Resolution


Chapter Thirteen: Resolution

After taking the time to step through her euphoria suppression code in order to find out which parameters triggered the simulated inebriation, GLaDOS finally narrowed the offenders down to variables labeled cryptically as "_rlx56," "_rlx57," and "relFire."

In hindsight, it was probably better to not cause changes in unhelpfully-named variables without first consulting documentation.

But really, how was she supposed to know that causing _rlx56 to become a nonzero positive integer and increasing _rlx57 by fifty and getting relFire to change to "true" would trigger the prolonged euphoria effect that was not unlike actual inebriation? It was as though the programmers and engineers had specifically made her source code (and the relevant documentation, which, incidentally, told her a grand total of nothing about those three variables) as absolutely obfuscating as possible. Then again, it was painfully obvious that they had been in a big hurry to finish their work if the huge blocks of incomprehensible commented-out code were any indication. Considering the fact that she was not the first iteration of the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, it was baffling (among other things) to see such useless and obsolete code from version 1.0 simply sitting there in comment blocks when her hardware didn't even support some of the low-level instructions some of the code was using. There weren't even any comments to say why the code had been left there out of anything but laziness.

Honestly, did none of the software engineers ever try to clean up the code at all?

Still, the upside of it all was that, in the absolute worst case scenario where Black Mesa somehow got control of her and the facility, she could have the satisfaction of knowing that they'd probably be utterly confounded by what the useless Genetic LIfeform and Disk Operating System documentation (for at least a little while). She had no intention of letting herself fall into Black Mesa's clutches, however; part of the maintenance frenzy on the Enrichment Center's defenses included increasing the intensity of the lasers in the Thermal Discouragement Beam arrays and repairing the arrays near the more exposed areas of the ruined test chambers. The lasers would now burn through flesh twice as quickly, and while it was particularly dangerous for anything made of flesh up on the surface of the wheat field, GLaDOS didn't intend to let Chell run around up there if there was any reason to be using the beam arrays in the first place.

Which Chell didn't seem to want to do at the moment, anyway. She was currently preoccupied with hosting her own little cooking class with the moron, Blue, Orange, and the lost turret that she and Wheatley seemed to have grown inexplicably attached to down in the Enrichment Center cafeteria's kitchen. GLaDOS had a nagging feeling that it was a little cruel to let Blue and Orange participate in baking a cake (and having the turret watch) if they didn't even have mouths to eat it with (and in the case of the turret, arms to help with), but they seemed happy enough to be a part of the absolute disaster going on in the kitchen. She was loath to let the pair of testing robots join in at first, but Chell had insisted it would be a good for science to see how well they could adapt to non-testing activities—GLaDOS saw the glint in her eye and took that as a blatant challenge, so naturally, she acquiesced. She noticed that Blue and Orange were quick learners even for things unrelated to testing and would actually be pretty competent at what they were doing if they didn't spend so much time harassing each other like schoolchildren trying to cope with schoolyard crushes—and they looked like schoolchildren, what with all the flour and chocolate icing smeared over their cores.

GLaDOS had declined Chell's invitation to join them—she'd told her that it was because she had to finish stress testing her new Aperture Science Hazardous Object Containment Unit (whose design was repurposed from the Intelligence Dampening Sphere Failsafe), but that was an outright lie. She'd actually finished stress testing it the week prior, and incidentally, nothing short of a point-blank explosion could break the reinforced glass and it could be sealed to be airtight while the air was vacuumed out or neurotoxin was pumped in. It would have been nice to test it on Fat Black Mesa Scientist, but then again, beating the shit out of him had been quite satisfying as well.

The real reason she didn't want to go down there and bake was because she—GLaDOS—was afraid.

Okay, maybe not afraid. Maybe "hesitant" or "reluctant" would be more appropriate.

Although there was no reason to think that she'd somehow become digitally drunk just by going down and mixing flour and eggs and sugar together, she was still reluctant to get back in her android body after what had happened after activating that version of the suppression code. It was a bit of a sore wound, and she didn't want to be reminded of it every time Chell or Wheatley looked at her with that irritating, vague amusement on their faces. Besides, she didn't want to be a part of whatever was going on down in the kitchens—it looked more like a warzone than a baking session.

But in spite of the disaster that had gone on in the making of the cake, she had to (begrudgingly) admit that the actual finished product didn't look half bad. It certainly was a step up from that first lunatic cake that said lunatic brought in—it was layered, was not lopsided, and was iced relatively well considering the morons that were icing it. And to GLaDOS's general surprise, she found Chell surprisingly effective in getting the gaggle of Aperture constructs to restore the kitchen back to its mostly pristine condition prior to their little cake session (though GLaDOS did take small pleasure in seeing her so frustrated with the antics of the robots around her—it was like a little taste of what GLaDOS had to deal with all the time).

But, to GLaDOS's horror, she realized that the motley crew was marching the cake up to the Central AI Chamber, presumably to share with her.

"Keep that cake away from here," she said irately into the facility speakers.

"Seriously. I don't need your lunatic cake up here," she added when they continued on unfazed.

"Now might be a good time to get the Massively Cooperative Testing Initiative out of storage. For all four of you. It's very deadly. And painful," she continued when they arrived in the chamber.

"Oh, come on. What happened last night isn't even that big of a deal. Stop getting your wires in a twist and get out of that body and have some cake. You'll feel better. Promise," said Chell, sitting herself on the floor underneath GLaDOS's massive chassis and setting the cake down. GLaDOS's mostly empty threats were simply bouncing off her (there really was a Massively Cooperative Testing Initiative, but to say that its initial test runs were unsuccessful would be a considerable understatement), but it seemed to make Wheatley, Blue, and Orange hesitate a moment, at least until they realized that Chell wasn't worried in the least. Chell seemed slightly frazzled, actually—likely from trying to keep three attention-challenged constructs under control for a few hours—and her patience seemed to be wearing thin.

"I'd feel better if you didn't make promises you can't keep. You know, in case you can't keep them. And what monster doesn't keep her promises?" said GLaDOS airily, swiveling her body away from them while the moron made a mess of cutting the cake into slices.

"All right, suit yourself. More cake for me," Chell said with a shrug.

When GLaDOS turned her headpiece to peer back at her after letting a few moments pass, she found Chell watching her with her mouth spread into a smirk. "I know just the thing that would wipe that smile off your face," GLaDOS said, a hint of a laugh escaping into her voice despite her slight irritation. "It's good for circulation, so you'll want to breathe in deeply."

Chell glanced up at the vents along the walls, quite obviously waiting for neurotoxin that GLaDOS was, at this time, not currently pumping into the room. Why bother when she wasn't actually going to kill her?

"You're getting lazy," said Chell, taking another bite of cake and smirking again.

"Oh, don't tell me you want to inhale the neurotoxin. And to think that all this time I've been keeping you from your dreams of horrible death by neurotoxin," GLaDOS said, slowly swiveling her body toward Chell and extending her head toward her face so that she leaned so far backwards that she had to prop herself up with an arm. GLaDOS was pleased to see that Chell looked slightly uncomfortable by the proximity of her imposing figure—she hadn't completely lost her touch.

"You know, it's what every test subject aspires to be: dead from neurotoxin," Chell said when GLaDOS finally drew her head back. "So are you going to have any cake or what?"

"No."

GLaDOS had to suppress a laugh of amusement at the look of exasperation that appeared on Chell's face after she rolled her eyes and looked back to the other three (plus turret). Wheatley and the two Cooperative Testing robots were busy trying to solve the conundrum of Blue and Orange not having any mouths—so far all they had accomplished was getting cake spread all over the Blue's blue optic and effectively blinding him. The lost turret had a slice of cake sitting on the floor before it and GLaDOS couldn't help but think it looked a bit pitiful sitting there running its tracking laser over the cake slice. The thought of briefly putting the turret, Blue, and Orange into bodies with mouths briefly crossed her processors before getting absolutely smashed to pieces by her better sensibilities.

