A/N: This fic is sort of an alternate Resolution sequel, but you don't really need to know Resolution stuff to know what's going on in it. I had most of it written a while back, so I figured I'd finish the chapter up. Not sure if I'll keep working on it, buuuut yeah. At least another chapter before it's actually finished.

Things to assume: Combine vs. everyone was resolved somehow and Combine went away, Earth is mostly going back to normal. Ahaha. I wrote it off a slightly crack idea, so it'll be best for you guys to suspend disbelief a bit.

Chapter One

Jacqueline Wilkes bobbed on the balls of her feet in anticipation.

It might've looked unbecoming for her to look so absolutely excited, but at this moment, she didn't quite care regardless of the grin that her escort had on his face. She had every reason to be excited, and dammit, she was going to be excited.

It wasn't every day that someone got an engineering position at Aperture Science.

The interview process had been more nerve-wracking and grueling than she'd ever experienced in all her 47 years of age, but it was worth it all in the end. She won the position of lead engineer at the Aperture Science Biomedical Engineering Division in their tissue engineering department, and it was such a massive surprise that she'd stared blankly at her computer screen for several minutes when she read the acceptance email. She'd been underpaid and underappreciated at her old research position and had applied at Aperture Science at the insistence of a colleague who had managed to escape their god-awful laboratory for a job at Aperture.

Aperture Science had unexpectedly—and almost inexplicably—resurfaced from the bowels of the past a mere twenty years ago, but already it was known as one of the best (if not the best) biomedical engineering firms in the country. It was true that Aperture Science had been a defense contractor in the old days prior to the invasion of the Combine and had disappeared from public view until well after the world had rebuilt itself from the ravages of Earth's alien invaders, but it reemerged as Aperture Science Biomedical Technologies and marketed its wholly remarkable Aperture Science Skin Replacement Mesh to any investors that would look twice at them. From what Jacqueline understood, it hadn't taken much to convince the investors to throw money at them for their quite amazing advances in biomedical engineering—and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a place that any engineer and scientist in any field would kill to work for, really. From biomedical researchers to mechanical engineers—Aperture Science wanted them all. For one of the many things remarkable about Aperture's laboratories was that they was almost entirely underground, nestled comfortably in the shell of an old salt mine. The Enrichment Center, as they called it, was a marvel of research and engineering: it allowed for both the research and development of new technologies, and provided a testing environment for any and all tests a scientist could ever want. Indeed, the arrangements there were so amazingly conducive to science that some never left the Enrichment Center—Jacqueline heard stories of such scientists living in the Enrichment Center's apartment-like employee accommodations for weeks at a time.

While Aperture was known for their biomedical engineering advances, they had an applied physics research division that was beginning to garner quite a bit of attention. Jacqueline didn't know much about it, however: there was a shield of secrecy around the activities of that department so utterly complete that any information about it was incredibly vague and raised more questions than were answered. She wondered what went on in there to warrant such secrecy (as well as all the money Aperture was putting into it). Some said they were secretly making weapons for the government like the Aperture Science of old, and others said they were working on projects so dangerous that the public could not know for fear of mass panic and rioting. Jacqueline often laughed at these outlandish theories, but a small part of her wanted to agree—because for what else but something incredibly dangerous would all this secrecy be necessary?

"All right, we're here," said the escort as the lift slowed to a halt. "Do you know where to go?"

"Yes, thank you," Jacqueline said, smiling as she stepped out of the lift and into the bright fluorescent lights of the tissue engineering lobby. The lift closed behind her as she glanced around in search of the senior engineer that had interviewed her, but the lobby was devoid of any people—even the receptionist's desk was empty. A slight panic began to creep up from the bottom of her stomach as all manner of irrational thoughts began to invade her mind: had she been forgotten? Or did she end up in the wrong place, despite being taken there by that escort?

"Welcome, new employee. An Aperture Science associate will be with you shortly. Please have a seat in the lounge area. To facilitate relaxation, smooth jazz will be deployed in three…two…one."

