"Are you sure we can't call her Michael?" pressed Wheatley. It would seem that his moronic little mind had already grown quite attached to it.
His optic lit up even more. "Oh, changed your mind, then, have you?" he chortled.
Wheatley beamed proudly. "See, I knew you'd warm up to it sooner or later. I really was hoping for the "sooner" option, though."
But Chell was a little preoccupied. Her back was to him, hunching over the pile as she rummaged through it. So these were the things that normal humans used in their everyday lives! She could make what she felt were educated guesses as to what some of their intended functions were, but others seemed simply too bizarre. Like that one.
She picked up a fairly thick metal bar that was about the length of her forearm and examined it. For something relatively small, it was rather heavy. Probably had something to do with its girth. She ran her finger along its upper half, a firm u-shape that made up at least half of the object's total length. Quite honestly, it didn't look like it had a purpose at all.
Wheatley, too, was intrigued, but before he could even wonder about what it could be, the database provided an answer.
A tuning fork, it suggested. Tapping the pronged end results in a musical tone, the pitch of which is determined by the exact size of the fork and is measured in Herz. The device is useful in many fields such as music, watch making, medicine and specific types of gyroscope making.
"Why don't you give the, um, the pronged end a tap?" To be brutally honest, he didn't know what "pronged" meant. But if one half of it were special enough to have its own name, he felt justified in assuming it would be the half that was shaped funny.
Chell gave it a sharp flick, flinched and promptly stuck the finger in her mouth, trying to suck away the unexpected sting.
"Oh, love," he cooed sympathetically, another small crackle buzzing through him. "If it hurts you like that, you really shouldn't do it, y'know? Bit of common sense, innit?"
The only response he got was a poisonous glare before she turned her back to him.
His upper handlebar flapped in apology. "I didn't mean it like that, love. Honest!" He slid along the rail and spin around to face her. "I can assure you," he continued with a nervous laugh. "That I was not at all, in the slightest what I meant to say. Or rather how you were supposed to interpret it. Maybe we could, er, just forget I said that, yeah? Like nothing ev—"
Chell brought the tuning fork crashing down on his hull, producing a loud and empty bong and a small spray of sparks. She looked on with a softer but still disapproving look as he shuddered and twitched.
Wheatley's proverbial ears were ringing. "Ah, there we go!" he chuckled dizzily. "Beautiful tone quality right there!"
As he spoke, a muted whine in the background sputtered back to life, its volume and harshness rapidly increasing to levels the two had previously thought impossible. Michael the screaming little monster was back with a vengeance.
"Ohgodohgodohgod!" the core moaned, his head buzzing. "And after we worked so hard the first time! What've we done?"
Frantically dropping the fork, Chell rushed over to the nest and scooped the baby up, pressing its face to her chest once more, but this time to no avail. The sheer magnitude of her cries sent uncomfortable waves rippling through her entire upper body. She looked to Wheatley in desperation.
"Right, right," the AI quickly said, shifting uncomfortably. He still wasn't completely used to the pressure that came with being depended on. "Just uh, give me a moment, please." He waited anxiously for the database's advice.
It is not uncommon for human offspring to suddenly break from their sleep cycles. Some of the most widely-experienced reasons are as follows: babies, like their ad—" It fizzled out.
"No, don't do this! Don't do this!" whimpered the core. "Ooh, brainwave!" He redirected the power from several of his sensory processors into the database, causing his optic to dim a little.
—require frequent nourishment to help their tiny bodies grow. Unlike adults however, they are unable to consume solid goods. This is because they lack teeth. The diet most suited for— It crackled, rendering the rest of the statement incomprehensible.
"No!" Wheatley howled, flooding it with reserve power. "What do they eat?"
Th-th-th-th, it skipped pitifully.
The backup hadn't been enough. He squeezed his optic shut. Surely there was another piece of his circuitry that could spare a few electrons. Suddenly, it clicked. There was one more part of him that could be drained, a part that took up a good deal of energy: his emotion-processing center. It was the most human aspect of his design, save for his personality, so it required the most effort to maintain.
He channeled part of the current to the database, becoming acutely aware of the growing numbness that was enveloping him. Vision blurry and hearing dampened, he felt an unexpected presence, one of calm. Without running at optimal strength, it wasn't able to produce the high-energy sensations of fear and panic. His mind cleared a little, creating just the opportunity his system needed.