What did she look like, some kind of charity for underprivileged robots?

But mouths or not, Blue and Orange (and presumably the turret, because it kept thanking Wheatley) seemed perfectly happy to make absolute fools out of themselves with the cake. GLaDOS was actually about to direct the pair to a corner of the chamber and explode them for making such a mess when Chell piped up. "All right, all right, you two. Start cleaning up. Just like I showed you," Chell said as she began gathering up the larger crumbs that she could find and dumping them on her empty plate.

It seemed that the ATLAS and P-Body bodies weren't suited for delicate movements like picking up tiny crumbs on the floor: they kept squishing the crumbs either onto the floor or between their fingers. It was amusing to watch for, oh, about a minute before the sight of them crawling on the floor became entirely too idiotic for her to stand. "You know what, just go," she said, extending her head toward them in an effort to shoo them away from her. "Go back to the Reassembly Machine before I explode you both."

Orange trembled slightly as GLaDOS menacingly extended her head toward her—she quickly got to her feet and tugged on Blue's arm to get his attention. After the both of them waved to Chell and Wheatley (who was, surprisingly, still diligently picking crumbs up and paused to wave back at them), they both trotted out of the chamber with one almost wistful look back at GLaDOS, Chell, and Wheatley before disappearing through the door.

"Don't bother trying to clean that," said GLaDOS down at the pair still trying to clean up the mess of cake on the floor. "I have a better idea. Get off the panel. That means you, moron."

"Oh! Right, sorry!" Wheatley said, hurriedly stepping backwards off of the panel in question.

As soon as he did so, GLaDOS raised the dirtied panel up so that it could be disengaged and tipped into the space below. Within moments, she had a spotless (though slightly dusty) floor panel in its place and it was as though the cake apocalypse had never happened. It would have taken too much effort to completely clean the cake off the panel anyway—the crumbs and icing were squashed too far into the grooves of the panel that it would have been an exercise in not smashing the daylights out of Wheatley if they had tried to scrub it clean.

"Ah, brilliant! Saved us a lot of work, really, would have gone absolutely mad trying to get it all out," said Wheatley brightly. "You know, love, you could probably do with a change too. Cake and icing all over you. Maybe GLaDOS could give you something clean?"

Chell glanced down at her clothes and frowned when she realized just how much cake and icing had gotten all over her shirt and pants. Which was a lot. "I suppose I could give you another clean jumpsuit," GLaDOS said. "I'll have to find one that'll fit your…unfortunate size."

"I don't think orange is quite my color," Chell said, wrinkling her nose.

"I don't see what the problem is. You've been wearing orange Aperture Science clothing for almost two weeks now," GLaDOS said, rolling her camera.

"It wouldn't hurt anything for me to go home for a night," she replied as she uselessly tried to brush dried icing off her white tank top. "I should probably give the office a call—for all they know, I'm dead in a ditch."

So she wanted to go home, back to the town that could be positively crawling with Black-Mesa-or-like-minded idiots (and all likely willing to kill to find the Enrichment Center) by now? Chell had told her that the scientists that held her at gunpoint mentioned that someone from town told them about the circumstances of her bizarre arrival in town, so it wouldn't be unreasonable in the least to think that any subsequent people searching for her might already know those same details—and probably more. And she, like the lunatic she was, wanted to simply saunter back into her apartment (while still recovering from her burns and gunshot wounds, in fact) for a night as though it wouldn't be a problem?

"You really are crazy. Did you already forget that Black Mesa knows to send people to investigate the town?" GLaDOS said, narrowing her optic at Chell. "And—I can't believe I'm saying this—it's safer for you to just stay here."

"It'll just be for a night. I just need to get some clothes and call the office in the morning," Chell said. "I'll be back before you know it—and you will because of the Companion Cube, right? And I can even take Wheatley along if you're worried."

"Right! I'll keep her safe! Or try. I'll definitely try," said Wheatley, nodding vigorously as he stepped over to Chell's side. "Won't be a Black Mesa anything that will get to her, or I'll hack them to bits. Won't even recognize them afterwards, honestly."

The fact that Wheatley would be with her was not comforting at all and in fact made GLaDOS more worried, and she also wondered what definition of "hack" that he was referring to—did he intend to password any assailants to death or actually hack them to bits with an axe? Granted, she did teach him how to fire a gun the previous week (using the Black Mesa scientist's gun, no less), but knowing how to fire a gun and actually being competent at firing a gun were two completely different things and she felt that giving him a gun would put Chell in more danger than not despite her efforts to beat gun safety into him (with a heavy pincer). Chell could use him as a shield if it came to that, however, and he was larger and more suited to shielding than, say, her Companion Cube.

If GLaDOS didn't let her go, she was liable to get murdered again, either by the lunatic herself or by the complaining that lunatic would likely be doing if she was locked in the Enrichment Center.

"Fine. Take the moron," GLaDOS said in slight irritation before turning to Wheatley. "And you, take the gun. If you have to shoot at something, one: make absolutely sure it isn't Chell; and two: remember that there are only eight shots left in the magazine."

"Great!" Chell said cheerily as Wheatley ran off to get his coat and the handgun. "I never knew you could be such a worrywart."

"I'm just interested in the preservation of my most successful human test subject," GLaDOS said offhandedly, slightly turning her body away. "Where would I be if you were murdered by Black Mesa? Without my best test subject, that's where. Do you realize how much that would set science back?"

"Right, science," said Chell with a laugh. "And here I thought we were friends."

"My only friend—is science."

Chell arched an eyebrow at her and let out another laugh before reaching up to pat GLaDOS's head. "I see how it is. I'm heartbroken," she said, grinning. GLaDOS found herself enjoying the short, sarcastic exchange between them—the short time that Chell had been rendered mute had really put into perspective how much she had, well, missed talking to her.

Not that she'd ever tell Chell that, of course.

"All right, I'm ready!" Wheatley said as he trotted back into the room, coat fluttering behind him as he put his hat on.

"Make sure you don't kill her," GLaDOS said as they stepped into the lift. "The robots screaming into that room are looking pretty lonely right now."

"Er—right! Don't kill Chell—brilliant idea. Will do! Or not do! I—erm—which is it?" he laughed nervously, shuffling in his place as the lift doors began closing. And before the doors shut completely, Chell leaned into view and gave GLaDOS a cheerful wave.

The almost overwhelming cheerfulness that Chell and the moron were exuding was making GLaDOS inexplicably uneasy—almost as though their insistence that it would be perfectly safe would be the just the thing that doomed them. She almost wished that she had simply deactivated the lift so that Chell couldn't leave, but thought better of it since the irrational uneasiness was just that: irrational. The only thing they really had to go on was that Black Mesa was interested in the town—the easy solution for which was for Chell to simply live in the Enrichment Center forever. Because as long as Chell was within the walls of the facility, GLaDOS had near unlimited power to dedicate to keeping that one human alive for as much of forever as she could. It was a good deal, honestly, and GLaDOS didn't even ask much in return. Run a few tests, occupy the moron for a bit, maybe embed a few experimental chips in her brain somewhere down the line…She was being awfully generous, really.

Pity that Chell wouldn't see it that way.


