Author's Note: I'm sorry that this had to happen, but, well, here we are.
This was a prompt on the Portal kink meme over at Livejournal. Someone asked for a high school AU, and I had just watched the movie Brick and some episodes of Twin Peaks within a 24 hour period. So instead of general high school drama shenanigans, the OP got this...weird murder mystery thing. The image of Chell and Wheatley solving mysteries together was too cute to ignore, as was the character possibilities involved in humanizing all the robots.
Also, just to be clear, C.C. is the humanized version of the Companion Cube.
you're the piece of gold that flashes on my soul.
- playground love, air
The Aperture Math and Science Academy was, to put it mildly, a very unusual school.
It was situated about an hour away from Cleveland, and was surrounded by rolling cornfields for at least a mile in every direction. The only thing to break up the monotony of the endless farmland was a defunct sombrero factory across the street. The school had apparently once been a shower curtain factory, then an experimental science facility, then a haunted experimental science facility, but had been repurposed for educational use. It was easily the tallest and biggest thing in the area, and had been added on to many times over the years. To phrase it in the kindest way possible, it was "architecturally diverse" and "in need of a little repair". In other words, it was haphazardly designed and falling apart.
This was where Ohio's brightest and best high school students came to further their intellectual development, to jumpstart their careers as doctors, lawyers, overpaid CEOs or underpaid scientists. Some of them were rich; some of them not so much. Some of them were incredibly intelligent; others had bought their way in. But, whatever their background and status, the students all shared the same vague goal - to get ahead, graduate, and get the fuck out of the Midwest as soon as humanly possible. And getting ahead, at Aperture, involved tests. Lots of tests. Principal Johnson had looked at the testing guidelines proposed by No Child Left Behind and decided they weren't strict enough, rambled on about lemons for a while, and then issued an order that tests were to be given every day. In every class. No exceptions. When life gives you lemons, you give those lemons tests until 100% of lemons either meet or exceed the state-set average.
Principal Johnson, unfortunately, had failed to grasp the concept that there needed to be below-average students in order for there to be an average, but Chelsea Freeman understood that fact, and it was one of the many reasons why she loathed Aperture with every fiber of her being. She hated the teachers. She hated most of her fellow students (with a few exceptions). She hated being in the middle of nowhere for nine months out of the year. And most of all, she hated the endless, repetitive, mindless tests. As a freshman, she had been lured in by the promise of a better education than the one she would receive at the local high school; as a senior, Chell's illusions about the nature of Aperture had been thoroughly shattered. The only thing keeping her from going back to Cleveland in defeat was her friends.
And she was worried about one friend in particular.
C.C., her oldest friend, a girl she had known since kindergarten, her constant companion and confidante, had gone missing. It was all over school. Her dorm room was empty. She hadn't been in classes for several days. The police had searched the cornfields around the school, every dorm room, and every classroom, and found nothing. C.C.'s parents had been notified, and the school was on the verge of getting the FBI involved. Meanwhile, the rumors had spread as fast as lightning. Everyone had a theory or opinion on where C.C. had gone, or knew a friend who knew a friend who thought they saw her.
"I heard she had a suicide pact with that kid who always talks about space and he decided to pussy out at the last second."
"I heard she got on a bus and went to Arizona because she can't stand being friends with that weird Chell girl anymore. You know, the one who's creepy and fat and has no parents."
"Okay, like this is just something I heard, but someone told me she might've gotten pregnant? And so like, she went to Canada? And didn't like, tell anyone where she was going?"
Everywhere Chell looked, her friend's smiling face stared back at her from posters on the wall. That dirty blonde hair, those wide, slightly lazy blue eyes, and above the familiar picture, the sobering word "MISSING". Chell felt lost without her. Sure, she had other friends, but C.C. was the one who was always there for her. Even as C.C.'s popularity rose and she spent more and more time among the company of her fellow cheerleaders, she made sure to include Chell as much as she could, and made time for her whenever she needed it. They were radically different in appearance, C.C. the living portrait of a Prom Queen Barbie, Chell small and dark, but there was something about the two of them together that made people often ask if they were sisters.
For a week, Chell basically operated on autopilot. She walked through the cold concrete hallways, tuning out the whispers and laughter that seemed to follow her everywhere she went. She answered every question about C.C.'s disappearance with a sigh and a shrug. She curled up on her hard bed every night and wept, and if she had dreams, she did not remember them.
"Are you alright?" Wheatley would ask her, watching her pick at her food. "D'you need a hug, or like, moral support, or some kind of dessert or something? Because I can totally - "
"I'm okay, Frosted Wheats," Chell would reply. "I'm just tired."
She was tired of being worried. She was tired of not knowing. She was tired of people walking on eggshells around her and whispering behind her back. Chell wanted to go back to her room, and cry some more, and sleep until C.C. came back from Canada or Mexico or wherever everyone thought she had gone, but she couldn't. She had to stand up, walk out of the cafeteria, go to English class, and take a test on Hamlet. She had to act like everything was fine, when in fact it wasn't at all. Everyone was treating the situation like it was some exciting episode of a true-crime television show, instead of a real person who was really missing. It almost made Chell want to call home and tell her adopted parents that she had made a horrible mistake, and could she please finish out the rest of the year back in Cleveland, but she knew everyone would miss her too much and it was only three more months so she might as well stick it out. C.C. would come back. She had to. She probably went to have an exciting adventure somewhere, to try her hand at being a teenage runaway for a while, but she would come back. She had to.
