A/N: Man what ironic timing. I had planned this out in my head a week or so ago, and lo and behold it's finished right around Mother's Day. After I beat this game I couldn't help just ANGUISHING over the fact that GLaDOS gets left down there alone. I mean yeah, you could argue she wants to be alone, but at the same time I think it's more likely that she just wouldn't admit she wants company. She seems a bit at a loss during co-op, without someone on her intellectual level to talk to. It makes me sad. *pout* Not to mention I just love her attitude in the end credits...it's like grudgingly nice, like having a soul pisses her off. Anyway...on with the show.
Disclaimer: Derp. Everything belongs to Valve except my crazy theories.
x x x
She had lost her mind.
That single mantra filled the woman's mind as she parted the tall curtains of wheat, following mostly on a guess in the direction she supposed she should be going. Walking at a leisurely pace, she knew without a doubt that something must be clinically wrong with her. Her intentions were unthinkably stupid, and yet…
Chell blocked the thought from her mind. If she had learned anything from her imprisonment at Aperture, it was to trust her instincts. The impulse to do this had possessed her months ago, and once she recognized it there really was no doubt that she would go through with it. A fool's errand, but she couldn't help herself for whatever reason.
She brushed her dark bangs out of her eyes and paused for a moment, reassessing her location. Was she anywhere near the place? If so, surely she would have seen the old companion cube by now. She had spent that first night alone in the wheat field, resting to regain her strength, only to be found by a considerably baffled farmer in the morning. Reluctantly, Chell had left the cube behind, and took her first step back into human society.
That had been five years ago. And now, here she was again, heading right back into the pit of hell…
Well, she did hope she found that rusty old shack soon. A light summer shower had begun to fall, dousing her with a warm mist. She held the plastic bag in her hands closer to her and pressed on.
It took approximately a half an hour before, at long last, she stumbled upon her destination. Chell furrowed her brow as she examined the small shed, wondering if there was a camera somewhere on it. She felt glued to the ground, standing there with one hand on her hip, her hair half-soaked and wavy from the humidity.
This is an incredibly bad idea, her mind chided her. Even Wheatley would have had a hard time competing with this one.
She sighed. No, she had come too far to turn back now. Took a day off from work, drove far past the outskirts of the city, just for this. If there had been a time for doubts, that time had definitely passed.
Hesitantly, she pulled the door open. Pitch blackness looked back at her, the musty smell of stale air wafting out. Hadn't this been some kind of elevator…?
As if to answer her question, the mechanical humming sound of Aperture's lift rang out from below, making its way up from the depths to arrive neatly in the doorway. The elevator doors parted slowly, as if it were beckoning her.
So she stepped in.
For how long she stood there, Chell had no clue. Time seemed unwilling to enter this desolate place, the only sign of its existence being the canopy of plants that had covered the rooms. Where would this lift take her, anyway? Back down into the very center, into her chamber? Or somewhere else? Aperture seemed able to change its configuration at will, so there was really no telling where she would end up.
When the doors opened again, she stalled for a moment. It seemed unbelievable that she actually felt fear from being here, after how skillful she was at traversing the enormous place. Nothing should frighten her. Hell, after all, she had been able to just march right in and take down a sociopathic AI with relative ease. Twice. Three times, really, if you counted the stupidity core.
The woman stepped out into one of the many maze-like halls of Aperture. She estimated that she could be basically anywhere. It was just going to be by luck if she managed to get to where she was going, as it had been during her first escape attempt…why the hell didn't they put maps around here?
Up on the wall, a camera swiveled to look at her. Chell tensed slightly. Where was that condescending voice on the intercom? What a warm welcome indeed. Feeling awkward, she made her way down the hall.
Much to her surprise, she found after a while that she actually did know where she was. After having passed this way two—probably three times, there could be no mistaking it. Taking a few turns through the abandoned office rooms, she came to stand in front of that long, long hallway.
You. Are. An idiot.
Her inner voice had begun to wear on her nerves…but it was right. Every other time she had arrived here, all hell broke loose. At least she had a portal gun on those occasions. Now she was unarmed…although, things had changed a bit the last time she was here. Shrugging, Chell made her way forward, as she first had all those years ago.