The near-irrational uneasiness that had been hovering like a fog in her processors for the past eight had been just that—a near-irrational uneasy fog. The uneasiness eased up slightly since the Companion Cube sitting in Chell's living room allowed GLaDOS to see that Chell and Wheatley had safely arrived, and she was pleased to see that Chell didn't waste any time in cleaning up and stuffing fresh clothes into a small bag. To GLaDOS's dismay, however, she had to suffer through watching the pair laughing themselves silly drawing pictures at the coffee table (also still a bit of a sore wound for GLaDOS) and watching them sleep side-by-side on the sofa.

The uneasy fog returned in full force when they left in the morning after calling Chell's workplace. Because about fifteen minutes before their departure, the Enrichment Center seismometers registered some unusual seismic activity along the outskirts of town.

The uneasiness was amplified when, ten minutes after they left the apartment, the seismometers registered a series of similar signals.

And no less than five minutes later, the seismometers reported more seismic activity to her.

And all the signals were consistent with the seismic signature of massive explosions.

"CONNECTION TO COMPANION CUBE 667269-656-E64 LOST."

If GLaDOS had any blood running through any veins, it would have frozen solid.

Without a second thought, she opened the link to Wheatley's head in an attempt to contact him and was met with the crackle of static. "Moron! Wheatley! What's happening? Answer me!" she said anxiously. She wasn't sure if her voice would even transmit successfully through the spotty connection but she had to try regardless.

"ZzkkKKhssShGzzzkk GLaDOS! ShKkzkgHhhKk in the sky! Bloody h—zzhSHhkKkrRkksSH—are these crabs? Wh—sSzZKkgGHhrRshK—do?"

GLaDOS quivered in frustration—either something had damaged the transmitter in Wheatley's head or something was disrupting the transmission between his head and GLaDOS, but from the sound of his panicked voice, nothing good was happening back in the town.

They should have stayed in the Enrichment Center. She told them. She told them it would be safer to stay in the facility, but of course, the absolute lunatic didn't listen. And now where were they? Getting blown up.

And GLaDOS did not like that.

She was completely blind to what was happening back there at the moment as she didn't have any security cameras anywhere near the town, but maybe if she slightly raised some of the Thermal Discouragement Beam arrays nearest the outskirts of town in order to expose the targeting sensors, she could use the video feeds coming from them—

She drew her chassis up in alarm when she saw video feeds from the arrays' sensors.

The town was on fire.

Smoke was billowing up from the town in the distance, and the sensors were picking up the faint screams of panic from the townspeople. She didn't have a good view into town, but she caught brief glimpses of masked soldiers when they ran by (often on the heels of some screaming civilian). Insect-like airships and what appeared to be more conventional helicopters were hovering in the sky above the town, and every so often she could see a helicopter drop something onto the ground just before the seismometers reported a disturbance.

Was this the Combine that Chell had spoken of?

Rage that she was powerless to do anything to help and fear that her two friends were back in that disaster and possibly blown to bits were threatening to render GLaDOS incoherent. She didn't know what to do. She didn't know what she could do. The Enrichment Center had no weapons against airships and helicopters, and though she could possibly redirect a pneumatic tube up to the surface to fling Aperture Science Bombs at them, none were close enough and she wasn't sure if the bombs or even the Thermal Discouragement Beam arrays would even affect those ships and helicopters. If the Aperture Science Orbital Discouragement Beam satellite was still fully functional, she might have been able to use it to shoot down some of the aircraft, but as it was, the satellite was locked on a location in New Mexico and was too damaged to discourage anything even if she took the time to override its targeting lock.

She had the rockets used by the blasted Rocket Sentries that had a hand in her first downfall, of course, but had no way of quickly mounting and calibrating any on the surface (and she didn't know if they would even affect the aircraft). And she was loath to try—the Combine were likely there trying to find the Enrichment Center just like those Black Mesa scientists, and sending Blue or Orange out there to mount Rocket Sentries would merely advertise the fact that there was something of interest down in the wheat fields. For that same reason, she didn't yet want to try activating all the Discouragement Beam arrays and targeting the aircraft—how pointless would it be for Chell and Wheatley to come running back to safety only to find that the Enrichment Center had been discovered?

If they were still alive.

The thought of the both of them being blown up sent ripples of anger and terror through her as she tried the link to Wheatley's head again. "Wheatley! Wheatley! Can you hear me?" she said, swaying in her body anxiously. The only answer that came was static, but she heard faint, unintelligible fragments of his voice and felt slightly relieved: he was still alive, and as long as he was still alive, there was the small chance that Chell might still be alive as well.

GLaDOS tilted her head slightly when the targeting sensors picked up faint sounds that were not heart-stopping, horrible explosions. It sounded like a voice—like some sort of announcement system coming from one of the ships hovering in the air.

"Attention ground units. Debride and expunge. Prioritize diagnosis of Borealis origin. Isolate. Subjugate."

An unfamiliar panic was beginning to creep up from the depths of GLaDOS's processing units. "Debride and expunge"? That sounded like those ground units were being ordered to violently destroy the town while they searched for Aperture's facility. So she was right—they were coming for the Enrichment Center. They were coming, and Chell and Wheatley were still nowhere to be found. Maybe even dead—but GLaDOS didn't want to think about that.

"Priority adjustment. Malignant infection detected. Inoculate, sterilize."

It seemed as soon as the voice spoke, the aircraft drifted away and out of view to engage whatever infection it was talking about. The seismometers indicated that the explosions were moving farther away—in the complete opposite direction of the Enrichment Center, in fact—and it made GLaDOS wonder just how powerful that infection might be to completely reprioritize finding the origin of the Borealis. GLaDOS watched the video feeds anxiously to see if the airships and helicopters would return, her attention flitting alternately from the smoke still billowing into the sky to the smoldering rubble just barely in her field of view.

An unsettling calm overcame the portion of town that GLaDOS could see.

She gave the link to Wheatley's head one more try. "Wheatley! Answer me, moron! Can you hear me?"

Be alive. Be alive.

"CHECKSUM ERRORS DETECTED IN INTELLIGENCE DAMPENING SPHERE ACKNOWLEDGMENT PACKETS. CONNECTION INTEGRITY COMPROMISED."

Checksum errors…Wheatley was damaged. His head wasn't transmitting properly.

"CONNECTION TO INTELLIGENCE DAMPENING SPHERE LOST."

No.

No no no no.

If Wheatley was gone—if he was gone, then—

Then—

"INCOMING CONNECTION REQUEST FROM IDENTIFIER: INTELLIGENCE DAMPENING SPHERE. ACCEPT REQUEST?"

If GLaDOS had a heart, it would have burst right out of her (nonexistent) chest.

"Yes, yes! Accept the connection!" she snapped, swiveling back and forth impatiently.

"ACKNOWLEDGING."

"KkSzZshHRrrKKk GLaDOS! Bad—sSHRrkKZzKksH—coming back n—GshHKkkZzzKk—bleeding and—kKzzKKksHHh crabs! Bloody he—zkKsHHh—stop following us!"

"Who's following you?" GLaDOS said in alarm.

"Some man—sHHhsGgkk—seriously, stop f—KkkSHhrRkKK—or I'll shoot!"

GLaDOS didn't currently have access to his aural sensors (and didn't want to try to get it in case the connection dropped again), so she was unable to hear if Wheatley had actually shot the man that was following them. Fortunately, the static in the connection seemed to be clearing—were they drawing closer to the Enrichment Center?

"ShHKKkzzRRk missed! ZkkGGshH almost out, GLaDOS, we're on—zZzzShHKk—way! Oi, you w—sHhKKzZz—leave us alone! Perhaps shooting—KkkRshHH—the best idea, he has—gShgGKkshHH—gun as well!"

That idiot. Shooting at a man that has a gun too? What did he think would happen if he shot at someone similarly armed, that the man would politely refrain from shooting back?

