Disclaimer: Don't own Portal, etc.
Revised 4/27/12: Allocated all A/N to the end of the chapters, to minimize any distracting-ness to the reader.
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"So, GLaDOS…do you still hate humans?"
The large chamber at the heart of Aperture remained silent for a few long, uncomfortable moments. Chell couldn't help but still think of it as a "lair," regardless of the circumstances under which she was in it. It didn't help that GLaDOS insisted on keeping it dimly lit, whether out of her own personal preference or simply for dramatic effect. She had an affinity for deliberately creating an ambiance that very much matched her moodiness.
Typical egomaniac, of course.
Leaving an awkward pause after any statement she deemed unpleasant also seemed to be a favorite habit lately. The human doubted if she was even going to answer at all when she finally shook her head and directed her mechanical gaze toward Chell.
"You know, some people might consider it rude to be interrupted while doing important observations. Especially when the interruption is in the form of a crazed idiot asking a stupid question. I'm referring to you, of course." The AI added this last jab in her best innocent voice, which for her, wasn't saying much.
Chell rolled her eyes in a long-suffering gesture of exasperation. "And every time I visit here, you always suddenly feel the need to ignore me and watch those two testing robots kill themselves repeatedly in some sadistic, overly-dangerous course. Also, you didn't answer my question, either."
"I think you're forgetting that it could be you doing the sadistic, overly-dangerous testing, instead of them." GLaDOS withdrew herself a bit, something the woman found eerily similar to a snake curling to strike. "But being the extremely benevolent person that I am, I've let you stay here without testing. So to thank me, it would seem that you sit there and take up space and act exactly as I would expect a useless, needling human would."
"Then you do still hate humans?" she asked flatly. When it came to how long it took the AI to stop circumventing any given topic, Chell could basically set her watch by it.
The light of her optic flared dangerously, but to Chell's surprise, GLaDOS didn't assume the usual imposing posture that a challenge called for. "That's a patently absurd accusation to make. I never hated humans. They simply happen to be inferior to me, and capable of dying…thus making them invaluable as test subjects."
"Well, I would understand if you did hate us," Chell replied, deciding on a new tactic for this discussion. "While I don't necessarily agree with your choice of actions, I don't really know what I would have done in your position either."
GLaDOS lowered her head slightly, almost as if she were growing suspicious of the whole exchange. "…What?"
"Did you not hear me, or was that a rhetorical 'what'?" The woman smiled slyly, pulling her knees up to her chest to sit in a more comfortable position.
"Neither. It was a 'what' intended to make you elaborate on that last comment." Her voice had grown more genuine than usual, the forced monotone replaced with humanlike inflection. "I suppose implied questions are a bit too advanced for you."
Chell ignored the snippy insults, instead appearing hesitant to go on. "I'm probably going to regret admitting this, but what I mean to say is that I figure you were probably treated pretty badly to become so damn angry at people. I got the distinct impression down in those old enrichment spheres that Aperture didn't have very humane practices for their test subjects. And you're one of their experiments, after all."
The AI shifted her position in discomfort, clearly not pleased at being referred to as an experiment. Still, she didn't protest, and Chell reasoned that it might be safe to continue without the fear of imminent death.
"I don't know what happened between you and the people that built you, and I probably could never get the whole, un-dramatized truth out of you either. Even so, I doubt you were given the respect that someone of your intellect deserves."
She paused, unconsciously taking to chewing on her lip. In her mind, it was somewhat painful to give GLaDOS anything she could put toward her gigantic ego. The whole vast facility itself could barely contain it, after all. That being said, it took a bit of effort to go on with her train of thought.
"So, like I was saying, I can't imagine I would have been a big fan of humans either. Especially after all those cores were stuck on. You deserved a lot better than that."
GLaDOS simply stared at her, apparently with no catty remark or dry statement of disgust at the ready. Bizarrely, it reminded Chell of the time she had spent volunteering at the county animal shelter a few years back. Being handled with care for the first time in their lives, most of the pets she dealt with gave her this look, as if bewildered that a human would act differently than all of the others it had met.
And while GLaDOS was not a pet, she certainly had a massive distrust and resentment of humans. One that she covered up rather nicely with her proud, indifferent attitude toward them.
When she finally spoke up, her composure was back once again, voice dripping with suspicion and old bitterness. "You can't possibly mean any of that. I almost succeeded at killing you at least a half a dozen times. I killed everyone in this facility. I degraded you every waking moment that you were here." She shook her head, either disbelieving or disgusted. Perhaps both. "You must be severely afflicted with Stockholm syndrome. That, or you're every bit as much of a lunatic as I had suspected."
