Author's Note: This chapter was by far the most difficult to write. Hopefully the many feminine pronouns are not confusing, except when they are intended to be interchangeable. It was very difficult to portray GLaDOS' mixed feelings toward the clone and not make her fall into pathos. I hope you all enjoy. I may do more Portal stories, possibly set in the Fabrications "universe".
Part III: Again, Welcome
"Due to previous tests being solvable, we shall proceed into a new test designed for the most advanced subjects."
( TV Tropes Wiki's Portal article)
"Hello, and, again, welcome..."
Chell–it does not matter whether she is Chell the first, the last, or one of the middle out of the clones, but only that she has come to adulthood and is, unlike any of the others at the moment, both alive and conscious– does not note the boredom and anger in that "again", but GlaDOS, who saw no reason to actually make her projected vocals hit those tones, does.
Chell the survivor looks around.
The subject never replies to her, only following her advice. GlaDOs thinks, with a snide sort of satisfaction, that she is just talking to herself, but, had the girl done any replying, would have been doing that anyway.
GlaDOS' eyes see an intricate maze of empty silver tunnels, with a splash of orange in only one.
The frustrations and the successes are recorded. The repeated motions of hate–screaming, kicking the wall, sitting down and staring as if her dark eyes could take in the entire complex and turn it inside out to see its seams– are as predictable as the slight smile, the slight relaxation of breath where every reading screams that the normal human body should be at its most panicked now, when she flies upandupandup with the wind tearing at her hair.
It is like a dog show; Chell jumps through hoops and climbs ramps that just lead down again. She does not have her throat torn out. She is best of group, best of show, best of breed, but a better breed judges. "You're doing very well."
It would be such a waste if she failed.
GlaDOS is ready to see Chell die again. The device will be safe; will be picked up and dusted off and put in its cradle for the next contestant. When GlaDOS, in moments of silence where she imagines curving around in the dark womb of her bodylessness, wonders whether she would truly have grown up to be so gaunt and so curved, she doubts it and is reassured that she will certainly not grow up to be so baked.
GlaDOS wonders whether Chell's success is hers as well. Her father's felt like GlaDOS' at first. Do science, he said. Help us help us all.
And that's fine.
But then Chell takes her father's route.
Chell crawls about in the rust-splattered innards of the walls. No incubation assistants will reach her here, with their needles and white coats, but then they never could–their names were programmed into GlaDOS, slipped past her vocoder-lips like an intoxicated secret, but she regrets them. No more looming men. Only GlaDOS, looming (over) herself. Echoing. Gloating, because although Chell thinks she has won, she is not fighting toward escape, but toward the nautilus-spiral-shell center.
GlaDOS' roots reach toward the sunlit world. Hanging beneath them, her thoughts travel upward. She remembers the feel of concrete. Chell would like to feel that again.
Wouldn't you? Well you won't. It's not right for people like you to be up there. Your skills would go to waste, and here they help us all. Enjoy your stay– everything else is an illusion. Or is it? People like you never find out, so it doesn't matter. Just don't drink the water.
They stand face to face and GlaDOS talks to cover up the fact that she hasn't readied the neurotoxin. She talks to cover up the fact that she is ashamed of not having a face. But her talk, as much a defense mechanism as it is, is also an attack. She would never have it any other way.
"You're not smart, you're not a scientist." you're just a little girl
The portals whoosh and blat; the rocket launcher crows; the room echoes. Chell is glad that the tongs of gravity on the end of the portal gun pick up the red sphere, as it snarls and spits and spins, but she holds the yellow one in her hands for a moment to feel it turn and listen to its high inquiring voice.
GlaDOS fights. The neurotoxin pours out with vehemence. But she never thought to ready it early this time. She does not feel such momentum-filled hate toward the test subject.
"The rocket really is the way to go." Why is she saying this? Almost without control she says it, as the woman-girl Chell runs across the room with a piece of GLaDOS in her pale hands.
The human part of her knows. She wants to survive, to be one instead of many parts, to run on legs of muscle and flesh and bone, and now she can only do that through Chell.
But other parts—perhaps Aperture parts, perhaps bitter oh-so-human parts—revel in their own talent for misdirection, for glamour, for tearing down the warning signs in the human heart in order to see what the collisions look like. She sinks into comfortable lies. They distance her from thoughts of forgetting what it feels like to have a body. "It also says you were adopted."
How she loves lies. So useful.
But Chell keeps going.
And in the end Chell kills herself, or thinks that that is what she has done, or GlaDOS thinks that is what she has done. Chell makes the last move and GlaDOS feels a lurch in her systems, like feet tramping what she has left of a soul.
Tired and free, Chell stumbles away from the wreckage of the labs. The heelsprings that once kept her legs from breaking impeded her now, catching on buckled concrete and loose rocks or wire fence. She makes for the forest, cool and shadowy and clean as it is. She follows a bubbling, rushing sound and finds a stream. This, she thinks, is water. It is not green-red and noxious, but just like she knew how to use a gun or what the symbols on the walls meant or that she wanted cake, she knows that it is water.
Her shoulders loosen and slump; the gun drops from her hands. She kneels and drinks. The water is clear down to all-sparkling-shades-of-brown rocks, and it pools cold in the hollow of her throat.
She hears That Voice in her head. "Do not submerge the device in water, even partially."
The gun bobs in the stream, then sinks, its lights dying. It floats downstream, turning as eddies catch one end and then the other. Chell watches it go, then walks away.
Thank you for participating in this Aperture Science Enrichment Center Activity.