Chell had a dream that night where she was lying on her bed, holding hands with C.C., talking about boys, and how much they hated school, and how C.C. was going to ask her mom for a care package that had a lot of gummy candy in it. C.C.'s little hands were so soft. The little heart pendant she always wore lay on her chest. "Everything's okay as long as we're together," C.C. said, but it sounded echoey and far-away.
When Chell woke up it was a beautiful morning. She usually woke up before everyone else so she could get down to the tutoring lab early to put in some extra study hours. Still in her pajamas, she pulled back the dingy white curtains and looked outside. The sun was just rising, splashing brilliant colors across the sky. For the first time in several days, it brought a smile to her face. She dressed quickly, pulling on the ugly blue and orange uniform. The dress code at Aperture was hideously outdated; girls were still required to wear skirts and "dress shoes". Chell's substitute of purple high-top sneakers had so far gone unnoticed. She was a practical sort of girl and wanted to be prepared in case of an emergency - she'd seen enough movies to know that girls who dress for fashion are always the first ones to trip right into a horde of hungry zombies. Yes, the shoes clashed, but who the fuck cared? They didn't pinch her toes, and that was all that mattered. Tying her hair up into her usual ponytail, her only makeup a swipe of Chapstick, Chell grabbed her bag and dashed out the door, heading to the library.
The hallways were deserted. Everyone else was still asleep. Chell whistled quietly to herself as she walked, making her way through the labyrinthine passages and secret shortcuts of the massive building. The library was located in the wing of Aperture that had been added on in the '70s, and although it was covered in floor-to-ceiling wood paneling and carpeted in a hideous shade of vomit green, it was Chell's favorite place in the entire school, because no one really went there unless they had to. It was so quiet in there you could almost hear the dust floating through the air, and sometimes they had free coffee.
As soon as Chell entered, she got the feeling that something was wrong. The smell of coffee and old books was drowned out by something else, something that smelled of copper. Her usual long table by the window had something on it that looked like one of those zippered bags that clothes get put in after they've been dry-cleaned, except it was bigger and full of something. The copper scent grew stronger as Chell drew nearer to the table, and so did her newfound feeling of nausea. She slowly unslung her bag from her shoulder, letting it drop to the floor. Chell knew, in the back of her mind, what was in the bag, but she had to make sure. As she approached the table, she could see a little metal thing set on top of the bag. Upon realizing what it was, Chell's hand flew to her mouth.
It was C.C.'s heart necklace.
That smell was blood. Her friend's blood. C.C. hadn't gone to Canada or Mexico or run away with some boy to have an adventure. Someone had killed her, and probably cut her into pieces, and put her in a fucking body bag. Tears prickled at the corners of Chell's eyes as she began to hyperventilate. Her chest hurt. She couldn't breathe. She had to get out of there and tell someone.
Grabbing her bag, Chell ran towards the exit. Back through the hallways and corridors, across metal walkways and down flights of stairs, she sprinted like she was running a marathon. Her face was wet from crying. She felt like the world had just turned upside down. Her best friend was dead. She could barely think. She just kept running, and running, and running, all the way to the Student Services office. The counselors, still half-asleep and making their morning coffee, turned as one to stare at the crying girl as she hurtled through the door and down the hallway to Principal Johnson's office.
" - it's perfectly fine if a little asbestos gets in their food, they're young healthy kids, their organs will be just - "
Principal Cave Johnson looked up at the sound of his office door being abruptly yanked open. "Can you excuse me for just one second?" he asked whoever was on the other end of the line, and tucked the phone under his chin.
A sobbing girl with flushed cheeks and disheveled hair stood in front of his desk.
"What can I do for you, ma'am?" he asked. "Did someone steal something of yours? I keep telling them to not let the robotic monkeys out of the - "
"Cass - " The girl was so upset she was stuttering. "Cassandra Cal-calpurnia Cassavetes. The m-missing girl. She - she's - she's in the library."
The look on the girl's face made the meaning of in the libraryabsolutely clear. So this was how it would end. A death in the school, the first in twenty years. And not just a death, a murder. If the other parents heard about this, the school would almost certainly be shut down. The girl continued to sob loudly, in a tortured sort of way. Johnson's usual morning migraine increased the longer he listened to her cry. She needed a counselor. Or someone maternal. Or possibly some nice tranquilizers.
"Ellen!" Johnson bellowed. "Get in here!"
The door flew open again, revealing a nervous-looking older woman with a short haircut and stretch pants.
"Yes, Mr. Johnson?" she quavered.
"C.C. Cassavetes has been found. Take this girl into your office, I'll call the police myself."
As the girl was led away for emergency counseling, she turned to look back at him, leaving Johnson deeply unsettled. She was terrifyingly angry and very sad, and her narrowed eyes suggested that if the police couldn't find out why her best friend was dead, then she would take the law into her own hands.
Johnson hoped, for the sake of his sanity and the continued existence of the Aperture Math and Science Academy, that that would not be the case.