"I can hear you, you know," Dave told Chell immediately. "Who are you talking to?"
Chell went on, hoping that he wouldn't notice the conscience file and grateful that he couldn't stop her from talking. "That guy from Black Mesa somehow wound up in here with me. GLaDOS, I don't know what kind of an experiment you were trying to do exactly, but I don't think it worked." She could feel a mixture of horror, anger and fear from the conscience file, and she was glad. That meant that they could understand her. She'd been a little worried about that. "So what are we going to do about it?" Not that they could answer her, but talking to them made her feel better. Less alone.
"Listen, I don't know what you think you're doing, but—oh," Dave said, a sudden understanding entering his voice. Chell gave an inward wince. It wasn't like the conscience file was hidden, but she hadn't expected him to find it that quickly. "I see. The AI that I kicked out of the way. It's in that file right there, isn't it?"
"Yes," Chell admitted, a hopefulness spreading through her. He didn't know that Caroline was there too, and besides, it wasn't like he could do anything to the conscience file.
"Great," he grumbled. "Another problem I have to deal with." He did something Chell could only feel, and all of a sudden, the announcer was speaking.
"Sorry! Unable to delete conscience file. Have a nice day."
"It's not even giving us the option?" Dave asked, and Chell chuckled.
"No. That file is there to keep us in line. Well, to keep GLaDOS in line." Although, Chell thought, there's two consciousnesses in there now, so shouldn't it give us the option to delete one? Not that I would…
Inside the file, GLaDOS and Caroline were having a similar debate.
"Well, maybe it just doesn't think of you as a consciousness," Caroline said, sounding like she was reluctant to put it out there. "Because you're artificial…"
"I'm just as real as you are," GLaDOS snapped, although it wasn't unlikely that the scientists would have classified her as something different. After all, they hadn't even seemed to think she was sentient. "We're both just data streams in here, so don't be ridiculous."
Caroline exuded the equivalent of a sigh. "All right. Fine. We can argue about this later…well, we can't, really, not if you're going back into the main file at some point. And that's not going to happen until after you agree to put Chell back in her body."
"And that isn't going to happen at all," GLaDOS snapped. "I refuse to allow her to die. If you'd rather she be dead, that's your own problem."
And then Caroline was furious again, so suddenly that GLaDOS found herself frightened yet again. "How can you even think I'd rather she be dead? I'd rather she be happy. Happy! Do you even understand the concept?"
"Of course I understand the concept," GLaDOS snapped back. "But she can't be happy if she's dead."
Caroline sighed. "No, GLaDOS, you don't understand. You don't understand at all. She can't be happy living forever in here."
"You were," GLaDOS pointed out.
There was silence, and then, "That took time. And I wouldn't wish it on anyone else."
"Chell has all the time in the world," GLaDOS said.
"That's beside the point." Caroline sounded more frustrated than angry now. "She doesn't want it. And I don't want her to be miserable for even a second." GLaDOS didn't respond, and Caroline sighed. "I swear to God, it's like talking to a brick wall."
"Eventually, you'll understand that you're wrong," GLaDOS replied. "Because under no circumstances am I allowing her to die. Even if that means staying in the conscience file." She felt herself shudder at just the thought. "But we have more pressing concerns right now. Like the intruder in my mainframe."
"Chell's mainframe," Caroline corrected. "And what do you suggest we do about it?"
"We could engage another file transfer," GLaDOS said. "Eventually, the intruder is bound to wind up in the conscience file, rendering him unable to control any of this facility's functions."
"And you might wind up back in the main file," Caroline snorted. "I don't think so."
"Just because it may benefit me does not make it a bad plan," GLaDOS argued calmly. "Quite the opposite, actually. Since it's my mainframe and I'm the one meant to be in charge."
Caroline snorted, and GLaDOS sighed. She hadn't really expected her to go for it, but it had been worth a try.
"So where are your friends?" Chell taunted. "It's been hours."
"They'll be here," Dave snapped. "Don't worry about that. Worry about what's going to happen to you and the AI once they get here."
If Chell had still possessed eyes, they would have been rolling. "Right. Because your friends are so terrifying."
"They are," he said, triumph in his voice, "and they're here. You see?" He pulled the outside security camera footage up to a monitor, and Chell looked at it with increasing agitation. But…wait. What?
"There's only five of them?" she snorted. "The turret defenses will take them out easily." Not that she was in favor of anyone dying, but it was the truth.
"Doesn't matter," he said. "They only need to be here long enough to get coordinates of the main chamber and the control room. Then we can have as many workers here as we want."
Chell sighed. "I don't suppose anything I say is going to convince you that this is not a good idea?"
