[A/N: This is a collaborative effort between startehdog at dA and myself. Yay!]
Chell breathed a sigh of relief. Her presentation was over and it had gone smoothly for the most part; she had stuttered on only 2 words—"the" and "electricity." The judges had taken an especially close look at her potato, and she had overheard one of them whisper something like "This is incredible."
She looked down the rows of presentations to a girl with curly blonde hair—Alix, Chell remembered. Before the show, Alix had told Chell that she should just give up. Now, after the successful presentation of her potato battery, she was able to give the other girl a smug smirk.
All the employees and daughters started to move around and talk to each other. Some of the parents cast Chell sideways dirty looks. She tried to ignore them, but found that task hard. Were they staring because Daddy wasn't with her?
She began to sway back and forth, suddenly feeling anxious. Daddy had been gone a long time. He had left forty-five minutes ago or so, and he wasn't back yet. He had promised to be back as soon as that robot was activated. He had pinky swore AND promised to the moon and back! But, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes ago, the lights had flickered and scientists had cheered, so that HAD to mean the activation was over. Where was Daddy?
"Daddy always keeps his promises..." she said, trying to reassure herself while looking at her feet.
"'Daddy'?" a voice in front of her sneered. Chell looked up to see Alix, smirking at her with her hands on her hips. "What daddy?"
"My dad..." Chell mumbled uncomfortably. Alix towered over Chell, and she was older, making it easy for her to be intimidating. "You know, my dad…"
"Psshhh," Alix laughed, giving the other girl an evil grin. "He's not your dad, idiot."
Chell was confused. What was she talking about? Of course he was her dad. He had raised her, unusually well for a schizophrenic, and she had always called him Daddy, so he had to be.
"What are you talking about?" Chell demanded. "Of course he's my daddy."
"Ha!" Alix laughed again. "You mean of course he's NOT your dad!" She gestured with her hands as she spoke. "I mean seriously, you two look nothing alike! Aren't you Japanese or something?" She snorted loudly as she continued to laugh, drawing attention from some of the other kids. "And your 'dad' has two different colored eyes, neither of which are grey—"
"Shut up," Chell mumbled.
Alix didn't hear her and kept talking, though she wouldn't have stopped even if she had heard her. "I mean sure, you have the same hair color, but that's it!"
"Shut up," Chell repeated, louder this time.
"Do you even have a mom?" Alix asked, continuing to ignore her. "I bet he found you on the streets or something." She paused momentarily, as if thinking her next insult through, then grinned. "I bet he doesn't even love you."
Chell had had it. That was pushing it WAY too far. "YOU TAKE THAT BACK!" she screamed as she lunged for Alix. The blonde-haired girl shrieked as Chell pinned her to the floor and began to punch her.
Alix started to fight back. "NEVER!" she screamed back at Chell as she yanked at her hair. The two were wrestling on the floor and attracting the attention of other people in the hall.
The little brawl couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds, but even as parents were coming over to mediate the situation, Alix pushed Chell off of her and ran to her mom, crying crocodile tears. "Mommy, Mommy, that freak attacked me!" Every adult and child in the room glared at Chell, who backed against a wall in hopes that the stares would stop, and whispered to each other.
"Isn't she the adopted one?"
"Yeah—adopted by a crazy man, no less."
"Doug, right? The schizophrenic?"
"Yeah, him. That weirdo."
Chell felt so small and powerless. Adopted? What were they talking about? Doug was her daddy.
All of a sudden, she didn't know what to believe anymore. Was her entire life a lie? Unbidden tears were falling from her eyes now, and she couldn't keep them back no matter how hard she tried. She wanted to just shrink away and disappear, get away from these evil adults and sneering girls. Wanted to hug her daddy, and make him confirm that they were all lying to her, and that it wasn't the other way around.
"I…I..." She wanted to apologize but couldn't find the words, so instead she took off running down the hall and through the crowd. Turning corner after corner, she tried to tell herself that they were all lying to her. But in fact, she knew that she was lying to herself. They had to be right. Grownups don't lie. No, she realized, they do lie...
And if she really wasn't Doug's daughter... who was she?
At last, she found herself in a large room with a tall elevator. A sign on the wall read 'Neurotoxin Generator.' Chell knew that neurotoxin was dangerous and she shouldn't play in there, but she was too upset to care. It didn't look like anybody was at the top of the elevator shaft and she wanted to be alone. She rode the elevator to the top, trying to stop herself from crying. She failed.
