"Your break is over."
Chell looked up at the camera from her coffee, gesturing at it with one hand to show that she wasn't done. An irritated sigh came through the intercom. "Come on, [Subject Name Here]. This is no time for delays. You will not want to miss this next test. It is, shall we say…of special interest to you."
The human frowned. She'd been intending to ignore the AI until her cup was drained like she'd been doing every day for the past six months, but now her interest was piqued. With a sigh, she set the still-warm drink down and stood. The door to the break room slid open as she began heading towards it.
"Chell!" Wheatley enthused as soon as she stepped out. "Hello! Done early today, aren't you?" She nodded as the door closed behind her, reaching up with one hand to give his casings an affectionate pat, and he continued talking. "She says you'll like this, where we're going today! It's not on any of the testing tracks. We're going to the infirmary. Just down this corridor and to the left."
She'd been following him along the corridor as he talked, but at that, she paused and gave him a frown. Chell hadn't set foot in the infirmary since she'd been freed from that core all those months ago, and she never wanted to go back. What could possibly be in there that was of 'special interest' to her?
"What are you doing?" Wheatley asked. "We're supposed to go. Remember?" He edged a bit down the hall, then came back when she didn't follow him, his iris-shutters squinched into a frown. "Come on, Chell! We'll get in trouble!"
She shook her head, wishing there were some way she could explain her trepidation to him. Since she'd been able to speak before the relaxation vaults had murdered her vocal cords, she'd never learned to sign, and communication was difficult. She'd tried to get GLaDOS to give her some paper and a pen, but the AI had pretended not to understand what she meant. Typical.
"Please?" he wheedled. "If you're worried about there being something deadly in there that's going to just kill you on sight or, uh, something like that, I can go in first. I'll check!"
That hadn't been what she was worried about. She just hadn't wanted to be confronted with her bad memories, but now that he'd brought it up, a whole new set of worries was swung into motion. What if GLaDOS wanted to test some sort of lethal injection on her? Or what if there were a barrage of turrets waiting behind the door? Not that either of those options was very likely. The AI seemed to want to keep her alive, and Chell could understand why, since testing would be dull without a test subject. Still, though, there could be a number of tests that were not deadly but instead very, very unpleasant.
The intercom clicked on. "Unless you would prefer for today's test to involve how quickly corridors containing obese test subjects fill up with deadly neurotoxin, you will proceed to the infirmary."
Chell glared at a camera, but began following Wheatley again anyway. She was used to the insults and the threats by now, but she'd never put it past GLaDOS not to kill her.
When they reached the infirmary's door, she nodded at Wheatley, since he had offered to go in first. He looked nervous, and began stuttering some protests, but when she glared at him, he took his equivalent of a deep breath and slid inside.
There was an unusual silence for a moment, almost to the point where Chell was worried enough to go inside and see if he were all right. But then there came a soft "Oh" from inside the room and Wheatley scooted back outside, optic locked on her. "Uh…Chell, you…might not want to…but you have to, and it isn't deadly, so…"
His voice trailed off, and he stared at her with an expression that almost bordered on fear. It concerned her, but not enough to stop her from satiating her curiosity. If whatever was in that room were fatal, he would have warned her. She trusted him.
So Chell entered the room, and the first thing she saw was the empty core her consciousness had once been inside. Her eyes widened as she stared at it. It drudged up memories she'd have preferred to have left buried.
Whirling around, she glared at a camera, silently demanding an explanation.
"Closure," GLaDOS replied through an intercom. "This…thing…is cluttering up my infirmary. It's a failed experiment, and I want it gone. I could have just incinerated it myself, but I thought you might prefer to do it."
And as Chell brushed a hand over the lifeless core, the funny thing was, she reflected, that the AI was right. She did want to do it.
"Chell?" Wheatley asked from outside, sounding uncertain. "You're not…you're not actually going to do it, are you? Because you can't!"
She turned to him and made a shrugging motion. Why not? Incinerating this thing would mean that the hell she'd been through six months ago was over for real. She'd know for certain that there was no way she could ever be forced back into it.
"B-because!" he demanded desperately as an incinerator and a button made their way out of the floor, popping into position like they'd always been a part of the room. "You can't! I mean, maybe she's j-just a machine to you, like maybe she isn't real, not alive, b-but you can't!"