Jacqueline had jumped at the sound of the pleasant—but obviously synthesized—male voice that had echoed through the empty lobby, and she was now staring up at the speakers, slack-jawed as smooth jazz began pouring out of them. The interviews had taken place in the conference rooms on the surface and she'd been dragged all throughout the surface complex without once hearing this voice. Aperture sure had some personality; honestly, smooth jazz piped in through the facility's announcement system for relaxation? She'd been lucky to have a radio of dubious functionality at her old laboratory…

"You must be Jacqueline Wilkes," came an unfamiliar voice. Jacqueline had been expecting the gravelly voice of the senior engineer that had hired her, not this pleasant female one…

She leapt to her feet when she realized who it was that was walking toward her.

"M-M-Ms. Johnson, th-this is an honor!" Jacqueline sputtered.

Chell Johnson, current CEO of Aperture Science, smiled as she extended her hand. She had a sort of calm look about her slightly lined face—as though nothing could ever faze her—and her eyes had an almost unsettlingly piercing quality about them. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Wilkes. I've heard good things about you from Howard," said Chell warmly. She had a surprisingly firm handshake for a fifty-something woman (or was she older?) and indeed, nearly crushed Jacqueline's hand. "This is my assistant, Millard Wheatley."

"Er, just Wheatley will do, actually," said the man behind her, grimacing at the sound of his name before extending his hand as well. He looked to be a bit younger than his boss and had the air of a man just barely getting by in his work, though Jacqueline couldn't blame him—surely being the assistant to the CEO herself was no cakewalk.

"Howard will be with you in a moment," Chell said pleasantly. "If I'd known he was going to be busy getting you into the swing of things today, then I would have saved my business with him for another time."

"Oh, it's no problem at all!" Jacqueline nearly squeaked. "Please don't worry about me."

Chell merely smiled in response before turning to Wheatley. "We have some time before my next meeting, don't we?" she asked.

"Yes! I'd say we have half an hour before we need to start heading to the conference room," Wheatley said brightly. With that, Chell turned to Jacqueline and nodded.

"In that case, I will see you around, Ms. Wilkes," she said before turning to usher Wheatley into the lift. "Come on, I could use a cup of coffee…"

Jacqueline wasn't the type of woman to be starstruck, but in this case, it was difficult not to be. She never expected to ever meet the CEO herself during her tenure at Aperture Science, and here she was on her first day shaking hands with her! Chell Johnson was well-known for being very good to her employees (and apparently had a bit of an eccentric streak hidden somewhere), and her extensive experience in applied physics was nothing to scoff at. It was slightly odd, however, that Aperture was more known for their biomedical advances rather than any physics advances considering the CEO's expertise, but it could simply be the case that the woman knew that their biotechnology would be what paid the bills (and, inexplicably, shower curtains).

"There you are, Jacqueline," came Howard's gravelly voice. She wheeled around and found the short and stocky engineer emerging from the same door that Chell had, straightening his lab coat as he walked toward her. "Sorry for the wait. It's not every day that Ms. Johnson comes calling, so when she does…Anyway, let's get you to your desk."

Jacqueline could hardly contain the butterflies fluttering about her stomach as Howard led her through the doors and towards the heart of the tissue engineering division. She looked about in wonder as they walked; everything in Aperture Science was so clean and white that she couldn't decide if it was simply good design aesthetic or too stiflingly sterile. "Excited, are you?" said Howard when he peered over his shoulder at her. "Got a smile wide as the interstate on your face."

"Oh! Ah—yes," she said in slight embarrassment as her ears warmed slightly. And though she wasn't quite sure why she felt compelled to say it, she added, "Sorry."

Howard let out a gruff chuckle. "Nah, don't be. We need that kind of thing around here."

