11. Secret

"Let me let you in on a little something," the voice said. Chell didn't stop, wouldn't stop, couldn't stop to listen. She'd been running through the maintenance areas of the facility for the past hour, and her body was working purely on adrenaline now. The voice had been trying to convince her to stop running for exactly that amount of time. It had gone from rational to desperate to psychotic. Chell hadn't been paying it any attention, and she wasn't about to start now. Brushing a strand of dark hair out of her face, she shot a portal at the wall and jumped.

Still, though, that didn't stop the voice from talking. "Everything in this facility is mine. That includes you. If I wanted to, I could vacuum out this air and end your insignificant human life right now."

Chell landed and began to run again. It seemed unlikely that the voice was going to stop threatening her anytime soon.

"But I won't," the voice continued. "Do you want to know why?" There was a beat of silence, then, "Well, I'll tell you anyway. It's because I find you fascinating. You are a blend of intelligence, tenacity, and stupidity. And if you take offense to my calling you stupid, well, just think about it. Any truly intelligent person would have come back to the testing area by now."

Even though Chell was only half-listening as she ran through the corridors, eyes scanning ahead for any potential dangers, she rolled her eyes anyway. The voice's clear attempts to manipulate her possessed an utter lack of subtlety.

"Which is what you should do, by the way," the voice said. "Just come on back to the testing area. There isn't any cake left, but you can have something else. Ice cream, perhaps."

Ignoring it, Chell fired a portal at the wall above her and the floor below her, flinging her way to the area hidden above.



"It says not to go in there."

Ignoring the potato wedged on the end of her portal gun, Chell pulled off the rotting wood that was blocking the door with minimal effort. This was the only exit she'd found after what had to be ten minutes of searching, and she'd be damned if she weren't going to at least try it.

"Can't you read?" The potato sounded irritated, but that was to be expected. After all, when was she not irritated? "It's right there. It's even written in bright red. Do you see it now? I know you're not just ignoring me. Even you aren't stupid enough to do that."

Chell pulled the last of the rotting wood aside and reached for the door handle. It was locked, and she rattled it around for a brief moment before realizing that the door itself was rotting as well.

"Stop!" the potato cried as Chell raised a foot to kick a hole through it. With a frown, the human paused and stared at her. "Do you have any idea what sort of…things…could be down here? The early days of Aperture incorporated all sorts of dangerous testing. Not the tests you're used to. Worse. Things like…well, there's no need for you to know. The point is that I don't want to die because of your stupidity. Don't kick that door in. Just turn around and walk back out of the room."

Chell hesitated, then raised her foot back up and kicked a hole clean through the door. The potato moaned as the human reached through the hole and unlocked the door. "Oh, I can't watch this…"

The door opened to reveal nothing but a dark hallway. Chell turned the portal gun so that the light of the potato's optic lit it up. As far as she could tell, nothing was there. Raising her eyebrows, she turned the gun back around and stared at the potato, waiting for a response.

"Well," the potato finally said after a long pause. "I suppose there's every possibility that these testing chambers were deemed unsafe for foolish reasons. But that doesn't mean there's not still a chance that the reasons were valid. Just…be on your guard, all right? If one of us dies, there's no telling what could happen to my poor facility."

Nodding, Chell adjusted the gun and began walking.

[A/N: …And then Theme Seven happens. In a bit. Later.]

13. Colors

Every day, Wheatley watched Chell step out of her room wearing a brightly-colored outfit. She'd smile at him, and he'd give his best version of a smile back, but then he'd examine her outfit some more.

It wasn't fair. She always had something lovely on, and he was stuck wearing the same boring old thing. It was white. White. A nothing color. Chell never wore white. Was she trying to say that he was a nothing? Was that all he was? After all, she never offered to give him something colorful of his own to wear.

So one day, he finally gathered up the courage to clear his metaphorical throat and ask. "Ahem…Chell?"

She looked up from the bowl of cereal she was pouring and raised her eyebrows at him, her way of asking, "What?"

He made the ahem noise again. "Well…it's just…you look lovely today, you really do."

Her eyebrows rose even more. He hadn't known that was possible. She moved her hand in a circular motion, as if to say, "Go on."

So he did. "But…look, it's just that you always look lovely, and I think it's because you wear all those beautiful outfits and it…I never get to wear any outfits, and I was wondering why. Is it because you don't think I'd like them? Because I would. Or maybe it's because you think I don't deserve to wear them? Is it punishment for trying to kill you? Because I'm still really, really sorry about that. I truly am! ...Chell?"

His voice trailed off, because she'd been smiling and chuckling to herself since he started talking, but at that, her face slipped into a frown. Abandoning the cereal, she walked over to him, and he eyed her nervously, hoping she wasn't about to hit him or something. She didn't look very happy at all.

But then she wrapped her arms around him in a hug, giving his casings a reassuring pat before releasing him and waving goodbye.

"Bye?" he asked. "Where are you going? Chell?"

She ignored him, grabbing her purse and her keys before exiting the apartment, leaving Wheatley to worry. Had she left him here for good? Had his request been the straw that broke the human's back? (He knew the expression was "camel's," but in this case, he thought "human's" fit much better.)

His worrying was for naught, though, because after around an hour, she returned, carrying a large plastic bag in one hand.

