All was quiet throughout Aperture Laboratories. The only real noise came from the soft humming of the AI's main generator. Normally GLaDOS had some kind of snark comment or resolution to each memory she saw but that...
It was just too sad.
Given what she knew was inevitably supposed to happen, the child was probably better off. Cave wasn't getting any better, actually he was much worse after exposing himself to ground up moon rocks. His body was really starting to give out, and it was a wonder he was still able to run the company.
He went overboard with pre-recorded messages, now programming them to go off if people were spending too much time talking or taking their breaks. Johnson himself seemed to be boarded up inside his office. The Aperture Science staff hadn't seen him in years.
Even Caroline, who had severed herself from his office, didn't see him too much anymore.
Her ears perked up as a ping came on over the PA, Mr. Johnson had probably meant to say something but instead a coughing fit echoed throughout the vast chambers of Aperture. Then the announcement cut off. The assistant sighed, and went back to her work in her small space. She really didn't have much of an office anymore, her desk was just set up in a desolate hallway that connected the upper offices to the testing chambers. That way she was in the middle of observing the tests that went on in Aperture-being that employees were now mandated to be the actual test subjects- and if Johnson needed her she wouldn't have that far to walk.
The PA system turned on again, and Johnson cleared his throat. Still, he managed to cough a few times before he could speak.
"Caroline, come to my office."
'Right away, Mr. Johnson.' She thought, grabbing her bag of files, and quickly heading for the elevators to Johnson's office. It was no surprise that Johnson called on her an awful lot, she did do all of his paper work, and she would answer his call every time. Even if it ended in him forgetting why he had called her there in the first place.
It would have been easier to move back in, and save her the constant trips. However, Cave had gotten so unbearably incomprehensible and unreasonable over the years she just couldn't stand to bear it. Many days had been spent trying to convince him to go home, and get some rest. In the end, he'd always throw a fit by arguing that he was in hell, and that was about as close to home as he would get.
Caroline opened the door to see her boss' chair facing the window to the older, vitrified chambers. He seemed to be mumbling to himself
"You wanted to see me, sir?" She asked, having seen this scene many times before.
The chair slowly turned around. Cave stared at her with dimmed eyes, and lifted a pile of papers off his practically bare desk.
He coughed, and covered it with his free hand. Frowning, his assistant went to take the papers. She nearly had to pry his hand open to take them, and his arm still remained in the air a second or two before realizing she had received the pile.
She looked him up and down, not even sure if he was looking at her.
"Was there something else you needed me for, Mr. Johnson?"
"No. That will be all. Go back to your desk."
Caroline thanked him, and made her way back to the elevator. The sounds of the machine echoed through the empty halls of Aperture. They were actually quite calming when one had spent so much time living in the underground caverns of the facility. She stepped out of the elevator and walked the short distance to her desk, plopping her bag down onto it so that she could grab her reading glasses. She began to sort through her files, putting them into two piles ranging from immediate to not as important. It was through this that the brighter colors of a picture caught her eye. There was no accompanying letter or words to go with it, just a picture of a little girl with curly black hair. Her overalls were covered in dirt, and a frown was all too apparent on her face as she held what appeared to be a real cat by a leash. Caroline found the sight rather cute, but unsettling. She looked closer at the child's face; so many features like her own. A hand went to her mouth to cease any gasp she could muster.
A plethora of questions crossed her mind right then, yet all she could manage to do was clutch the photo tighter in her hand as she made her way back to the elevator. Upon arriving at Johnson's room, the woman didn't even bother to knock as she threw the door open. Mr. Johnson turned around to meet her gaze, a fierce, unwavering anger dripping from it. It was very unlike her, yet Johnson seemed completely unfazed.
"The paperwork is done already, I'm assuming." He stared at her, covering his mouth from a cough. She only tightened her scowl, and threw the picture onto his desk. He glanced at it before looking back at her, challenging her for a response.
Caroline complied by clenching her fists. A feeble attempt to keep herself together.
"You told me you donated her to science." She spat, wishing he would do something other than give her that calm stare.
"I did. To a young man down on his luck. Children enable people to ignore their problems, and work for the greater good. In this case, science."
"You gave her to a family! Mr. Johnson, they're doing exactly what we could have done to raise her!"
"Caroline," Cave wheezed his words out, and cleared his throat. "Look at us. At this point our lives are, and always will be science."