At this, Chell had to laugh. That part of it she couldn't exactly disagree with. "Look, we both learned a lot from your potato adventure. I have some sympathy for you now, and I think you have at least a little bit of understanding about what I went through as a test subject. Although I do sort of wish I hadn't needed to blow you up and then put Wheatley in charge to get us to this point."
The AI flinched at the mentioning of her various failures and humiliations—Chell would have probably expected some repercussions if not for the fact that GLaDOS seemed to have her narcissistic rage under slightly better control than usual.
"I never said you were off the hook on that one," she answered testily, drawing herself up in her signature pose of indignance. "I wasn't lying when I said my life was far easier before you showed up."
Chell chuckled again, imagining not for the first time GLaDOS's occasionally deluded sense of reality. She made it sound as though she had burst into Aperture one day, foaming at the mouth, and decided to explode it to hell and back. To what extent did she honestly still believe that?
"Hey, I don't think you were exactly reasonable at that point, so forgive me if I didn't give you a big hug and a pep talk about what a wonderful, beautiful person you are." She grinned as she said it, indicating a lack of hostility about the whole ordeal. The last thing she needed was to get another hissy fit out of this one.
Instead of going full throttle into spoiled princess mode, GLaDOS merely sighed. "Actually, I would have preferred for you to simply die in the fire pit as protocol required. Everything would have been much easier for me that way."
"Oh, come on. That hurts." Chell winced, genuinely a little offended by the indirect death wish. "Just because things didn't happen easy doesn't mean it wasn't worthwhile. So what if your pride got hurt. You're still the unopposed ruler of the Enrichment Center."
"Exactly. Which is why I did not. Belong. In a potato!" She made sure to say each word with the utmost loathing, something she had a special talent for.
The woman brought her palm to her face, sighing. "And how long is that going to be a fresh wound for you?"
She said it with such absolute seriousness and gravity that Chell couldn't help but to burst out laughing. Sometimes it made her wonder if a day out in the potato would do her some good every now and then, but she kept quiet about that particular thought.
"I'm glad you find it so funny," the AI sniffed, clearly unamused. "Because I find attacks on my dignity to be quite the opposite."
"Dignity." Chell repeated it with another stifled laugh. "Coming from Ms. If-you-love-it-so-much-then-why-don't-you-marry-it herself. Why is it that you care so much about your ego? I swear, you really do know how to re-invent reality when you don't like it."
"Please, spare me the lecture." She held her head up proudly, illustrating the selective reality Chell had just been referring to. "You humans have been glorifying yourself since you first crawled out of the cave. You're no better than me. You do know that, right?"
"I'm not going to sit here and claim responsibility for all the flaws of mankind," the former test subject stated dryly. "I just wanna see you put your pride aside just once. At this point I kinda wonder if it would make you implode."
GLaDOS gave her another glare laced with agitation. "I let you leave this place alive. Believe me, that was the most pride-obliterating day in my life."
"Well, I meant more along the lines of consciously doing it. You blamed Caroline for that one, and I'm pretty sure you still tell yourself that." Chell smiled kindly again, completely aware that doing so irritated the AI more than anything else. "Why don't you try saying something nice, for example?"
It was as if she had just asked her to raise the moon. GLaDOS re-adjusted her optic, though Chell wasn't sure if it was in annoyance or bewilderment again. "Do what now? Why would I possibly say something nice to someone who murdered me?"
"Because you're a charming lady? I don't know. I just wanna see if you can do it." The woman cracked her knuckles anxiously. This would be incredibly funny if it worked. "Why not try a compliment?"
"A compliment?" she repeated without emotion. It wasn't often that she stumbled during a conversation, Chell noted. "How would this suit you then? You're very good at killing people and destroying expensive property."
"Good start. Now try again, except this time not a facetious compliment."
There was another conspicuous silence, the difference being that only GLaDOS seemed to be bothered by it.
"You're not going to drop this until I do what you want, are you?" she sighed.
Chell beamed brightly, enjoying every minute of it. "Nope."
"Then let's get this over with, shall we?"
Her tone sounded a lot darker than Chell had become used to. She really hoped neurotoxin wasn't about to start filling the room. That would be about fifty steps backward for their relationship.
But GLaDOS just glanced down at the ground, her voice dropping to a low murmur. "You're…not entirely insufferable…and having a human around isn't as unbearable as I would have expected…and I suppose you really are an exceptional test subject…"
The AI looked up at her with a genuinely hateful look. Chell wondered if it was really that GLaDOS hated her at this point, or if she just hated having to admit it.
All one word and barely intelligible, so typical of her. And yet, that finally did answer her question. It was definitely the latter.
A/N: (insert reminder to review here) Will try to update in a timely-ish manner. ;p