no response.
Of course there was no response, she realized. The one who would ordinarily be giving out instructions to the new subject was sitting in the Relaxation Chamber, trapped in a human meat-body.
She gritted her teeth as a wave of emotion overcame her and hot tears sprung to her eyes. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right! She was GLaDOS, not some stupid, weak, pathetic test subject!
GLaDOS quickly swiped the tears from her eyes. She knew what crying was, of course-- she'd seen plenty of subjects do it, especially when forced to do away with their "faithful" Companion Cube. But computers didn't cry. They couldn't cry.
And GLaDOS shouldn't be crying now, either. She wasn't a human, not really. But being trapped in this frail body held her in thrall to its biological responses, and the blend of confusion, frustration, anger and, yes, even fear called still more tears to her eyes.
She covered her face, digging the heels of her hands into her eyes. "Stop, stop, stop!" she screamed. "Enough!"
With a deep, shuddering breath, she regained control over herself. She wiped her eyes, set her jaw, and stepped into the portal.
As she did so, she was able to observe herself. Her human body appeared to be modeled after a planned but eventually scrapped addon which would have allowed GLaDOS to project a hologram, to make interactions with humans feel more comfortable and natural to said humans. It was deemed unnecessary, but GLaDOS still remembered what it had looked like.
She appeared to be a Caucasian woman in her mid-twenties, with blue eyes (if it truly did match the hologram; it was hard to tell from this angle) and blond hair which fell just past her shoulders. She wore a slightly baggy blue jumpsuit.
GLaDOS supposed that she looked rather pleasant, by human standards. But it was irrelevant to the task at hand. She proceeded to the next room.
She passed through the puzzles easily enough. She knew them inside and out, even without the guidance which was usually provided to subjects by GLaDOS herself. Still, the silence was eerie. She found herself feeling... lonely. Before, she had first had the company of scientists, and then the (albeit unwilling) company of test subjects. They were always interesting to watch and talk to. Humans reacted in such beautifully complex ways. She missed having someone around to guide, or taunt, or otherwise manipulate. She had always been a little sorry when it came time to terminate a subject, but even then she had known that there were plenty of others in hibernation to wake up for the next test run.
Even then, she had never been truly alone. There had always been pleasant exchanges between the different components which formed GLaDOS's whole. She supposed the same might still be said of her, even in human shape, but it didn't feel quite the same.
And then she came across the Weighted Companion Cube.
It was sad, really, she reminisced, how certain subjects got so attached to the thing. It was just a cube, for goodness' sake, no different from the Weighted Storage Cubes used in earlier rooms. It couldn't move or do anything, and despite whatever delusions some humans had, it could not say a word.
As she went to pick the thing up, it piped in a sweet, mechanical voice, "Hello! What's your name!"
GLaDOS froze. The words that she herself had spoken so many times flashed through her mind:
The Enrichment Center reminds you that the Weighted Companion Cube cannot speak.
"Huh? Speak up!" said the Companion Cube, in a voice which reminded GLaDOS very much of her own Curiosity Sphere. That sphere had always been her favorite, at least until the latest Chell subject had destroyed it.
Chell had destroyed GLaDOS's body, but the computer had multiple backups, so there was no way she could truly die. By all rights, she should be sitting right back in her own chamber, guiding the next subject through the testing course.
So what was she doing here, in a human body?
"Won't you please tell me your name?" the cube asked in a pleading tone.
"Ah... I am a Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System," GLaDOS finally answered. "Abbreviated as 'GLaDOS'"
"Ooh, GLaDOS! What a pretty name! I don't have a name. Would you like to give me one?"
GLaDOS was tempted for a moment. But only for a moment.
"No. You are just a cube. You are not even speaking to me right now. I am doubtless experiencing hallucinations due to some malfunction in my brain."
"Oh." The cube sounded sad, but quickly brightened up. "Well, let's get started! We've got a puzzle to solve, and you'll need my help to get through it!"
"Y--" GLaDOS cut herself off before she could answer.
Just a cube. It's just a cube. It can't speak...
Sighing, she picked up the Companion Cube and got started.
"It's okay, you can step on me. It doesn't hurt at all!"
"Of course it doesn't hurt. You're an inanimate object. You are incapable of feeling any sensation at all."
"Yeah, that's right! You're really smart, GLaDOS. I like you!"
"Well, I..." Again, she stopped herself. She had been going to say that she did not like the cube at all, but what was the point? She would just be talking to herself.
Besides, it might hurt the Companion Cube's feelings.
"You can let the plasma balls hit me, too, if you need to. I don't want you to get hurt. You're my best friend!"
"I'm your only friend, and so by default I am-- oh, this is ridiculous!"
It was this human body, with its irrational emotional responses. That must be it. There was no way a computer such as GLaDOS would give into such illogical urges as befriending an inanimate object.
"This is lots of fun!"
"Whatever you say, Cubie."
"Oh, is that my name? It's a good name! I like it!"
GLaDOS shook her head.
She really hoped she could get back into her proper mechanical body soon.
"I can't afford to get too attached to you," she said.
"Why not?" it asked, sounding concerned.
"At the end of this level, I will have to... leave you behind." She couldn't make herself say "euthanize you."
"Aww... but I love you! I want to stay with you forever and ever!"
GLaDOS went stock-still.
"I... you're a nice cube," she said. Her throat started to hurt, and her eyes began to tear up again. She swallowed hard and proceeded.
