She should be moving.
Chell knew this. She had done it easily back – she had done it. Chell had moved without stop, without rest, with fervor and relentlessly. Even now, her feet, though entrapped in her mechanized boots as they were, should have been moving forth, one step after another, through the field of long stalks, even then swaying in the morning's gentle breeze. The boots themselves should have been squishing into the mud, sinking and then be pulled out with a pop. But none of this happened. She stood there, as if entranced, staring up at the sky above, feeling the cool wind, hearing the buzz of life and feeling the heat of the burning sun, blazing as always did millions upon millions of miles away. She stood there, with this strange world of sun, grass, light, air, heat and the lushness of life in front of her and behind her …
She could not look at it. She could not think of it. She could not feel it. Dead it was to her, and dead it'll always be from now on. But, there was one thing, and one thing alone, that compelled her to turn, shifting her feet in the dirt and grass, to glance over her shoulder.
It lay there to the side, not fully behind her, but enough so that it was a presence against her back. Neither warm nor cold, merely a presence, merely there. Existing, taking up space, and intruding onto this foreign world – just like she was. They were one and the same, ejected out of one world (white washed walls, metal vents, sliding panels, florescent lights … stop!) and into this darkness of the unknown. Slowly she turned, her boots leaving a indentation on the ground below, a step, where once graceful below now awkward above, but a step nonetheless. She stood above the object, its four sides and identifying hearts, and, almost despite herself, she outstretched a hand, wanting to just touch it, assure herself that it was real, that it all was –
Warehouses of them.
Chell jerked to a stop, and a fire suddenly burned from deep below, gushing forth from her pores and wrenching her body in so much pain that she simply wanted to scream … but no noise came out, it never did. She was angry. She was furious. She rose both of her hands up, curled them into fists and rushed them down, in a strike, to slam them –
She neither thumped to the ground nor slid, but rather did a odd mixture of the two, ending on her hands and knees before the Cube, before the embodiment that was … Chell's whole body was shaking, and before she knew it, a trickle of a sound past her lips (A giggle? A gulp?) as her fingers groped forward, a fingertip brushing against the curved edge of one of the hearts. The giggle became laughter, laughter from the deep, dark places that dwelt within, laughter that stung the heart, the eyes, the throat, laughter that caused her fingers to scratch either side of the Cube, coating them in the black ash of the furnace. The laughter became a sob, or rather, the sob was always the laughter, and she holding and cradling the Cube as her face became wetter as the pain streamed into giddy excitement, relief, fear and pain.
Happy, terrible pain.
So she did.
Mechanized. Without thought, without feeling, her whole mind shut down and closed away, Chell's grip strengthened (This thing was damn heavy. She was nothing compared to – Move along.) as she staggered up to her feet. Her face was cold. Her body and her heart was cold and numb and damp, since her face was still wet and a clump of hair was in her way. Chell got rid of it with a quick blow of breath, making it flutter to the side as she took a step. And steps after that. There was pain in her arms and in her legs and all around, but Move along. She didn't know where the voice was coming from, from herself maybe, from the Cube (No.), maybe from this weird world around her, different from the throbbing of the ground below. But whatever or wherever it came from, she obeyed, because there was nothing else to do.
Her face was still wet though, which was odd. Or at least it was, until she realized her whole body was wet as well. Glancing up (for her eyes had been glued to the ground, the crushing of the wheat (Crushing the Wheat … ) beneath her feet, and the bobbing of the Cube in her strained arms) she noticed for the first time that it was raining, the sky dark with gloomy clouds and the light dark, having descended by degrees into darker and darker shades as time went on. The wetness of the rain must have made the Cube more slippery than she thought, for it slid out of her fingers with ease, splashing down into the coagulation of muddy turf, flecks of grain and wiggling earthworms.
She would have picked it up and went on her way as quickly as she stopped, but, for once, the demanding voice was gone, silent in the rain, and, without it, she felt no motive to move. So, she didn't. Ceased, still, a white and orange blur against a backdrop of hailing drops. Another voice began to rise up, much more slowly than before, but then with growing potency, until it reached a crescendo where it all but drowned out all other voices (is this how She – No!) in its claim for dominance.
Free. It whispered at first. As she stared up to the heavens, parched lips painfully parted, maybe just twitching, really.
Free. It assured. Chell glance uncertainly around, but, as far as she could see all there was was wheat and wheat and wheat, glistening. It was a smile now. Faint, timid, and ready to dart doelike away at a moment's notice. But, unmistakably, there.
Free. It stated. Fact. Chell's energy drained away, fled like her smile would not as she slumped onto the Cube, laying across it as she stared upwards, rain coming down harder and harder as her smile grew. Yet with each drop, each stab of coldness across her skin, warmth returned to her. Warmth to her heart, liveliness to her being, strength to her soul. For the first time in days, she was smiling.