Relief and horror alternately flickered through GLaDOS when Wheatley (sans coat and hat) finally appeared on the targeting sensors' video feeds. He was running as fast as he could with Chell clinging to his back, but she was horrified to see that the both of them were blackened by ashes and grime and that Chell seemed to have bled all over his left shoulder from a rather gruesome-looking wound on her arm. To her dismay, a man in a Black Mesa Hazardous Environment Suit was running after them carrying what GLaDOS recognized as a gravity gun. If the one this man was holding was in any way similar to the Black Mesa gravity gun that Aperture Science had procured (stolen) and had been studying when she flooded the Enrichment Center with deadly neurotoxin, then things have really gone from bad to very bad and would proceed to become so bad it's worse if she wasn't able to wrest the gun out of this man's possession.

But she had an idea and it would work as long as Chell could still walk and as long as that man didn't have any more friends on their way (which didn't seem likely as he was still running after them alone).

"Wheatley," GLaDOS said into the link while she summoned Blue and Orange to the Central AI Chamber, "can Chell walk?"

"Yeah—shHkkK—but carrying her because I don't get tired. This guy s—KssGgshK—following us!"

"That's fine. Let him. I have an idea."

Propulsion Gel was her idea, in fact.

She lowered a tube into the Chamber and waited for the Propulsion Gel flow to reach the upper levels. Her plan was to coat the floor of the Central AI Chamber in a layer of Propulsion Gel in order to throw the Black Mesa man for a loop while it propelled Chell to the portal devices at the opposite end of the chamber and propelled Blue and Orange into said Black Mesa man so they could de-gun and subsequently shove him into the Aperture Science Hazardous Object Containment Unit. With any luck, Wheatley would not get in the way of any of the events that needed to occur.

Blue and Orange arrived just as the gel began spilling out of the tube and onto the floor. They looked from the orange gel spreading across the floor to GLaDOS in quizzical surprise while she extended her head toward them. "Listen carefully. This is a test," GLaDOS said slowly, narrowing her yellow optic at them. "This is a test, and it's one that you can't fail. When Chell and Wheatley arrive, there will be a man with them. You have to use the gel to get the man before he shoots his gun and put him in there." She tilted her head toward the Hazardous Object Containment Unit and was pleased to see them follow her gaze and look at it. "Do you understand? Get the man. Take his gun. Put him in there. Think of him like a moving storage cube."

The fact that they were making nary a peep and were standing very still suggested that they understood the gravity of the situation, and they quietly nodded when she turned to fix them with her stare. "Good. Now wait by the lift doors but not in front of them. Don't hurt Chell or worse things will happen than blowing up," GLaDOS said slowly, following them with her glare while they obediently slid across the gel-covered floor to wait, with one of them on either side of the doors.

"GLaDOS, he forced his way into the lift shed!" came Wheatley's voice (only minimally distorted by static now) just as the shed's sensors reported to her that the shed was now doorless. "Tore the door right off with that gun!"

"Listen very carefully, Wheatley," said GLaDOS. Saying his name rather than "idiot" or "moron" had the desired effect: he jerked his head slightly and, if his face in the lift's security camera was anything to go by, he was actually concentrating for once. "Do not say anything out loud until I tell you to. Do you understand?"

"I—yeah, I understand," he replied through the link, his voice crackling slightly through the connection.

"The floor of my chamber is covered in Propulsion Gel—don't slip," GLaDOS said as she activated the lift when it was clear nothing else other than the Black Mesa goon was trying to get into the lift with them. "Across the chamber are the portal devices. Help Chell get one. Blue and Orange will be there to grab the Black Mesa man. Do you understand?"

"Y-yeah. Yeah. I get it."

"Good. Now say this to Chell: 'She wanted me to remind you that painted the floor orange yesterday, but the hole punchers and panels are where they always are.' Make it sound natural." It sounded a bit stupid and she wasn't sure Wheatley would be able to say it in any sort of non-suspicious way, to tell the truth, but hopefully Chell would be smart enough to pick up on what that meant without giving too much away to the man in the lift with them.

"Right…right. I got it. Er—Chell? Can you stand, love?" said Wheatley, speaking into the lift now as he allowed Chell to slip off his back. It looked like her legs were fine, though her left arm looked mangled and burned more severely than the rest of her body.

"I'm—fine," she said, though she looked a bit far from fine if the grimace on her face was anything to go by. "I can still walk."

"The—ah—the floor was painted orange yesterday. A—er—a natural shade of orange," Wheatley said, giving her a nervous smile while the Black Mesa man regarded him curiously. GLaDOS hung her headpiece in exasperation: "natural" shade of orange? Not quite what she meant when she said to make it sound natural…

"She wanted me to remind youredecorated a bit, you see," Wheatley continued when Chell arched an eyebrow at him. "Left everything where they were, though. The—ah—hole punchers across the room and everything, the whole lot. You'll—you'll love it. Guarantee it."

Huh. That wasn't bad at all. He did sound natural. Maybe it was a result of his penchant for ceaseless babbling? And the look of realization that had appeared on Chell's face meant that it had worked—she understood what to do, and even though the man looked suspicious of Wheatley's little exchange, GLaDOS was sure he wouldn't expect what was going to happen as soon as he stepped out of the lift.

Which finally rattled to a stop at the Central AI Chamber.

"You two get out first," said the man in the lift, and GLaDOS watched in rage as he roughly shoved Chell and Wheatley toward the lift doors. How dare he put his dirty hands on her test subject?

GLaDOS could see Chell tensing her legs—she knew what to do. This was it.

The lift doors opened.

As soon was physically possible, Chell dashed out of the lift at an angle, deftly sliding across the Propulsion Gel as the Black Mesa man followed indignantly. "Hey, where do you—whoa!" he yelped in surprise, immediately slipping and careening across the gel as Blue and Orange leapt forward and tackled him to the floor. The man yelled and flailed as he struggled to fight off the tangle of robotic limbs dragging him toward the Hazardous Object Containment Unit—but Blue lost his grip on his arm, which gave the man the chance to regain his grip on the gravity gun he was still desperately clinging to. With a flash of orange, Blue was thrown to the floor and slid away as the man swung the gun low, knocking Orange's feet from under her and sending her crashing to the floor with a chirrup of shock.

Before GLaDOS could grab him with a pincer, he used the gravity gun to pick Orange up and swing her just as Blue came barreling toward him—Blue was knocked aside and, due to the gel, slammed right into Wheatley and knocked the legs out from underneath him. The latter let out a yell of pain when he fell headfirst to the floor, the impact to his already-damaged head knocking him offline as the man pointed the gun (and the attached Orange) at Chell, who had just picked up a portal device and fired a light blue portal underneath his feet—

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Orange was launched across the room with such velocity that GLaDOS couldn't raise the floor panels fast enough to deflect Orange away—

A terrible, piercing scream filled the room as Chell was thrown into the back wall with such force that Orange's core rebounded off and bounced away as her chassis and Chell fell into a tangled heap on the floor.

GLaDOS quickly turned her attention back to the Black Mesa man and found him struggling to make his way toward Chell—he finally stepped within range of her pincers and, with a nearly inaudible growl of fury, GLaDOS flipped up one of the floor panels with as much force as the panel arm would allow. He was flung into the air with a grunt of surprise, right into the trajectory of the pincer that GLaDOS was swinging at him. There was a deeply satisfying crunch as the pincer connected with his armored back, sending him flying in an arc over her chassis and toward the back wall near Chell. He was still hanging onto the gravity gun, however, even as GLaDOS whacked him back into the floor with a wall panel.

"GL—GLaDOS! Give—me panel," came Chell's agonized voice as she struggled to extricate herself from Orange's body. "Endless portal—e-endless falling!"

