Title: Fear Nothing (A Story In Three Parts)
Warnings/Pairings: No Pairings, severe premeditated emotional and psychological torture.
Summary: Everyone fears something. Didn't you just say you fear nothing? You said it yourself. I'm nothing. Fear Me.
The line of cars rolled into view on Main Street with the procession lead by a gleaming black Lincoln limousine. Affixed to the headlights of each vehicle a small white paper flag proclaimed to one and all the simple cautionary message of 'Funeral'. The police squad car bringing up the rear kept a watchful eye out for drivers irreverent enough to forget to allow the somber proceedings to pass undisturbed.
There was not a lot of traffic out and about to begin with. The media circus around this particular funeral compared favorably with the pomp and circumstance following any film or political celebrity death. Predictably the sidewalks were lined with people conveniently doing their shopping on a Tuesday afternoon or knocking off work for a lunch break miraculously just in the nick of time to rubberneck. No one could prevent the prying eyes that followed the linear path of the hearse as far up the street as they could. Some chose to remove their caps or bow their heads. A few were even crying, but dry or tear-blurred their gaze was drawn towards the tinted black windows and the long boot of the trunk that now held all that remained of one of the finest Scientific minds the world had ever seen.
Crying, Caroline thought from her vantage point in the rear seat of the same limousine, was pointless.
Doing so was not going to return Cave to life nor would it have cured the cancer that had spread throughout his body as he insisted upon experimenting with the moon rocks to make the conversion gel. The project had been unfortunately the one thing the two had vehemently disagreed upon but now that it was left unfinished Caroline felt herself obligated to see it through to completion. Under much more advanced safety precautions, naturally.
It had eventually become an exercise in futility to argue with Cave as his condition deteriorated. He became violent instead of passionate, his brilliance tinged with insanity as he demanded projects that involved an ever increasing number of unusual uses of the Aperture technology. Everything from omniscient A.I.'s to exploding fruit.
She would grieve in her own way. Neither an emotional outburst nor her preferred clinical approach to this ceremony would change anyone's opinion about her. There were a great deal of women who would like access to the Johnson fortune and it was no secret that it was the opinion of many that she was a gold digger who had finally broken through Cave's defenses to get her greedy hands on what was to be a fine sum of money even after the effects of his illness that had been leaked to the press had caused the stocks to drop in value.
There were whispers that Aperture was going to disappear: the witch (herself) would dissolve the company and run away with some handsome young man to some far off island paradise.
The truth of the matter was, Caroline and Cave were simply two people who had complimented each other. Whether the rest of the world wanted to believe she had seduced him into a romantic liaison or duped him into giving her all his money, that was their problem. She would do what she had always done.
What she must do. Nothing more or less than Science.
"Penny for your thoughts, ma'am." The driver said quietly from the front.
Caroline gave a little jump, realizing with frustration that as she'd been caught up in her thoughts over Cave she had stopped paying strict attention to the paperwork she had brought with her. It was what would Cave would have said she should do. Something like: Science doesn't take a break for death, Caroline. Write that down!
"Nothing." She replied as brusquely as possible, realizing too late that her reply made no sense in context. She bent her head once more as though to look suitably busy and disinterested in any sentimentality from a man whose job it was solely to get her to her location. Although it frustrated her, she could not bring herself to keep her attention on her work. In her mind, she kept replaying the fondest memories she had of the dead man in the back of the hearse.
She could well recall the first day she had arrived at Aperture. Caroline had always been interested in Science (any type) but despite her aptitude and determination in every field she was a woman of her time and whether she liked it or not thusly hindered by her gender. The secretary at the front desk had clearly been a total moron in her opinion, assuming she had wanted an office job ("Typing? No? Filing then! Ummm, Cafeteria?") no matter how much she tried to explain otherwise. In the end, she had formulated a plan and filled out the form just so she could put her foot in the door. It had taken a few incredibly boring weeks of alphabetically organizing manila folders in file drawers and hours of being on the phone with some squeaky-voiced secretary twat before she finally managed to wheedle her way into an appointment to see Cave Johnson.
She was going to make every single one of those precious five minutes count.
"Mr. Johnson will see you now."
Caroline stood and marched past the secretary, right into the office and took a breath before the man could even get out a word. This shocked him she could tell, but she was not about to deviate from her plan.
"I think you could use an assistant. I know I would make an excellent assistant to you, personally. I have a fine list of credentials and a degree to back up my claims, Sir."
He got over his initial shock fast. "Do you really think you're the first skirt to come in here trying that line? I don't need an assistant missy. I've got a secretary to bring me my coffee when I want it. What did you think this place was? Some kind of Hugh Heffner Playboy operation?"