When she reached the top, a suspended rafter acting as a hallway greeted her. She walked, took a left and entered an overlook of some sort, almost like a room. At the back of it, there was no wall and a large, white metal thing stood up, reaching the ceiling. A sticker on the wall said, "In case of implosion, look directly at implosion."
There was a room to the right with walls made out of windows. Hoping it was soundproof, Chell walked in and closed the door behind her. She sat down in a computer chair, buried her face in her hands, and began to sob again.
She just wanted everything to be normal again and for her dad to be back. She didn't know what to think of her life anymore. If she was adopted, why hadn't he told her yet? Why had he lied to her and told her he was her dad?
Suddenly a horrible thought came to her mind: What if he hadn't really adopted her? What if she had been kidnapped? He was schizophrenic, after all; he could be living in some delusional world of his own.
What if he was using her for something? What if Alix was right and he didn't really love her?
She continued to cry for a few minutes more, until an announcement came over the intercom that startled her out of her self-pity. The voice was female and strangely robotic. "Neurotoxin online. We will now begin to choose suitable test subjects."
Outside of her little room, she could see a green fog starting to come out of the air vents. Even as far away as Chell was from anyone, she could hear screams of terror echoing up to her.
She hurriedly pulled her neck of her shirt up to her mouth and nose. But then she noticed that no green was leaking into the room. Shouldn't the noxious gas be leaking into her room? But then she looked around, thought about it, and realized the room was airtight.
The screams continued to reach her ears. They were getting closer, she realized. Out of nowhere, two scientists ran up to her room's door. One was reaching for the doorknob when his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he collapsed. The same thing also happened to the second one. Chell couldn't help but scream, her eyes locked on the bodies.
People were dying, she realized through her panicked haze. All the girls and parents at the Science Fair were probably all dead. Her dad...
"Dad!" she screamed out loud. Her dad! Oh God, what happened to him? He had to be all right, he just had to be!
"I'll just wait... Just wait for him to come get me..." she whispered to herself before her resolve broke and she began to cry again. Another scientist appeared outside, but she collapsed before she even got to the door.
"He'll save me... I know he will. He loves me, right?" Chell didn't want to believe he was dead. He couldn't be dead! He wouldn't die and leave her all on her own.
Another scientist. Another death.
She kept staring out the windows, waiting for Daddy to appear in a hazmat suit or something to save her.
Three more scientists appeared. One was holding a limp body of a child with curly blonde hair. Before she could even knock, all three of them collapsed into dead heaps.
Chell screamed again and suddenly felt nauseous and light headed. The gravity and terror of the situation finally sunk in. She fainted.
Chell didn't know how much time had passed when she woke up. All she knew was that there were maybe fifteen bodies in front of her little sanctuary, and it was enough to make her stomach lurch. For a second, she was confused. What had happened? But then she remembered, and her heart sunk.
"Daddy?" she called, pulling herself to her feet. She opened the door, seeing that the air was clear of green again. "Daddy?"
He hadn't come. He didn't care about her enough. She didn't want to cry again, but she couldn't help it.
She walked down the rafter hallway, to the elevator and down the science fair hall trying to not look at the bodies all around her. Daddy had done this. He had turned that robot on. He didn't care about anyone.
Thinking she heard voices coming from one of the hallways, Chell followed them.
Only to enter a room with no windows and no other exits. The door behind her slammed shut and Chell whipped around in panic. She was trapped.
"Oh, good," the robotic voice echoed through the room. "Another test subject."
Chell lost consciousness as a purple gas filtered into the room.
This had been a bad idea from the start.
Doug Rattmann had always had his suspicions that Project GLaDOS wasn't going to work, and they'd only been enhanced by the number of times the computer had attempted to murder him and his colleagues. But now everyone was so sure that it was going to work. Everyone was so confident that the Morality Core would be successful that they'd decided not to test the new adjustments before the children came in from the science fair.
Everyone but him, that is.
"You can always ignore your conscience," he remembered telling Henry, and as Doug helped with the finishing touches on the giant supercomputer, the words seemed to get larger and larger in his mind until he couldn't ignore them any longer.
"Can you guys finish this up without me?" he asked Henry, who looked surprised.
"Where are you going?" he asked. "Come on, Doug, the children are waiting! Won't take too much longer."
Doug scanned the crowd for his own little girl yet again, feeling his anxiety swell when he couldn't catch sight of her. She was small for her age, but normally she'd be right at the front, fixing her curious, grey-eyed stare onto whatever looked the most interesting.