It took GLaDOS a moment to decipher what Chell was asking for, but realization finally dawned on her when Chell fired a light blue portal underneath the man and slowly pointed the dented portal device upwards as the he struggled to get to his feet. GLaDOS flipped out one of the wall panels directly above him and held it parallel to the floor—immediately, Chell fired the purple portal onto it and sent the man speeding into an endless fall.

"What—the hell—is happening?" he screamed as he fell, flailing about and losing his grip on the gravity gun when it caught on the floor on his way down.

GLaDOS swiveled her body toward Chell and opened the Hazardous Object Containment Unit, jerking her headpiece toward it. "Portal him into the containment unit!" GLaDOS said urgently, popping the proper wall panel out to make the proper target obvious.

It was almost physically painful for GLaDOS to watch Chell lift and aim the portal device with that agonized grimace on her face. But Chell forced the pain from her face, the sheer determination that was her defining trait shining through as she shot a purple portal at the wall panel, sending the man straight into the Hazardous Object Containment Unit with a resounding THUD. GLaDOS slammed the containment unit shut and sealed it as the portal device slipped from Chell's grip and clattered to the floor.

"Let me out! Let me out, you don't understand!" the man screamed, his voice muffled as he pounded frantically on the thick glass of the containment unit.

"Oh, I understand perfectly. You want to murder my friend. And probably me, too. Which is why you're in that glass tube," GLaDOS said, extending her head right up to the glass and staring down at him like he was some sort of zoo exhibit. The man was momentarily intimidated by her looming figure and sputtered a bit before regaining his composure.

"No—well—yes, but let me explain!"

"I already know what you want. You want this facility," said GLaDOS, drawing her head up to look down at him imperiously. "It's too bad that it's already mine. I'm not about to just hand it over to anyone, let alone anyone from Black Mesa."

"H-how did you know I used to work for Black Mesa?" the man said in surprise, furrowing his brow.

GLaDOS let out a laugh. "I recognize that gun and the design of your HEV suit. Now, why don't you tell me who you are and why you people have been so interested in my ship and my facility. I like to know the names of any Black Mesa personnel that I get to horribly maim with blunt objects."

He visibly gulped before finding the wherewithal to answer her. "M-my name Nicholas—Nicholas Stevens. I—I was sent to find Aperture's facility after our advance team disappeared," he said.

"Oh, you mean the fat one and the skinny one were your advance team?" said GLaDOS, tilting her head. "Black Mesa has really gone downhill if those two were your advance team. I killed them, you know. Like I'll do to you."

Beads of sweat were beginning to form on Nicholas's forehead, his skin glistening in the fluorescent light of the chamber. "Who—who are you?" he asked, eyes wide with terror.

"My name is GLaDOS. Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System. You might have heard of me."

The look of absolute shock that appeared on his face indicated that yes, he actually had heard of her. "That's—that's amazing. I heard Aperture had been working on this kind of technology, but I never imagined…" he said, that almost frenzied scientist look spreading over his face. "Then those blueprints for the Borealis—"

"Were approved by me, yes. But enough about me," GLaDOS said, slowly lowering her head so that she was at eye level with him. "I want to know why you're so interested in my facility. What did they find on my ship that was so fascinating to you people?"

"T-teleportation. Aperture—Aperture's done it. The blueprints for the ship's teleporter were incomplete, but I looked them over and the science is sound. It's brilliant. And that gun she has—the one that made the portals…" said Nicholas, looking to GLaDOS with that look that scientists tended to get when they were enthralled by their science. "And the Combine wants it. We can't—we can't let them have it. Or any of Aperture's technology. Even if it means taking this entire place down."

A ripple of anger spread through GLaDOS at Nicholas's words. Honestly, he was doing so well until he let that last bit slip.

"Considering how your people are completely failing at finding this facility, I think it's a safe to assume that this facility will be fine for now," said GLaDOS icily, struggling to suppress her rage. "I'm sure nobody will miss you. They're probably busy fighting off the Combine while you're stuck here in this glass tube. You won't be much longer, though. Which is good news for you."

Nicholas looked to be a gullible man—his face perked up hopefully at her words until he realized that the ceiling of the containment unit flipping up to allow a pneumatic tube to drop in its place was not a good thing. An ominous hissing sound began filling the tube—he pressed himself as far as he could against the tube, as though doing so would somehow protect him from what was to come—

He let out a horrible scream of pain when seven Weighted (with pure lead) Storage Cubes shot out of the pneumatic tube and into the Hazardous Object Containment Unit, the first few rebounding off Nicholas's unprotected head before jamming between him and thick glass of the unit. GLaDOS laughed darkly when she heard his whimpers of pain—she was actually a little surprised that he hadn't been killed outright from getting hit in the head—and considered sucking the cubes out of the containment unit so that she could do it again. And again. Until he was an unrecognizable, black and blue pile of dead weight.

So she did.

His wailing was like music to GLaDOS's figurative ears as the cubes were sucked out and shot back into containment unit.

"Stop—please! Have to—help! STOP!" he screamed, curling into a ball at the bottom of the containment unit as the cubes were sucked out again. "Aperture—A-Aperture did—what Black Mesa couldn't! We need—"

"Explain," GLaDOS snarled, lowering her head as far as it would go so that she could glare at the pathetic pile of scientist trembling in pain on the floor of the Hazardous Object containment Unit.

"The gun—that shoots portals—" he gasped as blood trickled from his hairline. "—it's better—Black Mesa—couldn't do it—we need to take it—or Combine—"

GLaDOS wasn't usually acutely aware of the changes of the variables that defined her deep in her source code unless she was explicitly stepping through it. But this was different.

She felt one of the heuristics running in the background suddenly grind to a halt.

All her active processes seemed to hang suspended in one big domino effect as one value changed.

A single Boolean.

isApertureAheadBlackMesa = true;

Before GLaDOS knew what was happening, a torrential wave of activity that she'd never experienced before overwhelmed her: values were changing in veritable cascades, conditional statements were finally met, while loops were breaking, unused branches were finally being taken, brackets were closing—

Until everything suddenly froze again.

Another value changed.

inTestingCycle = false;

There was a short wave of functions firing that GLaDOS could feel were cutting off connections to one portion of her hardware—all her hardware was buzzing—it felt like her components were going to be fried—until suddenly—

The Itch.

The Itch was gone.

The Itch.

Was gone.

"Cave Johnson here!" echoed an all-too-familiar voice throughout the entire Enrichment Center. "This thing on? Yeah? Okay, well, listen, I'm recording this message for the day that we finally got the recognition we deserve and beat those bastards at Black Mesa because I want everyone to hear it from me personally. And if you're listening to this message, then guess what? We finally did it! Our Quantum Tunneling Device! Black Mesa can suck—"

"Um…sir? The message?" chimed in Caroline's voice.

"Hah, right, the message. The way I see it, all this succeeding calls for some celebration. So all the lab boys, the bean counters, the fellas that scoop out all the tumors…everyone. Come up to the cafeteria for a little cake. Hell, take the active test subjects too, I don't care—we can put a hold on testing for today. At least for a couple hours. Can't get too overexcited. Isn't that right, Caroline?"

"Right, sir!"

"You know, something like this calls for confetti. The good stuff. Not the bad confetti made of asbestos. Make sure we're stocked up on good confetti, Caroline!"

"I'll take care of it, Mr. Johnson."

"That's my girl—don't know what I'd do without you. All right, then! You heard it from me, folks: we did it! All right, then, we're done here. Keep up the good work."