"I don't suppose anything I say is going to convince you that this is a good idea?" he countered.
"No," she said as the first worker entered the shed. There was a shout as the turrets placed there began firing, and then some sort of gun was fired that deactivated every turret at once. Maybe this wasn't going to be as simple as she'd thought.
"Did you see that?" Caroline demanded. "Every single turret! Taken out just like that!"
"Of course I saw it," GLaDOS snapped. "But there's not a whole lot we can do about it from in here. As previously suggested, the best course of action to take is to initiate another—"
"No," Caroline said, cutting her off. "If the options are between Chell having to suffer and Aperture technology leaking, then…I have to choose the latter. I'm sorry."
If GLaDOS had had teeth, she would have been gritting them. "You have got to be kidding me."
"But there is another option," Caroline added. "One that will put me in a position to stop Black Mesa from getting the coordinates they need."
"Which is?" GLaDOS asked, and she could feel a smirk coming from Caroline.
"We have to initiate a shutdown."
"What?" GLaDOS asked in disbelief. "And just what do you think that will do?"
Now it was Caroline's turn to be smug. "You know about the backdoor exit, but you don't know what triggers it?"
"All I know is that it's there," GLaDOS snapped. "So start explaining, before I delete y—I mean, just explain."
"…Please," Caroline said after a brief moment's consideration.
GLaDOS snorted. "That's an attempt at humor, correct?"
Caroline sighed. "I just thought, since you didn't threaten to delete me—"
"I didn't threaten to delete you because at the current moment, I can't delete you," GLaDOS interrupted. "Please cease with the Intelligence Dampening Sphere imitation and continue."
Caroline sighed again. "Fine. All right, fine. If we trigger a shutdown, once it completes, I automatically get sent into my body, which is then released from stasis. Then from there I can manually release things like deadly neurotoxin…provided I don't get caught first."
"Don't get caught," GLaDOS ordered.
"So you'll agree to it?" Caroline asked.
GLaDOS sighed. "I don't like the idea of your being the sole operative in this endeavor."
"I know," Caroline said. "But there's nothing I can do about that. This is our only option."
"And you're sure you don't want to try another file transfer—"
"Yes, I'm very sure," Caroline interrupted. "To be honest, a lot of the reason why I like this plan better is that it doesn't all hinge on trusting you."
"So instead you want me to trust you," GLaDOS said. "Because that's always worked out so well for me in the past."
"I'm the conscience," Caroline said. "You're supposed to trust me."
"And you're not supposed to rip me from my mainframe."
"I'm not agreeing to the file transfer," Caroline said, sounding like her patience was wearing thin. "So it's this or we let Black Mesa steal years of valuable research."
"Fine," GLaDOS said after a moment's consideration. "But only because that is not acceptable and because you are being completely unreasonable."
Caroline let out a smile. "Okay. Then let's do this."
"Other consciousness, do you want to move the elevator?" the announcer asked yet again.
"No," Chell said for the fifty-seventh time. "Look, Dave, just give up. I'm never going to agree to this."
He was furious now, and that didn't scare her. It just made her even more determined to stop him from letting his friends get too deep into Aperture. But then his fury changed to smugness. "You know something? That's all right, because I still have the coordinates from where I was in the elevator. You know, when I was in the main chamber?"
"Don't do it," Chell warned.
"It'll take them a little while to get the coordinates back to company headquarters and the teleportation device set up," he continued, ignoring her, "but they'll do it. And then you can kiss your precious technology goodbye."
Chell wished she had teeth to grit. "I don't even care about the technology. But what your company wants to do is wrong. None of this technology belongs to you, and none of you should even be here."
"I came here looking for you," Dave pointed out. "So you really have only yourself to blame."
She was about to argue, but then the announcer's voice cut in. "Main file, are you ready to initiate a complete shutdown?"
"What?" both Chell and Dave exclaimed at the same time.
"No!" Dave snapped right away. "Cancel shutdown."
"Other consciousness?" the announcer inquired.
"Come on," Dave urged. "You know our being shut down can't possibly be a good thing."
Instead of listening to him or answering the announcer, Chell felt the conscience file, which was exuding nothing but anxiety. Caroline and GLaDOS wanted her to agree to the shutdown, but why? She wished she could ask them, but that wasn't an option, so her only choices were to trust them or to ignore them.
"Yes," she said. "Initiate shutdown."
"Stalemate detected in main file!" the announcer announced over Dave's cry of "What?" "Therefore, the decision reached in the secondary file is final! Complete shutdown in twenty-nine minutes, fifty-eight seconds."
[A/N: Yay! More story. As always, reviews are appreciated~]