"Chell!" he said with overwhelming relief. "I was worried about you! Thought you might have, I don't know, left me…"

Chuckling, she shook her head, then placed the bag on the kitchen table. He turned himself so he could eye it. "What's in there, then?"

She reached into the bag and pulled out several paint bottles, along with a large paintbrush, then raised her eyebrows at him, looking expectant.

He didn't understand. "Uh…well, what you've got there is…"

Shaking her head at him, she pulled several plastic trays out of the bag and set them on the table. She then proceeded to rip the plastic covering off the tops of the paint bottles, setting them up in a little row. Wheatley kept asking her what she was doing, but she ignored him.

At last, her supplies were ready, and she carefully poured a bit of paint from each bottle onto each tray. She dipped the brush into the red and held it up, giving Wheatley another expectant look as she approached him.

He still didn't understand, but he did understand that red stuff looking like that came out of humans when they were hurt, and he began to rock back and forth with fear, babbling. "Is this going to hurt? Chell! Is this going to hurt?—Oh, that's quite nice, actually, what you're doing there—"

She'd pressed the brush to one side of his casings and begun to paint, holding onto his bottom handle to stop him from rocking and smudging the paint. He stared at her without speaking, trying to figure out what she was doing, but then, after she dipped the brush in the small bucket of water she'd set out and then dipped it in the orange, his optic finally widened with realization. "Oh! It's an outfit! This is how humans put on outfits!"

He began rocking back and forth in excitement, and it was all Chell could do to keep him still, chuckles escaping her lips as she nodded. She was laughing at him again. He didn't mind.

14. Cruel

"That turret is following us."

At the sound of the potato's irritated voice, Chell turned around to look. Sure enough, one of the turrets she'd dropped Repulsion Gel on was bouncing down the corridor behind them, and she stopped to stare at it.

"What are you doing?" GLaDOS asked. It was impressive, the human reflected, how she could sound more irritated with each syllable. "We don't have time for this!"

Ignoring the potato as usual, Chell waited for the turret to get close and then caught it with her portal gun.

"Thank you," the turret said weakly, startling Chell into almost dropping it. She'd thought it was dead.

"Oh, God," GLaDOS said. "It's one of those." Chell gave her a questioning glance, and she went on. "There's a glitch in the programming of certain turrets. I don't know how it happened, but as it only affects one in every three-thousand, four-hundred-and-nine turrets, it hasn't seemed important enough to rectify."

"The rain in Albuquerque falls mainly on the plain!" the turret whispered. GLaDOS gave a snort of derision.

"It's broken. Well, as broken as a broken turret can be. Trust me, they have a set of sayings they say. I won't bore you with them, as they are all irrelevant."

Chell wished she could have told the potato that she knew exactly what the broken turrets were "supposed" to say, having spent almost half an hour memorizing the sayings of the one she'd found on the Turret Redemption Line.

"There's an Aperture Science Material Emancipation Grill coming up," GLaDOS continued. "Just run the turret through it. It will be emancipated right away and thus put out of its misery."

"I'm diiiiii—the same!" the turret said. It sounded like it was on the verge of tears, and Chell felt her heart melt for it. The way Aperture's technology could seem so human was damn unnerving.

She set the turret down.

"Hello!" it whispered as she began walking away.

"You're making a big mistake," GLaDOS said angrily. "You may think you're being kind by refusing to kill it, but you're not. You're just making things worse for it. Why are you always so pointlessly cruel? You monster."

Listening to the potato rant, Chell considered turning back and dropping it next to the broken turret, but decided against it. That would be cruel.

15. Kings, Queens, and Jokers

"Well! This is awfully cozy, innit? Oh! We still haven't introduced ourselves! 'Ello! I'm Whe—"

"I know who you are. Or rather, I know what you are." Her voice was cold, cutting through his babbling like a knife. He paused, put off for just a brief moment.

"Well then, that makes one of us! Because they never told me who you were, even though I asked. They just shoved me right on up here! Bloody rude, really! So I thought, I'd just ask her once I got up here, and here I am. Asking you." He wished he could see her optic, see her expression as she realized how clever he was. After all, he'd come up with that plan all on his own.

The master AI let out a long sigh. "I am the queen of this facility, and you may refer to me as such."

He paused in confusion, then said, "Ah! All right. You look like a queen, you definitely do. All regal and beautiful and—oh! If you're the queen, does that make me the king? Since I'm, you know, attached to you and all?"

It was then that he heard the most unpleasant sound he had ever heard in his brief week of activation: The queen began to laugh. It echoed throughout his circuits, making him shudder with fear. The sound could only have lasted for a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.

"No, you little moron," she said when she had finished, her venom-filled voice suddenly devoid of all humor. "You are not the king. Nor will you ever be. I don't need a king. But if you would like a title, then you may be the joker. I don't need one of those either, but since I seem to be stuck with you, that is all you will ever be."

He didn't like the sound of that one bit. "I really don't think that—"

"Good," she snapped. "Don't think. Don't ever think. And don't talk, either."

He managed to abide by that restriction for all of five seconds.

"So! If I'm the joker…what does the joker do, exactly?

His only response was a long sigh, then, "He dies."

Those were the last words Wheatley heard before a sharp jolt of electricity shocked his processors into shutting down.