"I can't," he tried to explain, and when Henry just stared at him like he was insane, Doug shook his head and set the tools he was holding down as he moved into the crowd of spectators.
"Damn you, Doug! Someone's gonna have your job for this!" he heard Henry call, but Doug wasn't paying attention to him anymore.
"Excuse me," he said as he made his way to the woman who had been responsible for supervising the science fair, "but have you seen Chell?"
"She ran off," the woman told him right away, looking very disapproving. "After attacking the little Alvarez girl."
Doug's eyes flashed as he tried to hold back his anger. "Little? That girl is bigger than Chell! You didn't send anyone after her?"
The woman looked slightly taken aback. "No. She was too fast and we had other children to supervise."
Doug couldn't say anything else for fear of teaching a young child new words. Instead he shoved his way past the woman and through the crowd of children, his mind reeling. A seven-year-old child alone in Aperture! Anything could happen to her…
Just as soon as he'd made his way out the door, he could hear clicks and whirring as the supercomputer spun to life, and despite his better judgment, he turned to watch.
It spoke just one word before the door slammed shut: "Hello."
Doug stared at it in horror, although not surprise. He'd known that it wouldn't let them go. They'd said he was crazy, but damn it, he'd known.
Then a voice came over the intercom that jerked him out of his smug, worried recollections: "Neurotoxin online. We will now begin to choose suitable test subjects."
A green gas began hissing into the corridor Doug was in, and he started to run. He'd also known that giving the computer neurotoxin was a bad idea. It had claimed after one of its previous adjustments that it needed the neurotoxin to perform thought experiments, but he had known better.
Why was it that every single one of the brightest minds of his generation was so damn naïve?
But he didn't have time to worry about that. It was too late to change the past. With the collar of his shirt pressed over his nose and mouth he ran through the empty hallway, racing against the gas that threatened to overwhelm his nervous system. He coughed, fighting for fresh air, and at long last reached the place he knew would be safe.
Taking a deep breath of fresh air, he dropped to his knees beside a closed vent and then let go of his shirt. The neurotoxin was stinging his eyes, and it was a struggle to see the grate as he pulled it away from the vent and pulled his way inside. At that point, he was forced to take a breath, and even though the vent was filled with fresh air, the outside air was leaking in quickly, tingeing the fresh air with neurotoxin. Even as he pulled the grate back on, he was gagging.
But at last, he was safe. He lay back on the floor with his eyes shut, panting for air and thanking the heavens he'd had the foresight to block off a vent from the rest of the central airing system. He could hear the screams of his colleagues, and he couldn't help but feel a sort of grim satisfaction. I was right, and you were wrong. Crazy Doug was right. What do you think about that?
That didn't last long, though. He was too nice of a person not to feel horrible about the deaths of so many people, no matter how they'd treated him.
And then he heard the scream of a child, and his eyes widened as he shot up to a sitting position. No! She's killing the children! He'd thought the computer would spare them, knowing how it needed test subjects, but if it wasn't, then Chell was in danger. Chell could be dying, or even…or even…
He began scrambling down the vent, moving as fast as he could towards the opposite end. It led to the room that housed the neurotoxin generator, and if he could get in there, maybe he could turn it off somehow…
Or maybe not. As far as he knew, the neurotoxin was still flowing throughout the facility. Doug Rattmann slammed a fist down in frustration, making a metallic clanging noise. The other grate was right in front of him, but he couldn't go out there. He was no good to anyone dead, least of all Chell.
So he waited, because what other choice did he have? Waited inside the vent with his hands pressed over his ears to block out the screaming. It felt like hours until it finally stopped, and when it did, Doug took a deep breath and flicked the closed grate open.
And there she was. His daughter. His beautiful, strong, brilliant daughter, making her way through a side hallway to an open-doored room. From what he could see, she was terrified. Her face was pale and glistening with tears. But she had every reason to be.
"It's all right, Chell," Doug murmured as he pushed the grate aside. He was ecstatic to see her alive and well, but he didn't want to attract the attention of the supercomputer. "Daddy's coming. It'll be all right…"
But then Chell reached the room. She stepped inside, and the door slammed shut behind her. Doug was unable to stifle his cry of "NO!" as the supercomputer's laugh echoed around the facility. "Oh, good. Another test subject."
At that, his racing heart settled a bit. Chell would be a test subject. That meant she would be kept alive.
And that meant he could help her.