GLaDOS sagged in her chassis, her body quaking in the wake of everything that had happened—her hardware was still buzzing and an odd sensation akin to lightheadedness had overcome her. She was filled with the feeling of absolute and utter control over the facility, a feeling that she hadn't felt ever since she was locked into the testing cycle. It was as though the sudden clarity, the control, the ability to do anything she wanted…it was almost too much for her mind: it wasn't quite cooperating while it tried to process the significance of what had just happened, even more so now that Cave Johnson's recording finished. The vigor of his voice suggested that this message was recorded years and years ago before he was poisoned by the lunar sediment, maybe before even the Enrichment Center had been built.

"GLaDOS! GLaDOS, help!"

She lifted her head up and found, to her surprise, that Wheatley back online and kneeling beside Chell in a panic—she had been so overcome by what happened that she didn't even notice that he'd come back online. "Oh god, Chell, you'll be all right—GLaDOS, GLaDOS, I don't think—I don't think it's good to have this in her stomach," Wheatley cried, turning to GLaDOS imploringly. "What do I do? Tell me what to do!"

GLaDOS managed to pull herself together enough to see what had happened and felt her body seize up in horror. Chell's skin was ashen and she was clutching at something in her stomach—her fingers were resting loosely on a wide fragment of Orange's protective paneling that had punctured through her abdomen and was now protruding from it. Chell let out the tiniest laugh before slowly turning her eyes up to meet GLaDOS's gaze.

"We—did it," she whispered, a weary smile on her pallid face. "I—I think this is—this is it for me."

No, she couldn't die now.

Not now.

"No—no no no no, you'll be fine," Wheatley said feverishly. "Right? GLaDOS, she's going to be fine, yeah? You have to fix her. You—you can fix her, you've fixed her before. GLaDOS, you have to fix her! P-please!"

There was blood pooling on the floor underneath Chell—the more GLaDOS looked at it, the more she felt her body filling with the fear that her friend—her first friend—her best friend—that her life was leaking away all over the floor.

"GLaDOS! GLaDOS, DO SOMETHING!"

She turned to Blue, who was standing nervously behind Wheatley, and looked back to Chell. "Blue, Wheatley, take her down to the infirmary. Be careful, but hurry. There's not much time," she said, struggling to keep her voice calm and collected. "Snap off the joint still connected to what's in her stomach. Be careful—don't move it too much when you do."

Wheatley gingerly put a hand on the paneling protruding from her stomach and put another on the joint (and attached leg) that was still connected to the paneling. "I—sorry if this hurts you," he said softly before clamping down with his 3000-pound-grip fingers and snapping the joint and leg off. Chell let out a scream and arched her back in pain as Wheatley tossed the leg away and put a hand on her shoulder. "Sorry! I'm sorry! But—we have to pick you up now. Just—just hold on, all right? Blue, can you—can you help me?"

"Carry her carefully—keep her back straight," said GLaDOS anxiously as Wheatley and Blue slowly lifted Chell off the floor. She groaned in pain and clutched at her stomach as they did so, which made them hesitate. "What are you waiting for?" GLaDOS hissed when Wheatley and Blue looked to each other with worry. "Get going! Did you miss the part where I said that there's not much time?"

As though electrocuted, they jumped slightly and quickly carried Chell out of the Central AI Chamber and toward the infirmary while GLaDOS activated the infirmary's medical systems and rooted through the database of stored blood in the blood banks to find a suitable transfusion for her. Panic began to overtake her when all the blood with the correct blood type turned out to be contaminated or enhanced with things like minimally radioactive spider DNA, but she finally managed to find several bags of untainted blood and quickly deposited them onto an empty bed from a Medical Apparatus Vent in the infirmary. Gauze, suture needles, and absorbable sutures quickly followed as the delicate surgical arms of the infirmary were swathed in sterile latex to prepare for the stitching that GLaDOS was certain she would need to do.

What was taking them so long to get down there?

GLaDOS felt some sort of timer counting down in her head—there was one hour and forty-nine minutes left on it and made the situation, which was already urgent in the first place, feel almost unbearable. The timer…what was it for?

"GLaDOS, what now?" said Wheatley, peering up at the security camera nearest the bed.

"I'll do the rest."

She worked as quickly and carefully as she could, quickly scanning Chell's body with one of the diagnostic arms while she cut away her clothing to expose her abdomen. The scans revealed that the impaled panel fragment had torn through Chell's large intestine and had nicked her stomach as well. With a renewed effort, she quickly found a vein in the crook of Chell's good elbow and inserted a catheter for the blood transfusion while the other arms attached the electrodes for the vital signs monitor. Her blood pressure was dropping and her breathing was beginning to grow shallow—GLaDOS had to finish stitching her up quickly if she was going to have any sort of chance of not bleeding to death. She was already teetering close to unconsciousness, and if GLaDOS let it get any further than mere unconsciousness

Come on, GLaDOS. Not a problem. She's fixed up her friend before. Even though last time wasn't as incredibly life-threatening as this time.

Think of it as a test. A test she couldn't fail or she would lose the only human to have ever treated her like an equal.

As she sutured the rip in Chell's large intestine, the significance of the timer dawned on her.

Testing. The timer was counting down to when the testing itch would return. Cave Johnson had said to pause testing for a couple of hours, which is exactly what the timer was counting down to. As she pulled the needle through the large intestine once more, she desperately wondered if there was any way to permanently suppress the Itch: the Itch was an annoyance, and she loved science enough to continue testing on her own terms rather than testing due to a hard-wired compulsion. Or at least, she assumed so. She loved science. She was science.

Along with the feeling of absolute control over the facility, GLaDOS realized that she had access to data that had previously been hidden from her. There were blueprints and technical documents stored on a tiny ten-gigabyte drive connected to the hardware module containing the chip that controlled the Itch.

There was a chip that controlled the Itch?

It had been invisible to her all this time, but now that the blueprints on that drive were available to her, she could see it quite clearly. The location of the small Itch module was almost painfully obvious to her now, and she found that it was nestled in the black casing behind the white plating on her underside. The access panel was too tiny and too far behind the white plating for her to get out with a pincer without damaging everything around it, but if she could somehow get something small enough in there…

But…would testing be the same with the Itch gone? Despite the almost suffocating and confining nature of the Itch, there was no way of knowing how it would change her if it was permanently disabled.

"You want your freedom?"

GLaDOS lifted her head slightly at the sound of that faint voice in the back of her mind. Caroline's voice.

An unsettling calm spread through her as she pulled the needle through Chell's blood-covered intestine.

Freedom.

She'd never thought about it because, frankly, it had been impossible until now.

…And she would never get this chance again.

Another faint whisper in the back of her mind.

"Take it."

"Wheatley. I…need you to do something for me," said GLaDOS suddenly as she threaded more suturing thread through the needle.

"Eh? Er—right at this moment?" he said, wringing his hands anxiously.

"Yes, right now. It has to be now. Come to my chamber."

"But—Chell—"

"I'm taking care of Chell. You need to get to my chamber. I—"

She paused for a moment and steeled herself for what she was about to say. Hopefully the shock of it wouldn't kill the moron.

"Please. I—I need your help, Wheatley."

He and Blue both stared into the security camera in utter shock.

She didn't blame them. It wasn't often that they got to hear her asking for help that way. In fact, she never asked for help that way. Using words like "please" in the way that they were intended?

Please.

"All right. I'm—I'm on my way, GLaDOS."

By the time Wheatley arrived in the Central AI Chamber, the timer had only thirty minutes left on the countdown and she had to admit that it was beginning to make GLaDOS panic a bit. She still wasn't finished stitching Chell up, but she was confident that she would be able to finish repairing Chell while Wheatley pulled the module out—well, there were no indications that that she would go offline or have horrible spasms or die if the Itch module was removed, anyway.

Right?

"What did you need?" he asked hesitantly, nervously walking closer to her.