She laughed nervously to mask her slight surprise. That certainly sounded…ominous, to say the least. Still, it did little to quell the little butterflies inside her as he led her through another pair of double doors and into a dimly-lit room full of neat little cubicles arranged in blocks of four. "We're all usually in the labs," said Howard as she followed him past rows and rows of empty cubicles. "Only really dump our things and do paperwork at the cubes. And this is yours."

Her cube—which contained a desk, a whiteboard, some drawers, a dual-monitor computer, and a name placard that read "[engineer name here]"—was already a step up from what she had back at her old job. It was nearly twice the space of her old cramped desk, and she had the added benefit of a clean, new whiteboard that wasn't stained with the grime of years and years of dry-erase marking. "Don't worry about your name thing," said Howard. "We'll get your name on there soon. Anyway, you got the IT packet, right?" She pulled out the envelope she'd been issued and held it up for him. He nodded once in approval. "Good. All of IT's stuffy rules are in there. Your username and password are too, so you should probably log in. I'll come back for you in a bit to show you around."

With that, Howard shuffled off.

When she sank down into the chair, the enormity of where she was sank in. Here she was in her own cubicle with her shiny new position as lead engineer of the tissue engineering division. Tissue engineering. At Aperture Science.

The tiniest squeak of joy left her throat.

Well, now that the joyful squealing was over with, it was probably time to check if her login information was working. She'd given the IT packet a quick look while she was waiting for her escort to arrive earlier and had been slightly dismayed with some of the rules (changing her network password every three months? It was hard enough to remember her password in the first place), though she supposed there would be more rules in such a big company like Aperture. She only hoped that it wouldn't be too difficult to grasp their computing resources—she did not want to anger their tech support (which she may have done at previous places of employment). So with that in mind, she hoped that she could at least log in to her computer without needing the help desk to hold her hand.

The computer didn't complain at her when she entered her username and password and pressed enter. So far, so good, she thought as she slumped back in her chair while her computer proceeded with logging in. While she waited, she cast her eyes about the room. It wasn't particularly remarkable—despite the dim light, she could tell the walls were a sort of off-whitish color and, in the corner of the room that she could see from her cube's opening, she could see an unusually-shaped camera fixed into the wall. So the long and tedious spiel that the HR representative had gone on was no joke—even the cubicles were monitored closely. It made her wonder how many monitors the security team had to look at all day…Considering the size of the Enrichment Center, there must be a veritable wall of monitors somewhere. Unless they had some other way of monitoring things…

"Hey, Jacqueline," came Howard's voice as he peered around the cube wall. "Let's go. Time to show you around."

When Jacqueline finally sat down for lunch in the cafeteria with her new colleagues (and the one old colleague from her previous lab), her mind was buzzing from everything she had seen earlier in the morning. Everything in her laboratory was a dream come true: nearly all of the equipment was state-of-the-art, there was no shortage of supplies, and all the people working there were truly enthusiastic about their work. It almost seemed too good to be true, but Jacqueline didn't want to think about it in case the illusion suddenly crumbled before her eyes.

"So how do you like it, Jackie?" said Hieu, the cheerful middle-aged man who'd convinced her to apply at Aperture. "Better than the dump we used to work at, eh?" Jacqueline could only laugh in reply, which prompted the laughter of the people in her company.

While her colleagues talked amongst themselves about one of the hiccups in their research, Jacqueline took the opportunity to cast her eyes around the cafeteria. It wasn't overly large, but it was sparsely populated enough that it made the room seem all the bigger for it. She did notice, however, that there was a corner of the room that most of the lunch-goers were giving wide berth, and to her surprise, said corner of the room was occupied by none other than Chell Johnson, her assistant, and a slender woman with bobbed hair that appeared to be gesturing furiously about something or other while Chell nibbled patiently at her salad.

"Hey, who's the lady over there with Ms. Johnson?" Jacqueline asked, turning to Hieu curiously.

