After what seemed like a paranoid eternity of cautiously weaseling about various backways and catwalks, Wheatley came to a stop at a poorly-maintained corner.
"Here we are," he announced. "This wing of the facility was abandoned years ago! Not really sure why though. Maybe it was too expensive? I mean the facility is a pretty big place, and it would make sense for bigger things to cost more."
Although the AI's words weren't completely registering, Chell nodded in agreement and slumped against the wall, exhausted. Just how long had she been following him? Two hours? Three? More? At this point, it was impossible to say.
The test baby—bless its little battery—was still squished against her chest, completely silent. Thank. God. All the same, she was getting tired of holding it.
She looked up at Wheatley and cocked her head, wiggling a finger at the baby.
"I dunno, love," he said uncertainly. "What if she starts crying again?"
Giving him a hard frown, she jabbed the finger at her own aching arm and clenched her fist in an excessively dramatic manner.
"Oh." The core winced.
Right on cue, the database chimed in. Over-exertion of the body can lead to such unpleasant sensations as stiff or sore muscles and both physical and mental fatigue.
Wheatley grimaced. Granted he hadn't known the specifics, but Chell had made her discomfort as clear as the facility's artificial day. What he was really hoping for was some information on the baby.
Although listening to the mother's heartbeat aids in initializing the baby's sleep patterns, prolonged exposure is not required. Once asleep, babies may be set down, ideally in a safe place where they will not be stepped on, lost or—if old enough—crawl away.
There it was. Useful information! "Alright, it's official. It's okay to put her down now," he confirmed. "And we can safely assume that doing so will not result in more crying."
Chell smiled in grateful relief and peeled it from her chest. It had gotten rather stuck there, she noted, wiping the ring of sweat from its face with the sleeve of her orange jumpsuit.
"Oh, but first," Wheatley added quickly. "She needs a safe place to lie down. Um, like a nest. That's where mummy birds keep their little ones, so I suppose it ought to work just as well for ours." He looked around.
"Ooh! You see that stuff on the ground? Over against the wall?"
Following his gesturing, Chell could see a sizeable collection of odds and ends lying in disarray, long forgotten by their owners.
"Looks like there's some soft, comfortable parts in there. Comfortable means safe!"
Rooting through the pile, she found a bent dish-like structure and a tattered sheet of bubble wrap whose oversized air pockets were still largely intact. She set them aside.
"Well done, love," crooned the core. "Perfect nesting materials!"
Disregarding his comment, Chell placed the wrap in the bowl and started to lower the baby into it by the wrist.
She stopped, caught completely off guard by the pleading note in his voice.
"Be gentle with her."
Nodding slowly, she moved her hands so that she now held it under the arms. Looking over the infant's new position with satisfaction, she could almost hear a tiny voice inside her telling her that was exactly how it was supposed to be done, and she set it down carefully in the makeshift bed.
"Absolutely marvelous." Wheatley was directly above her now, observing the whole operation. "A fantastic little nest for our fantastic little Michael."
Chell looked up at him, an eyebrow raised in confusion. Michael? Hadn't he been referring to it as a female? She made a face and shook her head.
"What? You don't like the name Michael?" asked the AI, more than a little hurt. "I thought it was a lovely name…"
Chell sighed and scratched at her cheek absently. Having never worked too closely with humans, he had probably never had the opportunity to learn to distinguish gender based on names, and she really had no means of communicating a better, more feminine one. Michael it was then.
A/N: Thank you all for your support! I appreciate and look forward to every review!