She opened the door rather slowly, stepping inside, almost in the fashion of a nervous employee confronting their irate boss. Contrary to logic, the former test subject couldn't help but crack a small smile at the sight of Aperture's temperamental princess stationed at the apex of the room.
They regarded each other somewhat warily, though with much less animosity than before. For a fleeting moment, Chell thought perhaps this could go pleasantly after all.
But only until the AI gave a breathy sigh, shaking her head slightly. "Must you insist on always doing the opposite of what I tell you? Because I remember a distinct Don't Come Back clause attached to the terms of your freedom."
Moving in a bit closer, the human rolled her eyes. "So, we're as charming as ever, I see."
If she was surprised by the woman's reply, GLaDOS made sure not to show it. "Hm…it seems I'll have to strike 'mute' from your record, then. Although I doubt much could have changed to warrant the removal of the dangerous lunatic part."
Even on these more friendly terms, Chell had become accustomed to brushing off the insults. It was standard fare, of course, when talking with this one. Though she still preferred this over the attempted murder.
"I'm a bit surprised you didn't start complaining the minute I showed up here, actually," the girl pointed out. "It just doesn't feel like home without a deranged AI riding my case."
"Oh, please. I know absolutely everything that goes on in here. You announced your arrival the second those elevator doors opened. I just wanted to observe where you would go…you could say I was a bit curious." She said this last word in a tone that was a bit too sinister for Chell's liking. But, the woman ignored it. The threats had a lot less intention behind them by this point.
"Well then. If we're done with the pleasantries, I did have some business here." She fished into the plastic bag she had been carrying with her.
Suspicious, or perhaps merely intrigued, the computer tilted her head to the side. Her voice had dropped some of the characteristic monotone, replaced with the more feminine version. "What is that?"
"Just some birthday cake," Chell replied with a small chuckle. She held it up, a classic buttercream confection covered in cliché rainbow sprinkles. "It's my birthday today, although I may be off a few years as far as age goes…"
"So…your idea of celebrating is to come back to, presumably, the one place you hate the most?" A pause. "Hold on…I'm adding 'masochist' to your file, right next to 'a horrible person.'"
Still ignoring the snide remarks, Chell had sat herself down on the metal floor, getting ready to cut the cake with a cheap plastic knife she had brought. A chair would have been good, but this certainly wasn't the worst she had endured here. "Not really. I just thought it would be a nice thing to do, visiting an old friend on your birthday. It's been quite a while, after all."
"Perhaps by human standards," the AI sniffed, although she continued to watch the human's actions with some interest. "You forget I'll live forever. A few years mean nothing to me."
The human said nothing. She had cut herself a generous slice of cake and was busy scraping it off a paper plate with a plastic fork. After all, GLaDOS tended to do enough talking for the both of them.
Growing more and more miffed at the woman's casual attitude, the computer leaned in somewhat threateningly. "…And what makes you think we're 'friends'? Make no mistake about it, I am not obligated to you in any way. Caroline is gone for good, and might I add that the neurotoxins have been back online for ages now…"
Bold as ever, the other remained unfazed. She met the AI's cold stare without any bitterness, though certain memories did make that a bit of a challenge. "Yeah, but we've done all that a few times before, haven't we? I thought we could give the friend thing a try, see how we liked it." Nonchalantly, she licked some frosting off her finger.
There was a long pause. Even after every horrible thing they had done to each other, Chell could still not remember ever seeing GLaDOS look so thrown off.
"So…is that a 'no'?"
Her eerie light-eye flickered, head inclining slightly forward. "Is this some new uninspired plot to destroy me? Because it's really not very subtle."
Chell couldn't help but laugh at this one. She had finished eating and was sitting with her arms wrapped around her legs, in the most non-threatening way humanly possible. "What, am I going to cake you to death?"
The AI flinched the tiniest bit, as if to indicate that she wouldn't put it past her.
"…I meant exactly what I said. The fact of the matter is, I spent more than half of my life in this place. Even after being up there for so long, I still kind of miss being here, in a weird kind of way."
The woman sighed deeply, burying her head against her knees. "For Christ's sake, I even missed you."
"Stockholm syndrome," GLaDOS stated flatly. "A term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational—"
"Yeah, yeah, I get the point." Chell muttered it from her lap. "I know what that means. No need to rub it in."