Chell's eyebrows squinched into a frown. 'A machine'? 'Alive'? What was he talking about? When she'd left the core, her consciousness had left it too…
She let go of the core's handle, facing the camera again with an expression that demanded an explanation. Another tired sigh came from the intercom. "I suppose this is about the babblings of the Intelligence Dampening Sphere. And if you must know, the core is technically alive. Its programming allowed it to learn from when you were inside it, and it is now capable of functioning on its own. However, I was not going to mention that to you, because it was and is irrelevant. The last thing I need in this facility is another defective core wandering around. Besides, we all know how good you are at murdering sentient things."
Horrified, Chell stared at the little core. Its optic was dead and it had a thin layer of dust caking its casings.
"Please don't kill her," Wheatley pleaded. "If you could just turn her back on, I could take care of her! I could make sure she doesn't get into any trouble, and I could make sure she leaves you alone, and, and—and please, Chell! Please don't kill her…"
He sounded terrified, and Chell wondered if he'd been checking up on the core for all these months, making sure GLaDOS wasn't doing anything to it. Wheatley obviously had some sort of attachment to the core, even though all he'd wanted to do while Chell was in it was get her out.
She reached for the core, watching out of the corner of her eye as he shut his shutters over his iris. He was muttering "No, no no no no no…" under his breath, and if he were human, she felt sure that his tone of voice would have been accompanied by tears.
"It's up to you," GLaDOS said. "But frankly, I can't see why you'd want to keep it around. It's just a reminder, isn't it? A reminder of all that pain. If I were you, I'd just incinerate it and be done with it." She sounded triumphant, though, like she already knew what Chell was going to choose to do, and it was that that made Chell slide her hand inside the core. Having helped to fix Wheatley and the others a few times, she knew where the on/off switch was, and she pressed it.
Everything seemed to grind to a halt as the little core sputtered to life. Its greyish-green optic flickered on, and it began to babble before its attention locked on its rescuer. "I didn't mean to help Wheatley! I'm sorry! And—and—you're Chell!"
Chell nodded, then returned her attention to the camera, giving it a smug look.
"You're alive!" the core continued, sounding ecstatic. "Did I help? Because Wheatley was trying to save you, and I was trying to help him, but then I…I think I hurt, and then…" Her optic was squinting, like she was trying to remember but couldn't. Chell gave her a reassuring pat, but kept her attention on the camera.
There was an irritated sigh. "I suppose I should have seen this coming, and I really should just incinerate the Chell Core myself."
"Incinerate?" the little core squeaked. "But I know what that is! That's worse than being deactivated!"
GLaDOS ignored her. "However, I suppose I could always use another test subject."
At that, Chell's eyes narrowed, and as she shook her head she wrapped her arms protectively around the little core. She was the one who'd activated it, and it was her responsibility. She remembered what testing as a core was like, and she had no intentions of forcing the little core to go through it again.
"What do you expect me to do with her, then?" GLaDOS snapped. "She can't just sit around all day. She needs something to do."
"…She could come with me," Wheatley said timidly. It was obvious that he'd been trying his best to keep silent, not wanting to anger the master AI. "And do what I do. She could help me! Helping Chell, since that's what I do…we could both help Chell."
"She'd be far more useful in testing."
Chell gave her head another firm shake, hoping GLaDOS realized that if she made the core test, she herself would refuse. After another moment, GLaDOS let out a long, suffering sigh. "Fine. You win. The Chell Core can accompany the moron. But it's only because I'd rather test you."
"Does that mean I don't have to test?" the little core asked as Wheatley broke into a round of cheers. The Chell Core looked unsure for just a brief moment, but then joined in.
Watching them, Chell smiled. The core might stir up bad memories for her, but it made Wheatley happy, and at least she'd never have to worry about being forced back into it.
"Stop it," GLaDOS ordered. "Stop cheering right now before I change my mind. I'm not kidding now. Stop. Stop it!"
As both cores ignored the tantruming AI, Chell couldn't help but smirk. If she ignored the fact that they were all trapped inside Aperture for the rest of their lives, then for once, they'd won.
[A/N: All done! Friend wanted me to kill everyone, but I was like lolno...let me know if you for some reason want that. o_O; Anyway, thanks for reading! I hope you liked it.^^]