It ran a short reel of high-pitched squeaks. Repair protocol engaged, it announced with a hint of something akin to pride. Resuming normal function in three, two, one.
The power returned to all his processors, dulled senses sharpening once more as quickly as they had faded. His optic regained its former brilliance, and Michael's needy wailing came crashing back into the auditory foreground. He shivered and closed the shutters on his optic, already missing the temporary stillness.
Opening them once more, he jumped back with a yelp. An uncomfortably large portion of his field of vision was dominated by Michael's unhappy red frown.
Chell gave the test baby a good, firm shake, reminding Wheatley of his unfinished task.
"Oh, yeah! Haven't forgotten, love," he assured her. "Something about food. Babies need a lot of it, apparently. And they seem to be especially fond of… of…"
"Of milk. That's what it was!" He looked around thoughtfully. "But where to get some…"
Eyes wide and expectant, she shook her head and shrugged in agitation. She wasn't the one who kept pulling surprisingly helpful information out of her ass. She pulled Michael back to her chest, subconsciously petting her head as Wheatley muttered almost absentmindedly to himself on the rail.
"Well that's, er, a little odd."
She rolled her eyes. The only thing odd about this whole situation was the way he would suddenly stop to converse with himself. It was likely due to damage he'd suffered at GLaDOS' claw, she thought. Her face contorted into a guilty grimace. Perhaps it hadn't been such a good idea to hit him with the tuning fork. Well, it was justified, but maybe next time she shouldn't do it quite so hard. Maybe.
Wheatley's voice drew her out of her thoughts.
"So, uh, what I'm about to tell you is going to seem a little bit odd. Actually that's a complete lie. It's going to sound very odd," he admitted, fidgeting uncomfortably on the rail. "But you're just going to have to trust me on this one, alright?"
Her eyes swept carefully over his features. She really didn't like that tone of uncertainty, but there was nothing about his mannerisms that would give a valid enough reason to distrust him. She nodded slowly, still not willing to look away.
"Ah, good. Well then." He took a deep breath. "In the family dynamic, the mother is responsible for a great number of things regarding the baby, and one of those is feeding it. Those fatty lumps there, on your chest? These are, uh, where Michael will be getting her food from."
Chell snorted in amusement, a small smile finding its way to her lips. That couldn't be right! How on earth was that supposed to happen?
"—and then drops off when she's done. Kinda like a little leech but with less pain and blood involved."
She gave him a blank stare.
"Go on, love," he urged gently. "Take off your shirt and give her a suck." He hovered above her, his optic eagerly scanning over both her and Michael.
Some unknown part of her consciousness caused her gut to wrench uncomfortably. She shook her head at him.
"No? What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, aghast. "She won't stop crying 'til you feed her, y'know!"
She turned her back to him and uncertainly started to roll up her shirt. She still wasn't quite sure how this was supposed to work, but the little voice that had confirmed the right way to hold the baby was back, silently assuring her that this, too, was correct.
Female's motherly tendencies surfacing, noted the database.
Even in the absence of formal education on the subject, human females display traits that are considered particularly nurturing or otherwise motherly. This is due to what is commonly referred to as "a mother's instinct," though whether humans actually possess true instinct is still debated by some.
Intrigued, he moved forward on the rail, positioning himself so that he could better observe her interactions with the still-wailing Michael. Whatever this "mother's instinct" was, it was very very human, and some rather foreign part of him was certain that it was necessary for him to be involved in the whole affair.
Regarding him with suspicion, Chell froze, her fingers still buried in the roll of cloth she'd created. This was fairly private business, something that, for a reason she couldn't quite put a finger on, generated an odd sensation of vulnerability. This particular kind was nothing like the weak hopelessness that had run so powerfully—though incredibly briefly, she reassured herself—through her when GLaDOS had tried to dump her in the incinerator. No, this was a different, exotic brand of vulnerability. Its novel flavor however, made it only that much less desirable. She started to roll the fabric back down.
"Hey, hang on a tick," said Wheatley, a mixture of worry and confusion evident in his voice. "You didn't do it yet."
She adjusted Michael, making sure her chest was muffling the worst of her cries, and gestured to him with her free hand before covering her eyes.
"Wait, you're saying I'm not allowed to watch?" he huffed. "Bloody well should be! After all, you wouldn't even know what to do without my help."