"Oh, her? That's Gladys Cypress," Hieu said, wrinkling his nose. "She's head of the Applied Physics department and the Computer Research department. They say she's a genius. Personally, I wouldn't go within ten feet of her."

Apparently this Gladys woman was well-known for her unbelievable expertise in physics and computer science, but was absolutely legendary for being near impossible to please and absolutely impossible to befriend. It seemed that the only people that could hold down a conversation with Gladys without having it deteriorate into a cascade of sarcasm and insults were Chell Johnson and Mr. Wheatley. But evidently all the scientists and engineers under her enjoyed their work—once they learned how to cope with her abrasive (and at times abusive) demeanor, of course.

"I say all her engineers are Stockholmed for her," said the woman beside Hieu, grinning. "It's the only way to explain why they like her so much."

"Why does she get away with it? Being so mean to everyone, I mean," Jacqueline asked, frowning as she twisted the cap off her water bottle.

"Most people will say that she can get away with it because she's Ms. Johnson's best friend. But I have another theory," the bright-eyed younger man sitting beside Jacqueline, and she was slightly horrified to find him wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "I think that she and Ms. Johnson are scre—"

"Nobody wants to hear your theory!" snapped the woman beside Hieu.

"But it's a sexy theory!" protested the young man, a cheeky grin on his face as Hieu and the others burst into laughter.

"My god, don't you have any shame?"

Chell couldn't hold back a grin as she watched her best friend venting her anger about whatever it was her moron engineers ruined this time. "I still wonder if it was a good idea to let a lunatic like you run Aperture—you keep hiring morons," was her favorite quip in times like these.

"Well, we haven't blown up yet, so I think I'm doing pretty good," said Chell, letting out a laugh.

"You must be going senile in your old age," said GLaDOS, smirking. "I think you've forgotten that I'm the one who keeps us from blowing up."

"Hey, hey, I help too!" Wheatley said indignantly, frowning in mock disappointment. "I mean, I've been trying very hard not to ruin all the brilliant work you're doing keeping us from blowing up."

Laughter (from Chell and Wheatley, anyway) filled the air as GLaDOS shot him an icy glare.

It was a routine that they developed over the years: Chell and Wheatley would attend to administrative matters in the morning and afternoon while GLaDOS dealt with the physics and computer science departments, but barring any sort of scientific breakthrough or emergency, they would meet somewhere for lunch. Not that GLaDOS or Wheatley actually ate anything; rather, they sat and talked while Chell ate hers.

Androids didn't need to eat, of course.

"You know, didn't you hire those morons you've been complaining about?" Chell said, arching an eyebrow at GLaDOS as she took a bite from her sandwich. "I haven't hired anyone for you in years."

"Oh, they were morons back then. I just thought I could beat the moron out of them."

"I appreciate that you weren't beating them with Weighted Storage Cubes. I'm sure you remember the last time you tried that."

GLaDOS rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. He was asking for it," she said airily. "He had no right to touch me. Let alone touch me where he did."

Chell grimaced at the memory of the poor man and his black-and-blue face. It was a good thing that it had happened within the walls of the applied physics department, or the legal team might not have been able to cover up what had happened…

"When are you going to come test the new excursion funnel?" GLaDOS asked, leaning in a bit over the table. "It doesn't use asbestos anymore. It doesn't feel quite like science without the asbestos, but it needs to be tested all the same."

"You know I'm getting too old to test for you," said Chell, frowning. "Why don't you get one of your engineers to test it?"

"It's not the same watching them flailing around in the test chambers," GLaDOS said sulkily, averting her gaze to glare at the wall. "It's not fun if they scream at everything I put in the chamber. Only a lunatic would like people screaming at them all the time. And I'm not the lunatic around here."

"What about Blue or Orange?" Wheatley added brightly.

It was clear from the glare that GLaDOS gave him that this was not an acceptable alternative. And with that, Chell gave a small laugh. It wasn't about having a good test subject or testing the new excursion funnel at all…

"All right. I can give it a try later tonight."