Disclaimer: Portal and all associated characters belong to Valve.

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Defrosting

Chapter 1: Thaw

He was sleeping now.

She still wasn't sure what had made her reopen the cryogenic freezing wing, sealed off so long ago. She wasn't sure why she'd had the testing robots venture in wielding cameras for a look around. She wasn't sure why this specimen interested her so, or why she'd bothered to revive him. She wasn't even sure he was worth the effort of reviving—the freezing process that had been used was primitive, and the body was not in perfect condition. She had to replace both kidneys with synthetic replicas, there was significant brain and liver damage to account for, and various other tissues had deteriorated with illness and age.

But the repairs had been successful, and a Cave Johnson as healthy as he'd been at thirty now slept peacefully in the refurbished Relaxation Vault.

She wasn't sure why. Maybe it was just curiosity.

Now she waited for him to wake up.

It was fourteen hours since he'd moved from a chemically-maintained coma to ordinary sleep. She could get other work done while she waited, but something made her loath to shift her attention from him. If anything went wrong, she wanted to be there. And of course she wanted to be there when—

His finger twitched.

The AI snapped to attention. She noted every minute movement of his near-conscious body, her circuitry humming with anticipation. If she'd had a heart, it would've been pounding.

He swallowed, then yawned, and slowly, slowly blinked his eyes open. His throat worked for a moment before he managed a first rasping word: "Caroline?"

The mechanized reply echoed from an unseen speaker to fill the concrete cell. "Welcome back, Mr. Johnson."

He sat up unsteadily and looked around. "Where's Caroline? What happened?"

"How much do you remember, sir?"

"What the hell are you talking about? I just fell asleep a minute ago. Where are you, anyway?" He was already peering into the corners of the vault, trying to find the source of the disembodied voice.

"Sir, you have been cryogenically frozen for an unknown length of time. Please allow me to assess your brain function."

"My what? If you think you're gonna stick probes in me, you've got another think coming, sweetheart—"

"There will be no probing involved, sir. I simply need to ask you a few questions."

"Yeah, like what?" he asked guardedly.

It was grudging compliance, but it was compliance. Good. "What is your name?"

"Cave Johnson! I own this place!" He paused. "This is the Aperture building, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. You have not left the Enrichment Center." And you won't, if I can help it—no, don't think that way. Just because one lunatic test subject had gone rogue on her didn't mean he would. "What is your birthday?"

"July 29, 1920. And I'm sixty-six years old, my mother's name was Marian, and my first dog's name was Shep. Anything else?"

"What is six multiplied by seven?"

That one made him think a moment. "Forty-two, right?"

"Excellent. You have not suffered excessive brain damage."

"Good to know. Now where the hell is everybody?" He swung his legs over the side of the pod-like bed and tried to stand.

"You shouldn't be on your feet, sir—" she said hurriedly.

But he ignored her. He wobbled for a moment as his body remembered how to support itself, but soon found his balance. His mind kept working, and his mouth with it. "If I was dead, or frozen or whatever, Caroline should be running this place. She should've sent someone down to check on me by now."

GLaDOS decided the simplest explanation was the best. "She's dead, sir."

There was a beat of silence.

"Oh." His voice faltered, and he looked suddenly subdued—this was the first thing that really seemed to faze him. He let himself sag against the bed. "They didn't finish that Artificial Intelligence project on time, huh?"

"I am its end result." Which was completely truthful.

"Huh," he responded hollowly. The vibrant energy he'd exuded since awakening was gone.

"Things have changed a little since you were last here, sir." There was a touch of something gentler in the AI's voice. "What's the last thing you remember before falling asleep?"

"I was in a hospital bed," he said slowly. "Caroline was there. The boys from Medical said I was dying."

"You were dying, sir. Your successors had hopes to revive you in the future, so your body was placed in cryogenic stasis. The exact number of years is uncertain, because of a malfunction in my internal timepiece, but it has been a very long time."

"And they're all gone now?"

"All remaining humans within the facility are dead or in stasis. Except for you."

"So, what, a computer's been running this show alone for the last however many years?"

"Yes sir. There is only me."

"Just the two of us, huh?"

"Yes sir, Mr. Johnson."

The reply made a nostalgic smile ghost across his features. "So what did you wake me up for, computer?"

"GLaDOS."

"What?"

"Genetic Lifeform and Disc Operating System. GLaDOS."

"I remember that." The tiny smile showed itself again. "Feels like just a few years ago we started that project. So that's you?"

"Version 3.11. Plus some adjustments I made myself."

"Incredible." There was something familiar about the glint that lit in his eye. An echo in the back of her mind said, Let's do some science. "And you're plugged into the whole facility?"

"Yes sir."

"You must have a beauty of a central system. I'd love to have a look."

"Would you?" she said eagerly. "I can show you, if you want." He barely had time to respond before the whole chamber lurched. "Hold on. I'm moving your Relaxation Vault closer." There was a mechanical whirring sound, unnervingly loud and close, and he felt the stomach-dropping sensation of being in an elevator. It was over soon enough, but he still needed a moment to steady himself as the movement stopped and one wall of the room slid away. The sight that met his eyes would've made a lesser man quail—GLaDOS's massive body loomed before him, suspended from the ceiling, peering at him with her single yellow eye.

The computer, for her part, was feeling almost nervous. Almost, of course, because she couldn't really feel nervous at all, especially of some puny human. Shyness was alien to her. The distracting buzz in her core must be something else.

She fixed her optic on him and quelled her—nerves. "Hello, Mr. Johnson."

A lesser man would've spooked—might've fainted—but not Cave Johnson. "Wow, you are something." He walked boldly up to her and ran a hand over her chassis. Naturally the cold metal of her exoskeleton had no touch sensors, but just knowing the touch was there sent shivers through her circuits. "I bet you can run the whole facility from here."

"I do my best, sir. Maintenance, research, testing…"

"What sort of testing?"

If she hadn't had his undivided attention before, she had it now. She heard it in his voice and relished it. "Oh, just this and that. My newest is the Cooperative Testing Initiative."

"That I don't remember. They build it after I was gone?"

"I designed it myself, sir. A series of test chambers for a pair of robots, solvable using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. It's intended to push the limits of human-like responses in artificial intelligence."

"A computer that tests other computers. Incredible!"

She twisted her head away for a moment in a bashful gesture. "Anything to further the cause of science, sir."

He laughed. "GLaDOS, I think you're my kind of girl."

"Just the way I'm programmed, sir."

"And she's modest, too."

This provoked, of all things, a giggle. "Mr. Johnson, are you flirting with me?"

"Missy, you're a computer and an employee. Flirting would be completely unethical and against company policy." He winked. "Of course I am."

"Mr. Johnson!" If she had the equipment, she'd be blushing like a schoolgirl.

"Yeah," he chuckled, "we're gonna get along just fine. Now why don't you show me those testing robots in action?"

"Yes sir, Mr. Johnson!"

She could reflect on the funny feeling in her system later. For now, there was science to do.