Author's Note: This is my first Portal fic, and it was pretty difficult to do, what with my attempt to capture the game's feeling of austerity; its Kafka-esque absurdities such as the cake; and its "everyone is out to kill you" mien all at the same time. Those writers were brilliant, and my attempts to write in-character dialogue for GLaDOS were fraught with wondering how they did it. I also tried a new sort of format intended to replicate the rhythm of a series of one-sentence stories. This fic was also born out of a desire to make sense of GLaDOS' motivations and the whole plot, and it shouldn't be too much of a spoiler to say that I wrote this on the theory that so-called Rat Man, the guide and subversive authority that I as the player character felt like I was following through the whole game, was Chell the PC's father, and that GLaDOS was the original Chell, the template for the clone(s) who became the test subject(s).
This will probably go for a couple more chapters, if, and I am allowed to say this because Portal isn't my main fandom, people are interested.
Part 1: Arguably Alive
Defense Logistic Agency solicits bids for development of fuel system icing inhibitor
...inhibits ice but is also:
*A fully functioning Disk Operating System
(from in-game Aperture Science PowerPoint presentation)
He stands at the door of Aperture Laboratories with his daughter in the crook of his arm.
He says, "You ready for this?"
One of her paper-pliant hands brushes against the skin of his neck. "Yes."
"Your mom gave her life for this company. We never did find where that first portal went. I'm not sure that it isn't some sign of psychological distress that I'm willing to do the same."
He steps forward, then stops when, unexpectedly, Chell speaks. "Maybe you're just an excellent employee."
Together they pass through the door.
No one asks him whether he wants to reconsider, and so he thinks for a moment that he has chosen the wrong company all along. But he has come too far for that.
The pale people in white cloaks put her to sleep so that she doesn't feel them disconnect her brain from her heart.
The manager looks at the curled tan body in the vat of blue liquid, at the speckles of strip-light illumination filtering through, and he says to the father, "This was a triumph for science. She will be more brilliant than any of us."
The father says, "It is likely that she always has been."
She can hear them.
The father joins others at the banks of computer screens, beginning the input, rechecking the calculations. Others wheel the fetal-curved body of the girl to an incinerator iris and tip it in. Others finish encasing her living brain, shutting it away behind bone-white plastic whorls. On the inner lab's topmost floor others perform final checks on her many eyes. Looking at the numerous empty corridors that the cameras see, they settle into their chairs. Others hook electrodes to sense-sectors.
"Operating system running smoothly."
"Life-form stable and hooked in."
She has never stopped hearing them. But the eyes are new, and when they activate, she shies away. Her father knew her better than anyone else, knew that she would make the move from body to digital signals easily. And so the camera feed flicks away to blackness, leaving her with comforting solitude and the knowledge of how again to open those eyes.
"Beginning input of relative physics data."
"Overridden. Give her, it, her a moment to get her bearings."
In the darkness, she sings to herself the nursery rhymes he once sang to get her to sleep.
Unlike the rest, there is an unforeseen error in this the final part of the process, and for a moment many of the scientists think that she will not emerge from herself. But she explores the jacks that lead to the cameras and linked servers and data reservoirs, and when they feed her the equations she returns them solved.
They progress in this manner for some weeks.
Outside it is evening, and inside it is evening as well, although the white walls and the thousand glowing computer-lights make a dusk within the halls of the labs. Her father walks through the corridors after the others have gone home; he walks so that his footsteps echo, because he wants to believe that she will hear those before her camera-eyes see him. She always used to hear his footsteps when he passed her room to go to bed, and he would always see her lantern-eyes for a moment before they closed again, knowing that it was him who walked.
He enters the room, looks down for a moment at the floor already scuffed by the curved sides of shoes, because he does not want to see her as the machine. But he enters the sanctum, and her lights wink on like faux stars.
"Good evening." The voice is more adult than Chell has any right to be.
"Are you...doing well?"
"The Aperture Science Laboratory Mainframe System and its Redundancy System Systems are running smoothly. Any further inquiries at this time may be directed to the laboratory director if he is not otherwise occupied."
He takes a deep breath. "No, I mean...you. Have you adjusted to...being a computer?"
"It's not really something one adjusts to, you know. It's rather abrupt."
"Dammit Chell, do you remember me?"
She is silent for a moment, then, "You are Dr. C. Johnson, Aperture Science employee and sharer of, approximately, ninety-six percent of my DNA."
"I love you, Chell..."
"But then, chimpanzees share ninety-six percent of my DNA as well."
He walks away.
A few more times he tries. She never cracks; she functions, not lives–except for the moments when he can coax insults out of her by being especially emotional. He could know which parts of her brain must have been physically damaged to create the change in emotion, but he does not explore that. Despite her last words, he thinks that she simply was not ready, no matter how brilliant, no matter how pliant, to be thus changed.
But she helps them make the portal device–a new one, smaller this time, more like a gun than a gate, able to create two portals so that it's wielder will always be in control of where they end up. Every day new eyes open in the test chambers. Every day, she is more GLaDOS and less Chell.
The scientists begin to prep the clones.
He will go on leave for a while after this; it will be too much to see a Chell grown unnaturally to adulthood pass or fail the tests.
"Listen to me."
"I have been listening very carefully. You left me here to perfect some very dangerous technology, and I am content with that. I find it quite illuminating. But I would prefer not to interrupt my contemplation of successful teleportation, and perhaps death, with familial ties."
He has run out of things to say, run out of professions of love that had begun to feel as circuitous and dry as desert stream beds. This will be his last midnight visit. Let the computer sleep.
GlaDOS hums. Not the sound of fans of buzzing machinery, but her synthesized, oddly harmonic voice going through the human motions, picking carefully at the notes of a lullaby. Go to sleep, go to sleep...
Johnson turns around.
"I would like to see you more often. Really find out what we can do together."
He looks up at her.
"The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device is ready, but the testing environment has not itself been tested."
"The course will be used as scheduled."
Her voice is curt and echoing. Which programmer was so cruel as to make her sound like a child? Who thought, logically, that she ought to sound like Chell? He hears ticking in the hallways beyond the open door. GlaDOS says, "I don't think you understand the gravity of the situation. You will be escorted to the first test chamber in three, two..."
"Hell-llo." The turrets skitter in on their tripod legs. He looks at the techs' desktop computers, at the clocks saying that he has eight hours until Aperture opens. He could do the test run in that time, if he didn't stop to curl up in a corner like he wants to.
Curl up and forget that he ever had a daughter who he betrayed, who he eviscerated without being courageous enough to watch. Curl up and latch on to something human, when all he was left with was metal and computers and scientists–
He knew exactly how to escape at the end, though. He had made it that way.
He thought these things as the red pinprick lights focused on him and he began to walk with them; as the humming started again and the door closed on GLaDOS.