Kenna knocked again on Corah's Relaxation Chamber door, frustrated at her friend's lack of response.
"Are you awake?" she called. "Come on, Corah, we're gonna be late!"
Again there was silence. On a whim, she tried the doorknob, and the door swung open.
There was no room on the other side of the door. Kenna teetered on the edge of the doorway for a moment before bracing her hands against the frame.
"Are you okay?" Emily asked anxiously.
"Yeah," Kenna replied, staring down the chasm in front of her. The Extended Relaxation Center was massive; the floor was too distant to be seen. That is, assuming that there was a floor. In Aperture, one could never be too sure.
The twenty-one-year-old stepped back from the edge, and Emily glanced through the open doorway nervously.
"Where did her room go?" she asked.
"Corah must be testing today!" Kenna exclaimed jealously. "Lucky girl!"
Emily stared at her classmate. She, for one, was not looking forward to the day she woke up in a test chamber. The Portal games were fun, and she had understood Chell's lecture from earlier in the week about the importance of experience, but still…some experiences, especially uncertain ones, were best avoided.
Kenna sighed. "I guess we'll have to go on without her. Let's go, Emily."
The tall girl had just turned to walk down the hallway, when suddenly—
"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."
Both girls jumped at the high-pitched voice. There was a turret sitting in the middle of the hallway behind them. It regarded them silently for a moment with its single red eye, which flickered every few seconds. "Mark Twain," it concluded. "I thought you should know."
Kenna grinned widely. "The Different Turret!"
"Different turret?" Emily asked
"Portal 2, Chapter Five," Kenna explained. "You save it on its way to Redemption."
Emily nodded. "I remember."
"Where did you spring from?" Kenna approached the turret curiously. "Did you come through a plothole?"
"That's all I can say," said Oracle.
"I've been trying to open one since those boys fell into my room," Kenna continued, "but all attempts have proved unsuccessful. Got any tips for me?"
"That's all I can say," Oracle repeated. Emily thought it sounded a bit annoyed—as annoyed as turrets ever sounded, anyway. There was an air of "I just ended this conversation" about the little white robot.
"Well, I'll just have to keep trying, then!" Kenna concluded, unperturbed. "As Thomas Edison said, 'I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work'!"
Had Kenna actually tried to open plotholes in ten thousand different ways? Emily wouldn't have been surprised.
"The Agents have requested that this class be cut short today for a special lecture session immediately following," GLaDOS commented through the screen on the wall as another student was sent soaring towards the beginning of the maze. "Therefore, while it is infinitely entertaining to watch you fly helplessly through the air, please proceed quickly and accurately through the doors."
Kikaito frowned at the two doors in front of him. The "maze" consisted of several open-top rooms in a straight line; the tricky part was that while one door out of the current room opened into the next room, the other activated an Aerial Faith Plate beneath the user's feet, forcing them to start all over again.
In the current room, the door on the left had the word "lose" written on it in small black letters, while the other read "loose." On the wall between the two was the sentence, "I hope that you do not [REDACTED] your way in the test chambers, as that will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record."
Let's see, the boy thought, adjusting his glasses nervously—he'd already had to start over once, after mixing up "affect" and "effect" (effect was the noun, as in something had a positive effect, while affect was the verb, as in something affected you), and he didn't want to make any stupid mistakes.
Though it was difficult to focus with the yellow-eyed AI leering down at you and constantly commenting on your progress…
"How unfortunate," the aforementioned AI sighed as another Aerial Faith Plate activated further on.
"I meant foul with a uuuuuuu…!" the student cried as she flew overhead.
"Then you should have selected that door, instead of the one referring to the egg-laying ornithoid," GLaDOS replied dryly.
"Loose" is like "not tight," right? Kikaito thought. So it must be "lose"…
He cautiously approached the door on the left, grasped the doorknob, and opened it. To his relief, he saw the next room in front of him—identical to the one he had just left, except the two doors read "accept" and "except."
Meanwhile, Sparkle had gotten in line behind Alice and Sophie, who were waiting to begin the maze again.
"Ornithoid?" she said, confused.
"She means a chicken," Sophie explained. "Foul is a stench, fowl is a bird."
"To ensure that the individual learning environment remains unaffected," GLaDOS's voice rang out above them, "please refrain from discussing solutions to maze compartments."
