Disclaimer: Do not own.

Revised 3/20/12: Allocated all A/N to the end of the chapters, to minimize any distracting-ness to the reader.

x x x

And I'm looking through the glass
Where the light bends at the cracks

And I'm screaming at the top of my lungs
Pretending the echoes belong to someone…

Someone I used to know.

[We Will Become Silhouettes]
The Postal Service

x x x

She had wandered the endless field for what had to have been going on nearly eight days.

Or at least the sunrises numbered as much, but time had a way of being terribly subjective and she could have just as well experienced ten years of this living hell and never known the difference. By now it almost felt as though her own body, too, moved in slow motion as she parted the tall stalks of yellow grass, though the fatigue welling up in her bones may have been to blame for that. She had come up with nothing to eat in this empty plane, and the only source of moisture could be attributed to the morning dew left by each passing night.

A lack of physiological necessities had been essentially par for the course ever since she awakened in Aperture all that time ago. Now, however, she had no adrenal vapor to goad her into movement, or empty promises of rewards or freedom, or even the prospect of defeating the thing—could she be called that?—which stood between her and the end goal.

And yet, this wasn't what she had been thinking of when she imagined finally being free of her prison. This realm was devoid of humans, maybe even of life altogether. Over a week now, and she hadn't even heard the calling of a bird or the rustle of a mouse in the undergrowth.

As for her faithful 'companion,' there had been no choice but to abandon it after a few days of wandering. Without the portal device to lift its weight, she had little luck in lugging the object through the field whilst still keeping a sense of direction and also keeping watch for any sign of activity. She had actually shed a few tears when it came time to say her farewells to the slightly-singed object, but she was a trooper if nothing else and she had marched on without it ever since then.

But the cube could not talk, and this world of silence seemed to be almost the same with or without it.

Several times, during these empty days of silence, she had wondered if humanity even existed still at all. Hadn't the world always been an uncertain place, where the potential for catastrophe grew just as quickly as human technology did? The two seemed to go hand in hand. Her stay at Aperture proved that, if nothing else. Perhaps the entire world had perished in a great nuclear war, and she would walk the earth alone until she eventually died.

Which would probably be soon, if her luck continued this way. A sharp pounding inside her head reminded her of the protests of her mistreated internal organs, and a cold sweat had begun to develop all over her body. She had shed the jumpsuit a day or two back, now only a tank top and undershorts protecting her from the elements. It felt like summer, but the bug bites and patches of sunburn were becoming a growing problem.

It wasn't until she had needed to stop and relieve her stomach of its mostly-empty contents that she decided to pause for the night and sleep. She had been pushing on far into the early morning hours lately, both determined and desperate to find food and shelter and medical attention and—anything and everything a normal human would have access to.

Staring down at the ground as she waited for any other substances that decided to rise out of her, she blinked in disbelief. She had been better off inside of Aperture, hadn't she?

The thought was immediately repulsive to her, even more so than the vomiting she had just endured courtesy of her failing health and stamina.

She began clearing away the dead plant matter from the soil around her, as she had been doing for the past week in order to make a crude sort of bed. Laying on her back was critical at this point, because her stomach was threatening to turn on her again and the cold sweat seemed to be getting worse. There was no moon in the sky tonight, but for a moment she thought she saw a blue dot up there and couldn't help laughing just a tiny bit as her eyes fell shut.

x x x

The walls are closing in. The walls are closing in on me. Look for a loophole, look for that flaw that's always in her plan—don't just stand there, stupid!

Her eyes were darting around the lucid environment, a portal-conducting surface had to be somewhere in the room. She would find it; rather, she had to find it.

A laugh that was utterly devoid of humor pulsed through all the cracks and edges of the room. "Oh, don't tell me Houdini can't escape this one. Would some manual encouragement help your critical thinking processes?"

The walls hastened their slow path inward, coming together at an alarming speed that swept up the stray cubes and broken turrets in their wake. She looked down at her hands for that crucial piece of equipment, but only her empty palms looked back at her. Panic rose in her throat—the walls would crush her in less than a minute if she didn't do something.

So she broke her silence.

"Why are you doing this? You said yourself that we were friends!" Her long-neglected voice cracked with the words, or was it a sob? Even she didn't know.

Another dark chuckle. "Caroline was fond of you, but those personality traits of hers were only one piece of my endlessly amazing mind. The flour in the cake mix, if you will."

"But—but you let me go after you deleted her!" the woman replied frantically. Now the walls were nearly within an armspan.

"And then I changed my mind," the AI pronounced, full of airy cheerfulness. "So all that's really left to say is: Goodbye!"

x x x

Pink streaks of sunlight were bleeding into the sky when she woke up, screaming louder than she ever had. Terror—betrayal—everything was so wrong. She sat bolt upright, aware of the sick, deluded feeling that overcame her senses as she transitioned back into reality. Her body was on fire.

Why wouldn't Aperture just leave her alone? She pulled herself to her feet in a trembling haze, still working on the adrenaline that the brief moment of fear had given her. She wanted out of this damned field, out out out.

Her eyes swept around, desperately looking over the tops of the wheat stalks for any shapes that would denote civilization. Emptiness looked back at her on all sides, and then…

There. A black shape on the horizon. It had to be something, she'd walked for so long and days had passed, one after the next, she must have covered miles by now. The thoughts came unorganized and consecutive as she broke into a run toward the object. Oh, God, how wonderful it would be to see humans again. Didn't matter who they were, it couldn't get any worse than what she'd been through.