Obviously, she wasn't being clear enough. She appreciated the tips, really she did, but this was a point she refused to budge on. They both wanted the baby to just shut the hell up, and if this was the way to do it, by God she would do it. But it would be on her own terms. She picked up the tuning fork and weighed it in her hand before pointing it menacingly in his direction.
"Alright, alright. You've made your point," he insisted, backing up with an agitated shuffle. "Just be careful where you're aiming that thing, would you? You're likely to put someone's eye out with it! And by someone's eye, I mostly mean my own. As in the only one I've got." He snorted, muttering on to himself. "Used for music and gyroscopes my arse! Never said a thing about using it as a bloody club…"
Cracking a small but triumphant smile, Chell resumed rolling up her shirt. With a bit of quick thinking and some encouragement from the mysterious yet comfortingly familiar and knowledgeable voice, she more or less figured out how the whole feeding thing was supposed to work.
Taking one last peek over her shoulder to make sure Wheatley was still a safe distance away, she touched Michael's pixilated mouth to her nipple and waited hopefully. Nothing changed. Well, nothing except a small increase in her steadily-growing headache and in her suppressed desire to throw the baby to the turrets.
She shook her head a little. No. The voice didn't at all approve of turning Michael into turret-bait, no matter how badly that other part of her did. She sighed and smoothed out the shirt. Fine then, no turrets.
Walking back into the AI's view, she leaned against the wall, trying to come up with another idea, preferably one that would work. If one of them didn't come up with something soon… Well, she really didn't want to think about that.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here," Wheatley said slowly. "And assume it didn't work."
Her lips tightened into an unimpressed grimace as she gave him an equally-unimpressed stare.
"Right then. Guess she wasn't hungry."
Chell tapped the tuning fork lightly against the wall as she thought, grateful that I t provided some sort of sound unrelated to the test baby. Its soft, melodious ping was rather pleasant to the ear, a sound rather unexpected from something so—wait, soft? She listened carefully to Michael, and sure enough, her cries had become a little less sharp and a little less demanding. Either that or her eardrums had finally burst. Lovely.
Wheatley's database whirred to life once more. A tool that is often used throughout the various stages of child-rearing is music. As it has both therapeutic and entertainment value, it is often applied as a learning tool, usually in the early years of the child's develop—
"Waitwaitwait," he interrupted. "Theraputic. What's that word mean?"
Theraputic. Calming to the nerves and/or the senses.
The light of his optic brightened. "Ooh, brainwave!" he laughed. "This is brilliant, love! Babies love music."
Chell's gaze was fixed on him, something he interpreted as a good thing. It was a look of keen interest, and she motioned for him to continue.
"Um , right. So that means that if we can make music for her, she'll stop crying. Now I bet you're wondering exactly how we're supposed to go about making this happen." This was something he didn't need to consult the database for. He recalled observing a few of the scientists making strange noises by raising and lowering the pitch of their voices while changing the shape of their mouths. It was like talking, only a lot more dynamic. That and it was much more appealing to listen to. He had later learned the name for this interesting behavior.
"We're going to sing for her!"
Reflexively, Chell pointed to her throat with a frown.
"Oh yeah. Forgot about that for a moment there," he admitted sheepishly. "But no matter. I will sing for her then. You can do it alone, right? Think it's called a paccino or some fancy bit like that."
She shrugged and laid Michael in her little bowl-nest. She hadn't the faintest clue as to what that last part was about, but as long as it worked, she truly couldn't care less.
"Okay then," the core said slowly. He cleared his throat. "Here goes…" There was a nervous quality to his words.
The truth was that he really didn't know how to sing. Sure he'd observed it, but that had only been on precious few occasions. And as if that weren't enough of an impairment, he'd never personally attempted to mimic the action. All in all, he was terribly unsure of himself. But he had to do it, for Michael. For Chell.
"Now what would be a good song for a baby?" he thought aloud.
Music prescribed for babies is often very simple in beat, pitch and meaning. Common selections include "Row Row Row Your Boat," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Down By the Bay."
Simple. Now there was a clever idea! "How about that spider one? Rather like the sound of that."
Deploying "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" in three, two, one.
Chell crossed her arms impatiently. He was doing it again. Talking to himself as the light of his optic wandered about, not seeming to be too fixed on anything in particular. She really did wonder about what went on inside that mechanical mind of his. She nearly jumped out of her skin as he let out a sudden cry of victory.