"I'm doomed," Alice moaned. "This is the fourth time I've restarted—I can't do this; I'm dyslexic!"
Sophie frowned, her eyes flickering towards GLaDOS's screen, but then she made a snap decision towards defiance and leaned forward to whisper in Alice's ear.
"Listen: 'choose' with two o's is present tense, but 'chose' is past—try sounding them out, they're different enough. Also 'duel' with an e is fighting but 'dual' with an a means two—that's what tripped me up, she wants 'duel.'"
Alice bit her lip. "Okay…thanks."
There was a yelp, and Bryce came crashing down next to them, jarred from the sudden flight even though his long fall boots had taken the impact of the landing.
"'Compliment' is saying something nice," he muttered. "That's with an i. So what's 'complement' with an e mean?"
"Oh, that means something goes with something else well," Sparkle provided the answer, to the other girls' surprise. "Like how a good pair of shoes can complement a pretty dress, but an orange jumpsuit doesn't complement anything."
"Neither discussing solutions to maze compartments nor insulting the standard Aperture Science test subject uniform will reflect positively on your official class record," GLaDOS pointed out. The students wisely shut up and refocused their attention on the maze.
While it wasn't unusual for an Agent to be at a lesson—the students were certainly used to them popping up every now and then two weeks into the seminar, anyway—the appearance of both Agent Alix and Katz on the BC&C stage set the students on-edge, and the grim looks on the duo's faces did not help.
"So far in this class, you've learned the basics of the Portal canon, how that world and the characters in it function," Alix began, casting her authoritative gaze over her audience. "That is necessary for accurate Portal fanfiction. Today, however, we will begin to instruct you in the creation aspect of fanfiction—specifically character creation."
"Don't get too excited," Katz cut in. "You've still got a ways to go before you start writing your own characters. First, we have to talk about an unfortunate reality, a crime that many of you are guilty of: the creation of a Mary Sue."
"Oh, come on!" Daren exclaimed, standing up in the second row. "Here, and in Pairings class—you keep telling us what we can't do! Don't pair them, don't write this…when are you going to tell us what we can do? When can we actually do something?"
Several students held their breaths and glanced around nervously for Frankenturrets, but to everyone's relief and surprise, Agent Alix simply laughed.
"Sit down, Mr. [Not insertine this here, thank you very much.]," she said, smoothly and improbably pronouncing the brackets and typo. The jean-clad agent grinned at her partner. "I've been wanting to say that for a long time!" she gloated. "Ever since he turned in his form…"
"We won't let you 'do something' yet, because you can't yet, and if you do before you can, what you do won't be any better than what you did when you couldn't," Agent Katz explained, ignoring her, "but you will be able to eventually, and then we will let you do."
At her feet, turrent chirped a question.
"Yes, that sentence was grammatically correct," Katz replied.
"Now that that's settled," said Alix, "back to the topic at hand. Today we are here to lecture on…" She flourished a hand dramatically, Chell hit a button on her computer, and the screen on the wall lit up, displaying a picture of a beautiful girl with dazzlingly-bright green eyes and purple highlights in her hair. Her body was lithe and slim, but her chest was disproportionately buxom for her skinny shape—and the students had a clear view of this, since she was wearing an Aperture Science test subject uniform—that is, if the Aperture uniform was incredibly low-cut, flattered all curves, featured high-heels, and most strikingly of all, was dyed hot pink. This girl was smiling winningly, surrounded by basically featureless people and robots, who although lacking in differentiating facial features were clearing fawning over her.
"…Mary Sues," Alix finished her declaration. "You see before you the typical Sue: gorgeous, more talented than anyone else, the center of everyone's attention, and above all, perfect." The Agent spat the last word as though it were a curse.
"A Mary Sue is a character that exists only to fulfill the wishes of the author, at the expense of the story she is in and the surrounding canon," Katz continued. "She, and by extension the author, stomps all over canon and bends the world to her will. If she wants something or, god help them, someone, she gets it. All other characters are reduced to the sole purpose of adoring her. Anyone who does not adore the Mary Sue is portrayed unsympathetically. Mary Sue takes over the story, and if she needs something to change for her, it does—the personality and abilities of the characters, the features of the setting…even the clothes."