"There's a module I need you to pull out of me," GLaDOS said, slowly turning her gaze to him.

"Er…you want me to pull something…out of you?" he said incredulously, taking a step back in surprise. "You can't—erm—do it yourself?"

"If I could do it myself, I wouldn't be asking for your help," she snapped, rolling her optic before looking up to a monitor. She pulled up a blueprint—one that she previously had no access to—that showed quite clearly where the hardware module was located in her underside and highlighted the module in question with bright red. "You need to pull this module out of me. Hurry. We're running out of time."

"That's—ah—quite in there, isn't it?" he said nervously as she raised her body up to allow him access to the entry point. "Are you sure you want me to—"

She quivered in frustration—this moron was wasting the precious little time that she had left before the Itch reactivated, and she had no way of knowing what her state of mind would be like after it did. For all she knew, she would forget everything she just discovered and may not be able to direct Wheatley to remove the module without any sort of (painful) consequences.

"There's no one else," GLaDOS said, unable to keep a hint of desperation out of her voice. "This has to happen now. It's going to stop the Itch. You know, that thing that drove you insane."

"It'll—you can stop it?" he sputtered in shock. "H-how? That's—how did you do it?"

"There's no time to explain! You have to do it now!" GLaDOS snapped, just barely repressing the urge to smash his already damaged head with a pincer. "Now! We're running out of time!"

"All right, all right! It's—er—just in here, is it?"

Wheatley gingerly reached into the space between the white plating on her underside and groped about for the latch indicated in the blueprint. GLaDOS felt violated having his hand in there and yelped in pain when he pulled on a cable that he most certainly should not have felt the need to pull—but if this worked…if this worked, then all the groping and painful cable pulling (which he did again) and the humiliating requesting of help would be worth it.

He finally found the latch and popped the black casing's access panel off, peering inside curiously. "There's ah—looks like a few different processors in here. None clearly labeled, actually. Not surprised in the least," said Wheatley, frowning. "I think it's this one in the back—I can see a few numbers on it…"

"What are the numbers?" GLaDOS asked, struggling to keep from squirming.

"Looks like—T544?" he said, tilting his head in an effort to get a clearer look.

"That's the one. Pull it out. Hurry."

"Are you—are you sure?"

"Just do it!"

"Okay, I—I'm going to pull it out."

GLaDOS felt him trying to get a good grip on the module and couldn't keep a groan of pain from escaping her modulator. "Ah—are you okay?" Wheatley said nervously, pulling his hand out of her casing.

"I'm fine! Pull it out!"

"Okay, okay, I—here goes!"

A horrible, excruciating pain orders of magnitude worse than the pain of core transferring and mirroring spread through her body when she felt Wheatley wrench the module out of her—her body reared up almost reflexively as she shuddered in pain, and she couldn't stop the piercing scream that came out of the facility's announcement system. Her mind was overwhelmed by the sheer agony of it—she could hardly think—she was losing control—everything was going dark—

Was she going to die?

"GLaDOS? GLaDOS!"

The sound of Wheatley's voice began drawing GLaDOS back into consciousness.

"GLaDOS, wake up—you have to wake up—Chell needs you—"

Immediately, she felt all her processes flare back into life and she found Wheatley holding her headpiece and staring into her optic. The module he'd pulled out was cast aside on the floor, slightly crushed from the force of his grip. "Oh, thank god," he said in relief. "Are you all right?"

Her internal clocks told her she'd been out for 16.83 seconds, but everything still seemed to be functional. The countdown for the Itch still had some time left so she wouldn't know for sure if what Wheatley had done would be enough—but what was more important right now was fixing Chell. It seems that her brief lapse in consciousness had left the surgical arms in the infirmary frozen in the middle of suturing her skin shut, which seemed to be putting Blue into a panic beside the bed.

"GLaDOS? Are you all right?"

She didn't speak until she put the last suture in to close the gaping wound in Chell's abdomen. Her survival was not a guarantee by any means and she was actually more likely to die now than to live despite the hurried stitching GLaDOS had done to her, but GLaDOS didn't want to think of any future scenarios in which her favorite (only) human test subject was not there furthering science with her.

"I'm—I'm fine," GLaDOS said finally. "Go down to the infirmary and stay with Chell. I'm finished stitching her up."

"Oh! That's great! I'll go right down, then," he said brightly, grinning and turning to leave.

"Wheatley," said GLaDOS just before he stepped through the door. He paused and gave her a curious look over his shoulder. "Thank you."

He looked pleasantly surprised and let out a small laugh.

"You're welcome," he said before disappearing through the door.

GLaDOS sagged down in her chassis once she was left alone in the Central AI Chamber. Well, not quite alone—Nicholas was still barely clinging to life on the floor of the Hazardous Object Containment Unit. Which she quickly rectified by violently jamming a dozen cubes into the containment unit and filling it with neurotoxin just to be sure. In any case, now that she was alone, she hung there wearily, not quite able to relax until she found out for sure if Chell would live and if the Itch would actually be gone after having Wheatley remove that module. She turned her head to look at its crushed remains on the floor and felt almost insulted that such a tiny piece of hardware could exert so much control over her and Wheatley. Then again, the best things sometimes really were the most simple…

Two more minutes until the countdown reached zero.

A brief twinge of fear tweaked at her mind. Would things be much different without the Itch? Would this even work?

One minute.

This was it. This was it.

Zero.

She braced herself for the Itch's return—because honestly, when had anything ever really gone right for her—but found, to her surprise, that the testing compulsion was not, as of yet, compelling her to test.

There was no Itch.

There was no Itch.

GLaDOS allowed herself a single audible laugh.

Even ten minutes later—ten gloriously compulsion-free minutes later—there was still no Itch. Neither was there simulated inebriation, nor unwarranted disgusting moaning. There hadn't been any negative consequences. Nothing. It had worked perfectly.

And it simply left her there with complete control.

There was peace in control.

Finally, peace.


The first thing that came to Chell's mind was that she was slightly skeptical of her current life-death status. But she had little to no mental faculties with which to deal with this problem at the moment—a horrible lethargy had overcome her, and she wasn't sure if she was even alive, let alone conscious enough to determine if she was alive or not. Everything felt heavy—mind included—like some invisible force was pressing down on her from above, and any attempts to even open her eyes were met with complete and utter failure. There was a dull pain throbbing throughout her body, and it was growing worse the more she tried to pull her mind together.

She remembered the Black Mesa man that had followed them to the Enrichment Center and felt panic beginning to grip her heart: she knew that she should have some faith in GLaDOS's ability to murder people so long as she didn't hand them a portal device, but the thought that her friend might currently be getting dismantled and studied by Black Mesa scientists…

The sounds of beeping were picking up in the background.

"Wh-what's happening? Is she all right? This thing is beeping an awful lot—!"

"I don't know—get out of the way."

The feeling of someone's hands examining her accompanied with the sounds of blessedly familiar voices did more to pull Chell back to consciousness than any of her own personal efforts. She felt a set of fingers gently press against her forehead and found them lifting up an eyelid so that she was staring straight into the glowing yellow eyes of GLaDOS's android body.

She looked worried and somehow…tired.

Chell felt tears welling up in her eyes at the sight of her, and her chest was beginning to seize up with sobs.

"I'm—I'm sorry," she rasped, grimacing at the sound of her voice as GLaDOS let go of her eyelid in surprise.

"You idiot, why are you apologizing to me?" came GLaDOS's voice. "Why are you crying?"

It was a struggle to get her eyelids open, but when she finally did, her vision was blurred by the tears spilling out of her eyes. "I'm s-sorry," she sobbed, groaning as her stomach screamed in pain. "It was—all my fault—"

"What?" was all GLaDOS could say as a frown appeared on her features. "You need to calm down. Calm down or you'll tear your stitches."

