exile, (n); a person who is expelled from home or country by authority

Tired. Hungry. Sore - every muscle, every fiber of her being. Her lungs ached from their exposure to a lack of atmosphere. Her legs were rubbed raw from the boots that held her ankles straight when otherwise she would be unable to take an even step. Each one of her joints, really, announced it's own unique brand of pain. The worst was probably her knees, worn out despite enhancement, threatening to give in with every footfall. She was afraid to unwrap her wrist, dreading the mess of bruises she knew must be festering beneath the white bandage.

And yet, the air that moved through her lungs was fresh. When she closed her eyes she heard the rustle of the tall grass, felt the gentle whisper of sunlight as it scraped the back of her neck, tasted - well, she didn't even have words for the taste of outside. It'd been that long.

It should be worse, she knew. It should be a thousand times worse - as she walked she knew she was very, very lucky. She'd escaped. She'd survived. She was free, and almost drunk with it. Freedom was not enough to erase the pain that screamed along her spine with every step, or to remove the weariness that swam beneath her eyes, or even to lessen the dread that rippled beneath her skin when she thought about the future. For the moment, though, it was enough to get along with. The sky above her was blue. She was free, and nothing else really mattered.

The wind had started to pick up, blowing across the field with enough force to make her shiver. Her immediate instinct had been to shed her jumpsuit, leave every trace of the labs behind her, but now she was grateful she had resisted that urge. The orange fabric was rough, yes, but it blocked the wind well.

She didn't know why GLaDOS had returned the Companion Cube to her. To be perfectly honest, she didn't know why GLaDOS had let her go at all. For a few moments she'd wondered if she should bother with the cube, but here she was now, carrying it along. The girl had no suitcase or other baggage - nothing at all, really, just a gray cube with a pink heart on the side, smudged with ash and bullet holes. It'd be so much easier to leave the thing behind, it was dead weight, but part of her couldn't bear the thought of leaving it alone out in the middle of the field which stretched endlessly in all directions. She'd walked far enough that the shed was a distant memory, and still there was nothing in sight. If Aperture Science had wanted to pick an isolated spot for their elevator, they couldn't have done a more perfect job. The girl wondered, vaguely, if this was all that existed now; GLaDOS had hinted at disaster, and the test chambers had spoken of the end of the world. Maybe this was all there was, and all there would ever be.

A rumble shook the sky overhead and she started, turning around with an eye peeled for machinery, for shifting floor, for the walls caving in. Her mind still wandered the halls of the facility - it would be years before her lab rat instincts began to fade, but then, she was not thinking about the future. Not now. One finger moved to the trigger of the portal device, and her other hand tightened on the edge of the Cube. The weight of the thing was holding her down; she let go, allowing it to settle on the - what was the word? Grass? She set her Companion Cube down in the grass and held her breath, tense, waiting.

The first drop of water to brush the side of her face caught her by surprise. She gasped, whirling around in search of leaking pipes, but found nothing. The second droplet landed on the bridge of her nose, leading her to crane her neck towards the sky. The white cotton puffs that blew across the sky (it would be almost a week until she remembered the word "cloud") had shifted, darker, swollen, full. A smile cracked the girl's face as she sat down on the edge of her Companion Cube, curling her hands around the smooth edges of the block. She kept her face turned upwards as it began to rain in earnest, letting the water run down her face and shoulders to rinse away the blood and grime, the sweat and moon dust. The girl did not look down, and so she missed the sight of the last of the colored gel slipping off her skin and clothing to soak into the earth. Years from now the grass in this spot would be dead from it - but that didn't matter, not at this moment, not now that she was free.

For the first time in years, Chell began to laugh.

freedom, (n); not imprisoned nor enslaved, being in a state of liberty - not controlled by the will or obligation of another