Alysen thought back to Princess Sunshine of the Ohio Tribe, from the fanfiction she had begun to write that got her sent to the school. There wasn't anything wrong with being good enough at test chambers that GLaDOS let her skip them, right? Skill was a good thing. And pink jumpsuits were way better than orange ones. Even GLaDOS had come to see that in her fanfic…
…but the canonical GLaDOS would never have done that, not even for Princess Sunshine, who was loved by everyone.
"Mary Sue doesn't have to be a girl," Alix added as Chell changed the picture on the screen to display a boy: shirtless, insanely buff and handsome, and equally-fawned-over. "This is Gary Stu, or Marty Sam, the male Mary Sue. Gender doesn't matter when it comes to Mary Sues; flawless and canon-breaking is flawless and canon-breaking."
"You're probably wondering what the big deal is, why Mary Sues are a problem." Katz crossed her arms. "Suefics are no fun to read. Mary and Gary get everything they want, without effort. It's boring. What makes a story interesting is conflict. A problem arises that the characters must deal with. And no, 'I'm so perfect it's a curse' is not a believable problem. No one comes into being perfect. Even Chell had to learn how to use a portal gun. Even GLaDOS underwent character development."
"A Suefic doesn't respect the canon at all," Alix said. "A Mary Sue in a Portal story doesn't want to tell a story about a character in Portal, she wants to show off how awesome she is at the expense of the Portal story. It's all about her. Or him."
"A good fanfiction writer—or any writer for that matter—has to be aware of their Sue-creation." Katz motioned to Chell, and the screen switched to a new slide, covered in text.
"Identifying a Mary Sue is like diagnosing an illness," Katz explained. "If your character has one or more of these symptoms, then they might be a Mary Sue. I hope you're taking notes."
Common Characteristics of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu
-Starts the story with "Hi, my name is [insert name here] and I'm [physical description here]!"
-Overly long and complicated name, with unusual spellings or significant nouns inserted
-Unusual hair or eye color ("natural" highlights of an unnatural color, such as purple)
-Beauty is never tarnished—any scars, birthmarks, etc. are "cool," never unsightly
-Reader is CONSTANTLY reminded of her beauty and everyone's adoration of that beauty
-If a girl, slim and delicate, even if she ought to have muscles. If a boy, MUSCLES. BUFF. SHIRTLESS.
-Outfit made for looks rather than practicality. Often very revealing.
-Owns magic accessories or weapons—always cool and expensive, never break down or fail, always there when she needs them. Even if that object doesn't exist in the storyverse.
-Either constantly brave and cheerful or constantly gloomy and depressed. Regardless, all other characters are drawn to her.
-Her "flaws" are stubbornness and/or a bad temper. In-story, however, they are not used as flaws; Mary Sue is always right and her temper is only taken out on -people who deserve it
-The best at ANYTHING she does. Consequently always turning up with new abilities.
-Offspring/sibling/long-lost cousin of canon character
-Established relationships and personalities will change for her.
-Gets special treatment in-universe. Received unearned rewards, for her reputation or pure awesomeness
-She IS the story. Without her, there is no story.
When Agent Katz returned to the staff room, she was immediately accosted by a very excited white-and-orange robot. P-body pressed something small and cube-shaped into her hands: the Rubik's cube, completely solved.
"Great job!" Katz praised, turning the cube over in her hands, looking at all the solid-colored sides. "You figured this out in what, four, five days?" P-body nodded. "Sweet. I can't do it without the algorithms in front of me."
The Agent handed the cube back to the robot, and both jumped as Cave Johnson's voice rang out loudly over the intercom.
"Hey, you! Yes, you in the orange. All right, you've had your fun. Now put that back where you found it!"
P-body cringed and looked down at the Rubik's cube, murmuring guiltily.
"Just a coincidence," Katz assured her. "It's a random recording, and there're plenty of people in orange here. Still, you should probably put that back with Alix's stuff."
P-body replied with a positive lilt to her voice and hurried off across the room.
Katz turned around and sat on the floor next to turrent, frowning slightly.
"Okay, I know weird stuff happens at OFUs," she muttered to the Frankenturret. "Plot holes, transformations, Mary Sue invasions, et cetera, but this…"
The Freelance Agent shook her head. "Officially, it's a coincidence. No reason to alarm the poor 'bot. Unofficially… I'm going to get to the bottom of this. Somehow."
It's summer again, and so we return to the summer seminar...nine months later. Only about four days have passed in-story though! *sheepish grin*