"Science didn't make that little girl, sir." She scanned her boss' face, no longer able to hold his younger vigor. Maybe he was right, they were too far into their lives to care for a child properly. Yet, Caroline would have given her life to get her daughter back. She couldn't let this opportunity to slip through her fingers.
"Where is she? Who is she living with?" The words came out rather stingy.
Johnson sat back in his chair, and rocked it a few times. A grin working its way through his features.
"Knowing you, if I told you where the kid was you'd take her away and never come back." He chuckled lightly at her expense.
"That would be kidnapping. Legally the girl isn't yours."
She bit her tongue and looked away, knowing he was right. But the girl wasn't just hers, it was very much his own flesh and blood too. She knew Cave Johnson wasn't exactly fond of kids- they were horrible test subjects-there had been no hope of them ever being a family. Caroline felt like such a fool for believing they ever would be. She just wanted to make things right. It wasn't fair that she had to be separated from the girl like this.
"I remember us agreeing not to talk about this." Cave's voice tore through her thoughts.
She gave him an incredulous look, but he seemed to ignore it. Instead producing a few more coughs, and rubbing his temples.
"I can't even argue anymore. What's a man without his arguing?" He had said it quietly to himself, but Caroline had heard him.
Her face softened, and immediately she reached for a drawer behind his desk. She took his hand and placed a bottle of pills inside of it. He gave a weak smile before popping a few into his mouth.
"I'm sorry, sir. I have more paperwork to do. I'll be back later when they're finished."
"And I'll be here hacking up a lung." Said Johnson, debating on whether to open the pill bottle again.
Was it more cruel to be emotionally separated from the man you loved, or physically separated from the child you always wanted? GLaDOS wasn't sure if there ever was a test conducted on that, and Caroline's mixed emotions made it hard to come to a clear conclusion. The AI still gave kudos to her for being able to get of bed and go to work with a smile everyday. If the computer herself had been in that position she would have tracked down the adoptive parents and flooded their housing unit with neurotoxin, taking the child for herself.
In that respect, she may not have been too different from her flesh and boned counterpart.
Caroline sighed and sorted through her charts, marking down notes as she observed her co-worker going through a test chamber.
She clicked her stopwatch as soon as a frizzy haired woman nearly fell through the door. Neither female looked amused.
"Maggie, you're precisely one-hundred and twenty seconds later than your last test on record."
"This is a the tenth time I've run this chamber today." Maggie looked at her now stained white clothes. "Tell me, are the new chamber designers slacking off this year or am I just running this at your leisure?"
"All chamber designers are busy testing their own chambers to make sure each one is safe for testing purposes." The assistant had said it calmly enough, but it only put the other woman in an uproar.
"Are any of them still human? For pete's sake Caroline, Mr. Johnson's lost his mind and we're all suffering for it!"
"Any and all complaints you have must be filed with the correct paperwork, and submitted to me in writing."
"Fine. I'll have a textbook of complaints handed into to you by next week!" Maggie trudged off, rubbing a sore spot on her shoulder.
"I look forward to what you have to say!" Caroline said, cheerfully waving her goodbye. She took out her ball point pen and made a few notes about Maggie's temper on her testing chart.
Repeated testing makes subject slow and angry.
That sounded about right.
The familiar sound of the PA announcement rung through her ears. She looked up eager to see what Mr. Johnson had to say.
She nodded, and headed back to her desk to put her charts away. She noticed that everything seemed to be in neat order, no papers left unsigned nor testing report unfilled. It seemed unusual that Mr. Johnson would call her to his office so late, often times he'd be asleep by now. Nonetheless she put a smile on and made her way to his office.
She arrived to see him hunched over his computer while his very shaky hands tried to move the mouse. He seemed very alert, and frustrated. Though, naturally for Johnson the frustration was more apparent.
Caroline bit her lip, still hanging by the door.
His head snapped up at her voice. His eyes, though hard to see from the distance, seemed to be smaller than usual.
"You haven't been to the new test chamber." He said accusingly, as if it were a bad thing.
"No sir, Mr. Johnson. I've yet to be scheduled to audit in any new chambers."
"So you haven't heard the new recorded message?"
"Is it important?"
Johnson turned back to his computer, and slammed on the tower a few times. "I can't remember what I named that damn file..."
She waited patiently, wondering what all the fuss could be about. In truth, she hadn't really been aware that there were any new chambers. Perhaps the robotic staff was less efficient than Johnson gave them credit for.