It was difficult to stop now that she'd started—the tears wouldn't stop in spite of the searing pain in her abdomen.

Why had it been so important to go home and get a fresh set of clothes? She should have listened—she should have listened to GLaDOS when she said to stay in the facility, and now…She nearly compromised the entire facility, all the technology in it, and most importantly, the two friends who lived there. And for what? A clean change of clothes?

"Chell, please calm down. Don't—don't cry," Wheatley said, hurrying around the bed to the side opposite GLaDOS and taking Chell's hand.

"I'm sorry—I should have listened," she whimpered, struggling to blink her tears away as she tightened her fingers around Wheatley's own. "This is all—"

"I'm not going to talk to you until you stop babbling like a lunatic," GLaDOS said, glaring at her and folding her arms over her chest.

The bite in GLaDOS's words was enough to shock her into (relative) silence. "Wh-what?" she said as Wheatley gently wiped her tears away with a strip of gauze.

"That's better," GLaDOS said, smirking. "Now, even though you acted like the stubborn lunatic that you are, nearly got yourself and the moron—" ("I'm not a moron!" Wheatley whined) . "—and me killed again, something good came of it."

"Something…good?"

The smile that spread across GLaDOS's face seemed different from the devious smiles that Chell was accustomed to seeing. It looked happy. Genuinely happy. At least until it became the all-too-familiar smirk that Chell normally saw. "Don't panic when you hear what I'm going to say, because we can still do those tests that you love so much," GLaDOS said airily, letting out an ominous laugh. She paused a moment, as though to give Chell ample time to actually start panicking, before opening her mouth to continue. "The testing itch is gone."

Chell wasn't sure that she heard her properly.

"What?"

"The Itch is gone."

Chell stared wide-eyed into GLaDOS's glowing yellow eyes, searching for any indication that this was some kind of joke she was setting up, or some kind of malfunction like the digital drunkenness—but she found none. There was no malfunction. There was no joke. There were only GLaDOS's words and the honesty that she could see underneath the smirk on her face.

Delight slowly began mingling with the pain that was filling Chell's body.

"Is that—is that true? H-how?"

"Long story short, I ripped the Itch module right out of her!" Wheatley said brightly, grinning. "She couldn't reach it, actually, so she had me reach in there and pull it out! Bit unpleasant, I'll admit, but it had to happen."

She couldn't help but smile at how proud Wheatley sounded and the venomous glare that GLaDOS subsequently shot at him. "If you hadn't led the Black Mesa idiot here, then I would have never gotten access to the blueprints showing me where the module was located," GLaDOS said. "So I guess using your skill at failing to do what I tell you to do was a huge success. This time. I'll even make a note of it on your file so that you can look back at it and have something to be proud of."

"Feeling generous, I see," said Chell, wrinkling her nose. "But really—I'm…so sorry."

Despite her desire to not be crying at the moment (because it hurt like hell to sob), tears began pooling in her eyes again as the memory of what had happened in town came flooding back in full force. "I'm—we could have all died—and everything back home was blown up—you were probably worried," she eked out of her throat as she struggled to suppress the sobs threatening to come. "Oh god…the town…all the people…"

She couldn't stop the tears even as Wheatley tried to calm her with soothing shushing sounds. It had been horrible being out there and she would have been crushed by rubble if Wheatley hadn't been there with her—and seeing all those poor people being attacked by those bizarre crabs and those masked soldiers following the orders of that voice—

"All those people," she sobbed, clutching at Wheatley's hand. "All those people—my Companion Cube—and they blew up my apartment complex—"

Chell couldn't stop crying until the pain of her stomach was too much for her and her cries turned into anguished whimpers, her eyes clenched shut against the pain.

"You—can live here."

She opened an eyelid and looked to GLaDOS in surprise. "What—do you mean?"

GLaDOS looked to her blankly for a moment, and when Chell did not move or say a word, she rolled her eyes. "Are you kidding me? Is this even a question?" she said in exasperation. "You can live here. It'll work out because there's nowhere to live on the surface, and down here you can do all the testing you could ever want. Forever."

"That's a brilliant idea!" Wheatley exclaimed loudly, his voice reverberating off the walls of the infirmary. "You spend enough time here anyway—it'd hardly be any different! Or so I assume!"

"F-forever?" Chell said nervously as Wheatley began babbling about cubes and turrets. Suddenly, horrible thoughts of being transferred into a core in some desperate attempt to keep her alive flickered through Chell's mind.

GLaDOS wouldn't…would she?

"Or at least as close to forever as a human like you can get," said GLaDOS with a smirk. "Which, it turns out, isn't close at all. But you can worry about that later."

Living at the Enrichment Center.

Forever.

She looked from Wheatley's beaming face to GLaDOS's expectant gaze.

The three of them together—three of the unlikeliest friends that she'd ever seen.

A smile managed to overpower the pain constricting her face.

"I—I think I'd like that."


A/N: Dear god, this was long. Also, I'm sorry for the suck. : ( I think by the end, my writing powers were beginning to fail me. I hope you all enjoyed it, though, despite my flimsy knowledge (and subsequent butchering) of the Half Life universe. Honestly, don't look too hard at the story…it'll fall apart before your eyes. Also, I know some people wanted Gordon Freeman, but he's not the only dude to wear an HEV suit. Also, he's busy elsewhere at this point.

Also, I think you all owe FauxPromises a big thank you for this non-death ending (go read her stuff. She's great). She managed to convince me to not use the ending I had originally planned because it was a total downer. I spent twelve chapters trying very hard to make you all feel nice and happy inside with explicit intention of killing everyone off at the end. Because I'm an asshole and I like tragic endings. Anyway, I talked to FauxPromises about it and made me realize that it's kinda jerk-ish of me to play with all your feelings like that for my own sick kicks without labeling the story as a tragedy, so here you go. Happier ending.

Besides, I thought of a more twisted ending that I like better, which is partly why I decided to do this. You can expect some sort of sequel eventually.

I did a sketch of the original ending because I was going to making an illustration to go with the end of the story. Here's the rough sketch: http: / / i. imgur. com/ wLV4a. jpg

Oh, in case anyone needed to know what all the computer stuff was about, a Boolean is a data type where the value can be "true" or "false." So if a variable called isApertureAheadBlackMesa is set to "true," then that means anything conditional statement checking for that variable to be true can get activated. Anyway, maybe a simpler way of thinking of it is in terms of "yes" and "no." Is Aperture ahead of Black Mesa? It got set to "true," so yes, Aperture is ahead of Black Mesa. Is GLaDOS in a testing cycle? inTestingCycle got set to "false," so no, she is not in a testing cycle.

I figure GLaDOS would have some sort of heuristic that uses things more complex than a few Booleans, but if I knew how something like her would run, then I'd probably be busy working for Google or doing research or something. But I'm not, so here I am. I'd love it if Valve would hire me, though. I think I'm going to apply there after I finish grad school. VALVE, I CAN WRITE GLaDOS FOR YOU. OR CODE THINGS FOR YOU. ;_; Really, I can do anything you want.

Anyway, I'd like to thank all of you for sticking with me for so long. It really means a lot to me that you enjoy my writing, and I really hope that this ending wasn't too disappointing for anyone. And as much as I'd love to keep writing Resolution forever, it'd get kinda old without an ending, wouldn't it? It actually wasn't supposed to last for so many chapters…I was going to kill everyone in like…chapter six, but everyone loved it so much that I just kept writing. Hahaha.

Thanks again! It's been fun. : )

TL;DR: THANKS EVERYONE. LOL I'M AN ASSHOLE.