She looked up, her own eyes meeting with the sight of her former enemy peering down at her. It seemed for a computer with no capability to show facial expressions, this one sure had a way of making her attitude clearly known. She didn't really look angry at the moment, as was often the case, or even particularly disgusted. There only remained a kind of inquisitiveness, her logical program attempting to make sense of the human's nonsensical behavior.
"Then why in the world are you back here? I told you to leave. Isn't that what you wanted? I don't know what other reason there would be for your…previous acts of mutiny."
The woman shook her head. She was fully aware that there was no way she could explain this, much less to an AI.
But, she would try anyway. Giving up just wasn't her style.
"You mean you honestly don't ever feel lonely down here?"
GLaDOS withdrew into her body a bit, clearly annoyed at the suggestion. "I was not programmed to experience that particular human trait. It serves no reasonable purpose."
"Well, judging from our times together, it's pretty obvious that even without the cores you can feel anger, excitement…guilt."
The AI twitched at the mention of that last one.
Chell continued. "What makes loneliness any different? All intelligent creatures feel it, even animals. In fact, isolation is one of the worst punishments among humans."
"Why is this of concern to you, Chell?" GLaDOS said it calmly enough to take the girl by surprise. She had never used her name before. Chell hadn't even known if she knew what her name was at all, apart from "subject name here."
"I…I don't know," she stuttered sheepishly, having been more prepared for a snide remark than a direct question. "I feel alone a lot, up there on the surface. I have friends, but I don't have family. It's hard to live with no mother, no father, no brothers or sisters to spend the holidays with..."
"Do you remember anything of your family?" The AI remained serious, something Chell wasn't accustomed to in the least. It was almost creepier than the death threats.
"My father was a chemist here," she responded with a shrug. "Timothy Watson. My mother's name was Christina. She taught kindergarten at an elementary school. I tried to dig up information on them after I left here…but the most I could find was their names listed in some really old news archives, among those presumed dead from the 'Aperture disaster.'"
"Your name included, I would assume?"
"…Yes." Chell said it in a barely audible voice. "But they got my last name wrong for some reason. Listed alongside my parents…but it said Rachell Johnson."
At the mention of the word, GLaDOS jerked her head up, the bright light of her eye washing over the human down below. "Oh, God. No."
"What?" The woman stared in confusion. "You're not going to have another one of your little episodes, are you?"
Some of the monotone bitterness crept back into the computer's voice. "No, you idiot. Your story merely brought me to an unfortunate conclusion…something I had lingering suspicions of…"
Chell's jaw stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"After I removed that horrible little parasite," she began dryly, "You were unconscious for several hours. During that time, I was able to peruse Caroline's thoughts and memories that I had been unaware of previously."
"You said you deleted Caroline," Chell deadpanned, rolling her eyes.
GLaDOS glared at her in annoyance. Apparently she wasn't fond of being interrupted. The woman shut up.
"As I was saying…some of her memories remained. I am uncertain as to whether including them in my database was intentional, or if the scientists had only tried, unsuccessfully, to give me her personality. Regardless, I witnessed a particular conversation with Mr. Johnson through Caroline's eyes."
Chell blinked. Mr. Johnson? The man who had been on the pre-recorded messages in old Aperture? She remembered vaguely, from her childhood, that he was the deceased founder of the establishment.
"The two were quite close," the AI went on. "I had assumed that already, considering that the sound of his voice called forth Caroline from my memory. In this recollection, Caroline insisted to Mr. Johnson that she wanted to have a child soon, before her age made it impossible. But he was resolute that they remain without a child. His business came first, and children would be an unnecessary distraction."
Understandingly, Chell nodded. That sounded like the man who she had briefly gotten to know through the recordings. He seemed very dedicated to his work.
"However…" GLaDOS paused, lowering her head slightly. "Mr. Johnson decided they were to have a sample of their reproductive material preserved. I suppose his more egotistical side wanted his genetics carried into the future. He must have had a change of heart near his death, when his mortality became most apparent. The paperwork was signed, and the wife of an Aperture employee was made the surrogate for the child of Cave Johnson…and his most trusted assistant."