She went to voice this but was cut off.
"Ah, hell. Let me get to the point. You haven't taken any vacation time since you've started working here. Our providers tell me I need to give employees vacation for funding."
"Funding? Mr. Johnson, we don't even have a provider..."
"So, you'll be starting your vacation tonight."
Caroline could almost feel the color drain from her face. The last time she had left Aperture it ended in disaster for her. There was no chance of her leaving the facility again.
"That's absurd! What about all the paper work, and testing that needs to be done?"
"Put on hold 'till you get back."
"Mr. Johnson, I can't just take a vacation."
Maggie might have been onto something when she said Mr. Johnson was losing his mind. Caroline was fully aware of the cognitive decline, but she had no idea it was so bad. She walked closer to his desk, as if trying to make a point.
"Sir, I'm not leaving."
"Okay, then you're suspended."
Caroline slammed her hands down onto the desk before the man. "You can't do that, sir! I've done absolutely nothing wrong! Are you even aware of what you're saying?"
"I know very well what I'm saying! I'm saying get the hell out!" A string of coughs exploded from the man, and he struggled to catch his breath.
Confused, and hurt, Caroline stood starting at the scene. When the coughing didn't cease, a fear started to slip up her spine.
"What's really going on, Cave?"
"JUST GET OUT OF MY OFFICE!"
It was a miracle he was even able to yell. Though, he had never in his life yelled at her. Not once. The fear in her spiked, and her legs turned to leave but she couldn't bring herself to take another step. Something was telling her to stay put. Johnson was still gasping for air, and turning the slightest shade of purple.
Her eyed widened, and every wall she had put up came crashing down.
"Sir!" She ran over and put her arms his shoulders, trying to keep him from slipping out of his chair. He tried talking but the words were incoherent, a hand clutched at his chest tightly until they were ivory. Finally he lost consciousness, and slipped out of her arms off the chair.
That was when Caroline hit the emergency button on his desk. Quickly, she was at his side, holding his hand until her own knuckles turned white. She heard the Aperture Science Medical Team rush in with a cart, and a few other employees who gasped at the scene. It had been years since they had seen their CEO, but even Caroline herself could barely place the face to his name. It was twisted and misconfiguration as saliva leaked out from his mouth from being turned face down.
A medical member put his fingers to Johnson's neck in search for a pulse. Upon finding one he signaled for the team to react.
"Get the cart over here! Let's resuscitate him!"
The man tried to pry Caroline away from Cave, but she came back after every attempt screaming Johnson's name.
"You can't leave me. You can't leave me. Oh, God-Cave please don't leave me!"
She buried her face into his arm as the team worked around her. She was praying that this wasn't the end. Johnson was too stubborn the accept death. Unfortunately, there was no fooling herself this time. Her ears picked up the distant sounds of the medical team barking orders, and a few employees chattering away. Even further in the background was a pre-recorded message, most likely the one Johnson had been meaning to play for her. She paid no mind to it. All she could think about was Cave. Everything about him just seemed more clear, and real than ever. She saw him walking into her old work, looking her straight in the eye, and hiring her on the spot. She felt every pat on the back, every firm grip on the shoulder, or touch on the check. She reveled in the looks he had constantly given her, and every praise he had sent her way.
The way he sounded, the way he smelled, the way he tasted. Caroline shook her head, and let out a mournful cry.
"Not like this." She whispered. "Men like him don't die like this."
"...and I'm gunna say it on tape so that everybody hears it a hundred times a day..."
"Cave, I'm not ready for this."
"...before you people can pour me into a computer..."
"Stand back Miss Caroline! He's stopped breathing."
"...now, she'll argue. She'll say she can't. She's modest like that..."
"I can't run Aperture without you. I won't. I can't. Oh, God..."
"Heart rate has dropped to fifteen percent!"
"...hell, put her in my computer. I don't care..."
"What about our daughter!"
A long beeping sound filled the room. For a moment, Caroline's cries had stopped out of shock until she completely lost control of herself. The rest of the room remained silent, unsure of what to do next.
"...Alright, test's over. You can head on back to your desk."
A/N: Caroline's a bit more aggressive in this one. Angry, wronged mother's are scary! Also, I think Cave and Caroline are becoming one of my favorite pairings of all time. There needs to be more Cavelin fanstuffs out there! *nudgenudge* ;D
*ahem* That aside, there's still a few more chapters to go. As always, please read and review!