Author's note: Play Portal, then Portal 2. Also, this is my first ever one-shot.
Disclaimer: Portal and its characters are the property of the Valve Corporation.
It had been a few weeks since anyone had seen a combine overwatch enforcer come through their little community. The people there tended to keep their heads down, work their fields, avoid anything that could cause a disturbance and do everything they could to keep the grain output production high. As a result, the combine left them relatively alone.
The relative rarity of combine soldiers didn't keep them from acting accordingly though, they simply did what they always did whenever the combine rolled through the center of their tiny town. A sequence of actions ingrained into them so deeply it was all but muscle memory now. They ducked back into their houses, stared low to the ground, and quietly halted their unassuming lives until the combine left. If there was a difference that anyone had bothered to notice this one rainy day, they never would have mentioned it; but it was unusual that this single combine soldier had walked into town.
Stopping at the town's blacksmith shop and staring at the sign, the overwatch soldier cocked its helmeted head and halted, its body standing too rigid and still to be fully human. The only movement on the figure was from the long leather coat swishing around its ankles from the light wind and the rain water dripping from the tip of its rebreather mask. From the cracked shades in the house windows, the people watching grew concerned as the soldier knocked the mud from its heels, pushed the door open, and walked inside.
She had arrived in the small farming community several months ago. Her strange attire and unusual circumstances not even bothering to upset to the routine of the town, and she found herself adapting to it well the longer she stayed. Though she didn't have many skills to speak of, either professional or social, she found the role of blacksmith and mechanic had come quite naturally to her. Equipment needed to be maintained, parts needed fabrication, raw materials needed to be machined into usability. The work was hard, for which she was grateful. It required her full attention, demanded careful analysis, was often physically intensive and soothingly, meditatively repetitive and left her exhausted at the end of each day, from which she would descend into dreamless sleep.
She reached for a pair of tongs from the top of the battered and scarred old cube, the faint pink hearts at the center of each side scratched and peeling to near imperceptibility, and used them to carefully pick up the metal from the mold. Just poured, it was still glowing with a warm orange light, the color giving her pause before she moved to dunk it into the barrel of cool, blue water. Hissing as it sank beneath the surface, it spattered water onto her face and she was reaching for a towel when she heard the chime on the door ring. Someone had entered.
"Hello again. I didn't think it was possible, but you've managed to make a blue jumpsuit look even more drab and shapeless than an orange one..."
That voice, lilting and sarcastic and digital, it permeated her blacksmith shop just as it had permeated the chambers from a lifetime ago. Unable to stop herself, she snatched up and clutched her heavy forging hammer like a lifeline, aiming her gaze at the figure addressing her even as her mind screamed out denial and spun down a hundred avenues of violence and escape. If the figure was concerned at all about the hammer she held, it didn't show it, just continued to absently meander through the shop. It walked with a controlled precision, every movement in perfect harmony and too finely balanced to be a human, or even one of the combine. If she listened carefully, she could hear the gentle whirring of motors and actuators coming from beneath the overwatch armor and coat.
There was no mistake, this was her, the one in charge of facility, the one who ran the tests, here in her shop and wearing a combine soldier's uniform.
"But then again, you've always been rather... surprising.
"Tracking you down was easier than I thought. I knew you wouldn't go too far, abandonment issues, you see. It was in your personnel file," GLaDOS admitted, patronizingly, "Do you know what else it says..." There was a whirring as she focused her gaze at the work roster on the counter. "Michelle d'Automne?"
She chilled as GLaDOS turned her face at her, one eye glowing a faint yellow light through the black of the combine mask.
"It says that you're not French."
Inwardly, she struggled to figure out why GLaDOS was here. It didn't make any sense, she was supposed to be safely entombed in her facility. If she had left, it was only because she needed something she didn't have in the labs, and if she was here, it was only because this was the only place GLaDOS could get it. She could feel her heart beginning to hammer in her chest. It suddenly made perfect sense.
"It's clever, by the way," she went on, "Mi-chell 'Of the Fall'. Do you still have those boots?" She eyed the anvil and forge curiously. "No, I suppose that would be hard to explain to anyone. Then again, for you, everything would be hard to explain...
"Melted them down I suppose, burned your jumpsuit? Well, don't worry, I'm sure we can get you another," GLaDOS looked her up and down, "Perhaps a size or two bigger."
She was shaking her head in denial even as GLaDOS spoke, flatly refusing to acknowledge what she had so blithely stated. Another jumpsuit, another set of boots, surely she didn't mean for her to return to the facility... to return to the tests... She had been released, set free and told never to come back...
"Well I couldn't continue testing robots," GLaDOS explained, noting her blanched face and motion of denial, removing a pair of fist-sized, wrecked metal spheres from beneath the coat. One glinted a dull orange and the other flickered a soft blue. "I'm afraid I've reached my limit, testing them," she finished, tossing the pair of eyes aside nonchalantly. "And since I've also reached my human testing threshold due to your..." GLaDOS glared at her momentarily, her voice hardening as she spat, "Past performance, testing had to move on to the next step in the natural progression."
She felt herself relaxing, the tight knot of fear and panic beginning to loosen inside her chest. The look on her face must have given it away.
"Oh, did you think I wanted to start testing you again? No, no no no. I've tested humans. I've tested robots. But my third set of tests is proving a bit more troublesome. Truthfully, the reason for my little visit today is to bring you in as... a consultant, to go over my latest research initiative," GLaDOS said simply, her false mask and human shaped body moving with that familiar, sinuous fluidity.
"You see, I've started testing the combine..."
She fell back, gripping the wall for support as the blood drained from her face, feeling suddenly pale and nauseous. The combine in possession of that technology...
"And there is one in particular proving to be remarkably... determined and resilient, disturbingly so. Letting you go was an acceptable risk, you can't tell anyone anything, and even if you could, who'd believe you? The same is not true for this test subject, so you're going to help me kill him."
She could hear more whirring and footsteps outside the shop, a number of shadowy figures were visible, all moving with the same mechanical motions as GLaDOS, single red eyes glowing faintly from behind ill-fitting combine masks and clothing. She noted automatically that many had been stained with blood. GLaDOS turned back towards the door as the other robots entered.
"The Enrichment Center would like to thank you for assuming the mandatory volunteer testing re-insertion position. Please prepare to return to the facility."
Author's Note: Alright, so it's open ended. Perhaps I'll write more if sufficiently motivated.