He bent his head as though to unceremoniously dismiss her but Caroline knew she'd been right about the kind of man he actually was. "I'm not here to get your coffee or anything else. I want to do Science and Science doesn't get done in an office."
For awhile, they glared at each other. Cave looked around at his own office from where he was preaching and for one dreadful instant Caroline believed she'd gone too far. The next moment the head of Aperture burst out laughing. "Alright. You've got spunk. I like that so I'll try you out. However, you probably are going to have to get me coffee once or twice. By coffee, I mean Scotch. Scotch is necessary for Science and you'll start tomorrow. I trust you know what time Science gets done around here."
"Yes Sir Mr. Johnson!"
He raised an eyebrow at her inviting her to continue.
"Science doesn't stop, Sir."
She jolted just slightly as the car rolled to a complete stop and she stepped out as smoothly as if her thoughts had not been previously occupied by the fondest memories of her life. All eyes shifted to her as she joined Douglas Rattmann and three other men who were to serve as pall bearers.
Two of the others she knew from his research team: A tall burly fellow with dark hair who looked obscenely uncomfortable in his formal mourning attire and a thinner reedy looking man with a somewhat weak chin and glasses. Their names were Rick and Craig respectively if she remembered correctly. The fourth younger man she didn't know at all. Given the turnover rate in the department, it was almost ridiculous to know anyone's name unless they'd managed to make it all the way up to Doug's personal staff or had done something monumentally stupid enough to get themselves fired. Cave's was certainly not the first life to be lost to Aperture's demanding and dangerous workload. Whoever the fourth was, he was probably competent enough if Rattmann had saw fit to hire him, but now was not precisely the time for such contemplations. Instead she gave the group a cursory nod and went to take up her place of honour following the coffin as they moved forward into the cemetery grounds.
"We are gathered here today to mourn the death of Cave Johnson and celebrate and take comfort in the brilliance of his life and work…"
The resident official and minister delivered a brief but celebratory eulogy of a non-religious basis, praising the ingenuity of Cave's work and his dedication. Caroline felt it was suitably appropriate that they spare a man who worshipped science the insult to his memory of a religious funeral. There were of course flowers by the dozen as not even the CEO of the largest company in his field got away from having blossoms brought to his graveside.
Apart from the coffin itself (finest mahogany and stamped with the Aperture logo in gold), there was little of the flair in the occasion that had come to be expected from Cave Johnson, in part because no one had been able to locate his final will and testament. Caroline herself had practically overturned his office in her search for the documents. His team of lawyers had been contacted and yet no one seemed to have papers or ever heard of his attempting to set down a hard copy of any such plans other than the single recording that wished for his assistant to be left in charge of the facility and the company if he were to succumb to the illness. Considering he had in the same breath began babbling about putting his brain into a supercomputer to run the labs posthumously, it wasn't much to go on – but the cold fact remained that it was all they did have. In her first act as the acting CEO of Aperture, Caroline had fired the lawyers and arranged for an expensive catered gathering for the employees (minus of course the hobos) following the more public proceedings.
The clack of heels on the wood floor of the reception hall alerted Douglas to the approach of the woman who was now his boss. He sighed and prepared for the necessary show of pleasantries. Cave had been good to him, giving him a job and he'd believed he'd been good in return by doing that job to the best of his abilities. The whispers of questions followed him as well: would Rattmann work for a woman? The answer was simple: as far as he was concerned he had no designs to leave the company over something so trite. So long as Caroline kept the managerial standards as high as he expected he would continue on.
"How are you holding up?" he asked as she approached. That was the sort of thing you said during these things, wasn't it?
"As well as can be expected." She gave him a brief handshake. "Thank you for your services during this difficult time."
Douglas nodded. "I expect you are interested in resuming work on the Conversion Gel Project tomorrow?"
That was one thing that Doug had always liked about Caroline, although he knew her terseness was not for his benefit he had always appreciated she was there for the same reasons he was. "I'd like to discuss the team I want to put together for the renewed experimental procedures."
She raised an eyebrow. "Go on."
Knowing he was going to be dropping a rather large request that on such an occasion as this might be construed as something of a bombshell, Doug began to fiddle with his tie. "Rick and Craig are on board for this. They're the two that—"
"Yes, the ones that have been with you since the beginning. I know who they are."
"I made two hires in the past month. One, ah, in the last week."
Caroline pursed her lips and when she spoke it was in a rather clipped tone that Rattmann had been expecting. It still made his already high level of paranoia over public speaking increase in intensity. "That's extra money from the budget." She was evidently waiting for him to justify himself.