"Here we go! She'll absolutely adore this," he exclaimed, clearing his throat a second time. "So, um…"
Chell took that slender window of opportunity to brace herself for what was to follow, a decision which turned out to be incredibly wise.
"The itsee bitsee spoider went up the… the…" He frowned, having already forgot the words. "The bhe bhe bhe." In his mind, filler noises were just as valid as the real words. If children's songs were supposed to be easy to understand, why not replace some words with sounds and make it even easier?
The test subject cringed. The sounds the AI was making were borderline unearthly, like the howling cries of a mortally-wounded beast as it bled away its last moments. This was, without a doubt, the most hideous farce of a musical act she'd ever heard. And even though her experience with songs was admittedly quite limited, what she had heard was always at least vaguely pleasant to listen to. But this… She shuddered.
Unfortunately, Wheatley was far from over. "Then something happened and washed the spider down… out," he corrected himself. "Or something along those lines."
Michael, too, disapproved of his pathetic attempt at singing, her wailing returning to its previous headache-inducing level.
"No, no," chided the core. "That's not how it works! What's supposed to happen is that I sing, and you stop with this excessive crying business, alright? And I sang already, which means it's time for you to stop."
The baby continued, unfazed by his logic.
Despite Wheatley's dismal performance, Chell had to admit she thought he was on the right track. It just so happened that his voice wasn't fated to be the desired medium. But what was then? Surely there had to be some way for them to access a decent musical recording. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to block out the din around her, and a familiar tune seeped into her thoughts. It was upbeat and catchy, the one from the—
It clicked. They needed to find a radio. The reality of the situation quickly hit her, and she frowned. It wasn't like radios just fell out of portals. They, like everything else in GLaDOS' micromanaged scientific domain, had their place, which in this case was the Relaxation Chambers in the very heart of Her kingdom. That was a place that Chell had no intention of ever returning to.
However, she did know of one other place that sometimes housed a radio. Every so often she had come across a small hole in the wall, a haven free from Her ever-vigilant eye. They were rarely larger or deeper than a couple wall panels and were often decorated with multi-colored murals and helpful messages or warnings. Empty old cans littered their floors and makeshift tables, and most importantly, some of them also possessed a radio.
If they could find one of these abandoned dens, they could potentially find a radio. And if they found a radio, Michael could finally be silenced. But for now, she would have to come up with some sort of alternative, and thankfully she had an idea.
She went back over to the rubbish heap and dug through it, producing a small, worn-out blanket and an old but sturdy-looking rope. Chell couldn't help but notice that on a very basic level, she and Michael had many common interests.
Hypothetically, she would love to be held, or to at least be able to curl up in a place she knew to be safe as Michael had essentially done in her arms. She would immensely enjoy some sort of reliable constant in her life, preferably one that didn't involve testing. Wheatley was slowly becoming that constant, babbling and bumbling though he may be. Michael's version, Chell's heartbeat, wasn't quiet as noisy, but it seemed to serve its purpose. The test baby's taste in music was also similar, namely in the fact that it ideally wasn't coming from Wheatley. And as far as food was concerned, Chell was certain Michael would come around eventually. After all, who didn't like to eat?
All of these desires were rather primal, which only increased her confidence in her plan. The facility was always a little chilly, one of its many less-than-desirable traits, and if given the chance, she would seek out a source of warmth. Perhaps Michael was in need of a little warmth too. She gently plucked her from her nest on the floor and cocooned her in the blanket as Wheatley looked on, fascinated.
Michael's crying was dying down to a shaky whine, but the database hadn't said a word about wrapping her up like a great big fabric ball. The fact that Chell had somehow known this only convinced him further of the presence of her mother instinct.
Chell took the rope and wound it securely around the bundle before tying it around her torso, leaving both hands free, just in case. She picked up the portal gun and motioned for Wheatley to follow.
"Where're you going?" he asked, confused. "We really haven't been here that long. Hardly any time at all, in fact!"
But she was already a good ways ahead of him. True, she may not know her way around the facility like he did, but she felt confident that in an abandoned place this large there were bound to be at least a few of her artist friend's old hovels. She was determined to find that radio.
A/N: Thank you so much for all the support! Every time I receive a review, I make a little inhuman noise of delight.