Free! It shouted. And Chell was shouting too. Shouting a song of joy from her heart as she stared up, her eyes closed, her grin wide and open. The shouting became singing, singing with laughter. True laughter. Not the laughter from before, that ugly, twisted thing, but the laughter that made her bubbly with gaiety, with sheer exuberant warmth. Colors swarmed around her, pictures and images, and sounds, voices, the entirety of Aperture, old and corroded, new and pristine, crumbling and being rebuilt, Her and Him, They, the turrets, shooting, speaking, pleading, gleaming with little laser eyes, paintings scribbled on the walls, mad delusions she feared for and acknowledge and knew deep down in her that she and he, whoever he was, were strangers in camaraderie, strangers in madness, strangers in the Cube and Her. But more than anything, the whole of Aperture, the whole of it all, every pain, every feeling, every thought, every sensation, every damn little thing could all be summed up in one word and two colors.
Orange and Blue.
Vanishing and reappearing with portals, puzzles with portals (buttons and cubes (for they were not the Cube), pellets and lasers, gels and platforms, doors and grids), thinking with portals, flying (falling, falling, falling, falling) with portals. All of it. Every last thing, from the moment she woke up and heard, "Hello, and again, welcome to the Aperture Science computer-aided Enrichment Center" to "You win. Just go. It's been fun, don't come back" All the pain, all the betrayal, all the thrill, all the fear, all the impossibilities made reality by her, all of it was held up, at that moment, while she sat up, on the Cube, staring up at the sky with the rain and wind and water, all of it held up before her sight and –
Chell slept well and woke up sick.
Sometime during the night she had fell off the Cube and had curled up against it, her head leaned back, and her hair fanned out on top. It was only when the sun had risen and was blasting full onto her face that Chell, finally, groggily, opened up a weary eyelid. Blinding light. Groan. Hands over head and head tucked between knees. But, of course, that wouldn't stop the light. Nothing could. More groans. Her eyes were fully open now, though it took them a while to fully adjust. When she did, the first thing she saw as one of the worms from last night cuddling with the tip of her steel-toed boot. There was mud clinging to the seat of her jumpsuit, her arms and now her soaked hair because she had clutched her head so. Great.
Not move along, just move, which was the first sign that something was different, that she was different than how she was the night before. But, either way, she moved anyway, achingly thrusting herself forward to her feet, stumbling a bit when she did. The moment that she was fully on her feet standing, was the moment that the world tilted, spun, shook, and she was bent over throwing out a spew of water, for there was nothing in her stomach. She wished it stopped there. But it didn't. Her whole body was shivering, and her skin was crawling like that hundred of those worms earlier had replaced her muscles, sinews and bones. She was wet and cold but her mouth and throat were parchingly dry and her head and body feverishly hot. The world, the very fabric of reality around her was coming apart at the seams, as if there was a giant pair of scissors cutting across the sky – wait, that was a bird. Maybe it was Her bird? Maybe there will be bits and pieces of potato in its beak? The thought made her laugh. Neither the sick, twisted laugh at first or the soulful, heartfelt laugh of the second, but a piteous, "I'm dying of pneumonia" laugh. Or would that be absestos? Mercury or moon rock poisoning? Chell didn't know or care.
Move along to freedom.
Again. Different. But a good different, a complex different. A different she could work with. So, gathering up the shreds of the determination that had held her together through countless test chambers without rest, food or sleep she staggered back to the Cube like a drunken sea-legged sailor on land and reached around the edges to –
The Cube did not lift up. The Cube did not budge.
It was due partly from the sheer exhaustion on her end and the slipperiness of the rain on hi – (Its. Its! No, Chell. You're not going to go crazy like painter-guy, thank you very much.) end. Her hands were wet and muddy as well. ( Honestly, her father was a scientist. She should have a big enough vocabulary to find words other than "mud" or "wet" to describe her surroundings.) After a few aborted attempts to heave the Cube up into her arms, she finally caved in and began to just push the Cube. Finally, they were moving along. To Freedom. Or at least, to something new.
For Chell now began to scan the landscape around her much like she would have done for the interior of a test chamber. It occurred to her that she didn't know how long it had been since she had last woken up, but, regardless to how long it has been, there should have been more signs of human activity. She should have heard the distant sounds of cars running, maybe hear the faint echoes of human voices. But more importantly so, she should have seen signs of human occupation. A building. A strip of road. But there was nothing but stalks of swaying wheat as far as the eye can see.
It was as she was glancing around that Chell happen to glance back, and promptly stop dead in her tracks. There, behind her, snaking its way through the field, was a flattened trail of yellow. It reminded her of (what do you call 'em? Ah! Yes!) crop circles, except instead of elaborate designs left behind by "UFOS" (Aliens? Please.) it was nothing more but a weaving, zig-zagged cut across the face of the field. More importantly though, was the fact that no matter how far she glanced down that route, she could not make out the lone shed sticking out, like a sore thumb, in the distance.
Nothing but Wheat.
With a jerk, Chell spun around and grabbed the edges of the Cube once more and pushed it – killing some Wheat and then stomping on it in her wake.
That felt good.
So she moved along.