He took a deep breath and continued, trying to keep his jangling nerves from speeding up his voice into the unintelligible registers. "The one who was with us today – Neil - is an Intern. We don't have to pay him as much. He's already shown that he has quite a bit of knowledge and experience, especially regarding this moon-rock business. I've read the article he's had published in AstrophysicsandSpaceScience and it seems sound but it's not my specialty so I phoned his references. According to them he's supposed to be some kind of prodigy." Douglas fiddled with his clothes some more, wishing he had his lab coat or at least a nice cup of coffee. Presentations to anyone higher than himself were Craig's specialty, but Craig knew nothing at all about either of the new hires yet.
"I suppose this other new full-time employee will be showing up tomorrow?" His boss's posture shifted slightly, looking at him more aggressively. The message was clear: If he doesn't, he shouldn't bother to come back the next day or the next after that.
Doug wanted out of this situation immediately if not sooner so he swallowed hard and forced himself to continue. "I told him to attend the funeral today. I think he's around here somewhere. Look, he's not as good but he's older and more experienced."
"Very well, I'll pencil you in for tomorrow. If you see him please tell me I'd like to speak to him."
Caroline watched as the fittingly named lab rat nodded jerkily once and departed at high speed, leaving a lingering trail of pen-ink and stale coffee smell that even a well-pressed suit couldn't seem to remove from his person. She let him go realizing he'd probably send Craig up to speak to her tomorrow once he'd sorted things out.
She began scrutinizing her surroundings. She barely recognized most of these people, although she knew for certain that they all recognized her.
Doug's concerns were filed away in her mind to deal with tomorrow. Right now, she had to continue her rounds, express her condolences to others who had known Cave and introduce herself more formally as the acting CEO. It was partially up to her to reverse some of the rumours about her intentions for the future of the company.
Picking up a glass of wine and pleased that it was every bit as good as the expense she'd paid for it, she turned a few steps and came very close to spilling it as she nearly walked into a solid body. She instinctively held her glass up and away from her as he did the same, hoping to balance the liquid inside.
"I'm very sorry, I didn't see you there."
Caroline's first thought was: How could you not? It was followed swiftly by: How could I not?
"I guess…" he paused, inspecting his white shirt for stains. Finding none, he caught her gaze again. "I guess I was a little nervous. Dr. Rattmann said you wanted to see me? Oh, I suppose it's hard enough on a day like today, not to mention meeting the boss on top of that. Please let me make it up to you."
If Caroline had been a different sort of woman she would have been either very unnerved or very taken in by this man on sight. He had a razorblade smile and a gaze that caught hers and held it with no trace of the nervous twitching she'd endured from her previous discussion. He adjusted his glasses (square and fashionable) and brushed down his suit.
"Let's try this bit again, shall we? Hullo. I'm Wheatley." He held out his hand. He was actually wearing gloves. Caroline wondered if it was a quirk or if he had simply tried to seem more classy than she suspected he truly was. He obviously knew how to make his English accent work to his advantage and it was clear that he was well aware that he was in some way conventionally attractive.
He toned down the smile. "Must say, I admit to being a bit over enthusiastic at the worst of times. I'm sure you are most distraught over this. Mister Johnson was indeed a fine man." He gestured grandly around. "I should say that perhaps it is not the best of times to discuss the nuances of our little project, but as a man I admire once said: Science never sleeps."
That almost stopped her but professionalism demanded she move ahead. She gave him a nod to show that he had at least managed to capture enough of her attention to allow him to continue. They began to walk along the mahogany framed photo gallery that had been set up in tribute to Cave. "What ideas then Wheatley, do you intend to bring to Aperture?"
He glanced over at her out of the corner of his eye. The smile was back. "I had heard tell that there was a position open for an assistant? I believe my considerable talents – and they are bloody impressive, I assure you – they would be much more suitable there."
This time Caroline did stop, replaying her earlier memories of her own, similar speech. She was nobody's fool however and this Wheatley, whoever he was bore looking into. There was something about him that simultaneously drew her in and repelled her immensely.
"More wine?" he asked politely.
She glanced at her glass which was indeed down to its dregs. She firmly set it on the tray of a passing waiter. "Thank you, but no. Our chat is over for the time being. I am a busy woman. However, if you are serious about applying for a job as my assistant, you know what time to arrive tomorrow."
He nodded, his sharp smile blossoming ear-to-ear this time. "Of course, Ma'am. Ol' Wheatley knows."
Caroline walked off smartly, glad to be shot of him. He got into her head somehow. Like he knew what she was thinking…or, like a tumor. Time would tell.