The former test subject clapped a hand to her mouth, the realization crossing her face. The AI couldn't possibly be insinuating that she was the daughter of those two people? That carried all kinds of horrifying implications that Chell did not want to contemplate.
"Given your expression, I would imagine you see where I'm going with this." She shifted her body to the other side, what Chell guessed was her way of expressing unease. "…With Mr. Johnson dying, and Caroline soon to be forced into my body, the surrogate parents agreed to adopt the child. They also agreed not to divulge this information until the child came of age, at which point Aperture's fiscal assets would be transferred to the rightful heir."
"How can you know these things?" the human asked very softly, the horror clear on her face. This really wasn't her idea of a fantastic birthday present.
"A few different sources…a paper trail of documentation in the computer system, personnel files, and Caroline's memories themselves." Her voice had grown sobered, as though this information was a burden to her. "I believe somewhere in me, Caroline might have known your connection to her. She never met you, but I think your special attitude reminded her of Mr. Johnson…and herself as well. She had insisted on playing that song for you, for the daughter she always wanted but never even met…"
Chell shook her head. This explained so much, and yet so little. If GLaDOS was part of a failed attempt to transfer Caroline into a computer…then did she too feel any endearment to the woman's daughter? Did it hurt her to know she had tormented Caroline's child?
"Why didn't you tell me this before…?"
The AI quirked her head to the side, a contrite gesture. "It would have done you no favor. Your father died long ago, in any case, and your mother—"
"—is still here," Chell finished quietly.
GLaDOS pulled back in a defensive motion. "No, absolutely not! Caroline never wanted this. She is dead, for all purposes."
"I don't think so. You can feel her emotions, her memories…" The dark-haired woman shook her head. "You recognized Cave Johnson's voice, and the portrait of Caroline. I don't believe you're a complete monster, even if you can act like it. Morality is a function of intelligence, not humanity."
"It makes no difference," the computer sighed, her voice sounding world-weary. "I have only one purpose: science. Even if some of Caroline does live on in my memory, that doesn't mean that I can be your mother like a human would."
"You certainly can bitch at me like a human mother," Chell responded snidely, though not exactly in a hostile tone.
"Listen to me." GLaDOS sounded more serious again, verging on threatening. "I can't be your friend, or your family, or whatever human relationship needs you want to fulfill. In fact, I've tried to kill you on several occasions, in case you forgot. So I suggest you leave now before I lose my patience."
Sighing, the woman hauled herself to her feet, placing the remainder of her cake back into the bag. Wouldn't do to waste it, anyway. She knew how to appreciate cake much more than the average person.
"Fine," Chell muttered, brushing her long hair over her shoulder. "The one person in the world who can tell me more about my biological parents, and they're telling me to get lost. Fantastic."
She turned to go, wishing she could hide her disappointment. Even before she had known her connection to all of these crazy people, she still hadn't wanted to be rejected by GLaDOS. The AI belonged to the same world she did, whether either of them liked it or not, and forgetting her just seemed impossible.
The woman cast a glance over her shoulder at her old enemy, who was still eyeing her with that critical glare she always wore. When Chell responded, it came out harsher than she had really intended. "What is it?"
"You want to know more about Caroline?"
She shrugged her shoulders awkwardly. "…It would be nice. She seemed like a nice lady."
GLaDOS relaxed her posture the slightest amount. Being gentle just wasn't in her nature, but she seemed to be trying. It was several moments before she spoke. "I could let you come back here in a week or so. As long as you come unarmed, mind you."
A small smile flashed across Chell's face. She couldn't even imagine how hard it was for the computer to be kind to her…no wonder she needed a week before she could do any more of it.
But this was certainly a promising start for them.
She nodded, unable to contain a small laugh of relief. "I'd like that very much."
A/N: Okay, no Wheatley, shoot me. I know someone out there is gonna be upset about that. But frankly, there's enough of him in this section isn't there? GLaDOS is the only AI I really wuv. I mean Wheatley is funny, but GLaDOS is the best crazy AI of all time. Of all time.
Anywhoo. *ducks to avoid tomatoes from angry Wheatley lovers* Review if you feel like it, I won't complain. Also...I may be inclined to write more of this, I kind of wouldn't mind it. n_n