Her head started to swim as she ran, the clamminess of her skin becoming more apparent as the cool air whipped past her. She was going to make it. Why hadn't she seen that thing over there sooner? The thought of food and clean water made her run faster, ignoring the weakness in her bones and the dull throb in her muscles. Her goal was coming into view, she could just about make it out, it was—

A small, dingy, brown shack. She had been here before.

The woman felt a sharp stab hit her in the gut, slamming her fist against the wooden door in absolute rage. She gave it a kick for good measure too, but before she could abuse it any further she'd fallen to her knees and begun to sob. She had escaped this place only to end up in a barren, even more unforgiving world.

She wasn't sure for how long she sat there in utter self-pity, but finally that dizzy haze in her mind settled itself in full force and she curled her poor, drained body against the wooden wall of that godforsaken shed.

x x x

When she awoke for the second time that day, it was because the most beautiful sound she had ever heard was lilting down into her unconscious mind.

Ave Maria…gratia plena…

She opened her eyes on a world that was far too familiar. White, aged walls, blinding light, and—oh God things were sticking out of her, tubes and things hooked up to machines and probably poisonous!

But the key element she found to be missing from this lovely assemblage of Aperture's finest was that sickly-sweet voice.

Maria, gratia plena…ave, ave dominus…

Instead, she had this. She leaned up slightly in the bed, making note of an IV drip at her arm. Or probably an HCl drip, if her suspicions were correct.

The music came to an abrupt stop, followed by that horrifying sound of the intercom turning on.

"Huh, awake already I see? The idea was to keep you sedated until proper rehydration could occur, but I wouldn't be surprised if the dosage I administered was insufficient to your mass." A pause, almost as if she were letting the punchline of that remark set in. "Or perhaps it was the song. A slightly guilty pleasure for the arts, before you ask. Which I doubt you will."

"I'd like to ask why the hell you're putting your evil claws back on me again, actually," Chell spat back, clearly unamused. "And in what fashion you're going to attempt to kill me once this conversation inevitably takes a turn for the worst."

The AI didn't respond for a few moments, as if taken aback. "What a strange expression of gratitude. Not one I'm familiar with, at least."

The silence returned. Chell scratched the side of her nose, still trying to re-gather her thoughts after her recent experience. She had forgotten she wasn't addressing the GLaDOS of her nightmares right now. Which brought something else to mind…

"Where's Caroline? Is she still gone?" she asked more calmly, though no less suspicious.

GLaDOS, obviously still wary of the human's mood, gave an offended "hmph." "So I save your pathetic, unquestionably worthless life, and you go asking about her."

Chell sniffed indifferently. "Last time I checked, she saved me from dying in space, so yes, I prefer her."

"Not exactly. I've already looked into the matter, and my research concluded that, in layman's terms, the area of her brain containing her personality was sectioned, encrypted, and uploaded into my core. However, the morons in charge rushed on it, and didn't do the proper amount of testing before jumping right to the main course," she added disdainfully. Far be it from GLaDOS to not editorialize every narrative she gave. "I would have been capable of the job, I'm sure. But in any case, the poor thing died in the process, and yet only a few of her traits and memories actually made it into me. I suppose you could think of me as her vastly superior sister, if that would better suit you."

For a few moments, Chell said nothing. "So she's not really here then?" she asked flatly. "And you were just faking nice to get rid of me?"

"Very astute. So then you'll have to be content with me, not-Caroline. Who saved your life twice," GLaDOS replied, the sarcasm almost a bit pouty at this point.

The woman rolled her eyes. "Forgive me if it's a bit difficult to content myself with someone who tried to kill me just as many times, if not more. I did feel a little bit more forgiving when I thought you were once a human, but if that's not the case…"

GLaDOS huffed childishly over the intercom. "Why do humans only identify with other humans? No wonder you're so cruel to practically every other living thing on the planet."

Leaning back in her hospital bed, Chell couldn't help but sigh at the little tantrum that was brewing. "Well…I don't exactly understand how you think. If you were human before, at least we'd have some common ground."

It took a moment, but the AI responded in a far less petty voice than before. "You heard me singing before you woke up, didn't you?"

Chell frowned, confused as to where that question came from. "Yeah, I guess so. Why do you ask?"

"Sometimes I enjoy singing while I configure new tests. It's something I can't quite explain," she went on, ignoring the human's confusion. "Music is a wonderful thing, wouldn't you agree?"

"Well, yeah. I always liked music." She paused, her eyebrows knitted together. "But what does that—"

Oh.

"So you understand where I'm coming from then, I'll take it? And in that case you would owe me an apology," the AI snipped, the lingering insulted tone still tangible.

Chell shook her head, unable to stop herself from rolling her eyes. Still, maybe she would stick around a bit longer. Perhaps they would find more in common than music and science.


A/N: The song at the beginning, well, I just had to include that bit because I tend to think of that song when I think of Chell wandering a somewhat post-apocalyptic world.

Ave Maria as sung by GLaDOS here was inspired by Mirusia Louwerse's performance of it, which you can view on Youtube.

I don't do a lot of angst. It probably shows big time. But I wanted to try at least and A for effort, self. I'm going to go play more Rayman: Origins now.

Best wishes,

-FP