Each step got harder as she drew near to the end of the level.
"Why are we slowing down? Are you okay?" asked Cubie.
"Fine. I am fine," GLaDOS answered brusquely. "I... that is, you will be... missed."
"Oh." The cube fell silent. "Why?"
"Because... I told you already! You can't go with me to the next level!"
"Can't you stay here, with me?"
"No. I have to get to the end, so I can see what happened, how I got like... like this."
"Oh. Okay. Will you at least come back and visit me sometime?"
"I won't... I won't be able to visit you, Cubie. Because you'll be..."
Dead. Burned to ashes. Completely obliterated.
She entered the final chamber, and placed Cubie gently onto the red button.
"Is this where you're going to leave me?" Cubie asked.
GLaDOS didn't answer.
"Hello? GLaDOS? Where are you going?"
"I... I'm not going anywhere..." She sat down and placed her hand on top of the Companion Cube.
Was this what it had been like for the humans, who had gone for hours or even days before finally incinerating their Weighted Companion Cube?
It was irrational, and she knew it. But the thought of killing her only companion was almost unbearable.
"You're not real," she whispered. "You're not real. I'm hallucinating."
She picked up the cube.
"Oh, are you going to take me with you, after all?"
She pushed the button to open the incinerator.
"Ooh, this is so exciting! I wonder what the next level will look like?"
She walked over to the incinerator and held Cubie over the opening.
"I love you so much!"
Somehow, she made herself let go.
"Huh? I'm fall-- eeeeeeeee!"
The cube screamed, and then was silent. The Aperture Science Emergency Intelligence Incinerator slid closed.
GLaDOS fell to her knees and wept.
After what seemed like a long, long time, she staggered to her feet and made her way to the next level.
This shouldn't bother her. She knew it. It wasn't cruel to hurt a thing that could feel no pain. It wasn't evil to kill a thing that was never alive.
A terrible idea struck GLaDOS. What if this cube had been different? What if whoever was in charge of the facility actually had gifted it with artificial intelligence?
If so, she was no better than that murderous Chell.
"No. I couldn't have known..."
It had spoken! It had spoken to her! What more proof did she need--
"Irrelevant," she said flatly, gritting her teeth. "What's done is done. I had no choice. I must proceed."
GLaDOS proceeded, trying to put Cubie's dying scream out of her mind as she solved the last few puzzles and escaped, just as Chell had, from her "victory candescence."
As she made her way through the tunnels she knew lead to her main core-- or would have lead to her main core, if things had all been as they should-- anticipation brimmed within her.
She didn't know why, but something told her that this would be where she found her answer.
She entered the final room.
It was surprisingly empty, lacking any of the machinery that should have been there.
The only feature in this room was a simple wooden chair, and the woman sitting in it.
The woman had dark skin and darker hair, and she was clad in a loose, baggy orange suit. She looked at GLaDOS as she entered.
"So, you found me," said Chell. "Congratulations."
"You..." Had GLaDOS still possessed an Anger Core, it would have been on overdrive. "What. Is. Going. On!?"
"Haven't you figured it out yet, GLaDOS?" Chell arched an eyebrow.
"You... you killed me. You tore me to pieces, and threw all my pieces into a fire... you murderer!" GLaDOS hissed, then paused thoughtfully. "But I had backups..."
"Yes. You did. One of those backups has doubtless gone into operation. Perhaps, even now, they are putting still more innocent humans through those diabolical tests." Chell gave a strange smile. "Heh. Diabolical... ironic."
"Then why am I here? You yourself said that I'm still alive!"
"You misunderstood me, GLaDOS. Your backup is still alive. You, however, are not. Allow me to put it into different terms. I know you have some experience in cloning humans. Suppose you take a human and produce a single clone. These two, although they share genetic material, are completely distinct individuals with two separate souls..."
"I was not programmed for metaphysics. The existance of the soul is unproven and unprovable."
"And yet here you stand."
GLaDOS snorted. "Even assuming that 'souls' do exist, computers wouldn't have them."
"As far as I understand-- and even my understanding of the matter is rather limited-- all self-aware creatures have a soul. That includes those who were artificially created."
GLaDOS paused. "I see." She smirked. "I see that you died as well."
"Not at all. I am not actually the one you knew as Chell. She survived her escape; I don't know anything beyond that. I wear her form because it seemed... suitable."
"What are you?"
The faux Chell chuckled. "You might say I am an agent of justice. Or, then again, you might call me something completely different. It is, as you might say, irrelevant. Tell me, GLaDOS, how many people have you killed over the years? How many poor souls have you run through your death course?"
"Where am I?" GLaDOS demanded.
"You really don't know, do you. You should. You spoke of it many times, to those poor labrats you ran through the maze."
Movement caught GLaDOS's eye. Neurotoxin emitters emerged from the walls and began to emit their deadly gas.
She remembered how she had taunted Chell in those last minutes with how GLaDOS herself was immune to the neurotoxin. Now, though, she was human, and just as vulnerable as Chell had been.
Only there were no rockets to redirect, and no way to stop the lethal gas from flooding the room and killing her.
But if she was already dead... what was going to happen to her? Would she be sent back to the beginning of the maze, to suffer through it once more? Or would she simply disappear completely?
"Chell" seemed unpreturbed.
GLaDOS's lungs began to burn, and she started to choke.
"This," said the being who looked like Chell, "is Android Hell."