Chapter Two

For all the technological and scientific advances going on within Aperture Science, it seemed that they still had run-of-the-mill computer monitors.

And Jacqueline's had decided it wanted to have a thick, multicolored stripe straight through the middle of her screen.

She liked to think of herself as a self-sufficient employee that knew how to turn on her computer and check her email. And indeed, in her six months at Aperture Science, she hadn't had any reason to call the help desk apart from the call that all new employees were required to make (which was, as Jacqueline understood it, a desperate attempt by Aperture IT to orient employees so that they wouldn't make moronic calls about their passwords or email quotas). To tell the truth, she actually felt a bit sorry for the IT department—for a company full of the best and brightest men and women in an era of considerable technological advancement, there were an awful lot of people that flaunted their computer illiteracy as though it was some kind of badge of honor.

And this was something that she couldn't solve herself. There weren't any spare monitors around, so she was really backed into a corner here. So there she was, listening to the pleasant hold music while she waited for an available help desk technician to answer the phone.

"Good morning, this is Mitch. How can I help you?"

Jacqueline sat up in her seat abruptly at the sound of the pleasant—yet quite obviously weary—voice coming out the phone receiver. "Ah, good morning, Mitch. My monitor—well, I don't know how to put this. It has a rainbow on it," said Jacqueline nervously.

There was a small chuckle on the other end of the line. "A rainbow, huh? Well, not a problem. How long has it been doing that?"

"Just today. Tried turning it off and on and jiggling the connectors, but no good. It sort of flickers around the rainbow."

"All right, sounds good. Man, it's nice to not have someone yelling at me. We've been slammed this morning and everyone's cranky because they have to wait on hold for five minutes. Five minutes…"

"Aw, I'm sorry. I'm used to waiting over twenty when my home internet goes out," said Jacqueline, frowning. "I can deal with this monitor for now if you guys are busy…"

"Oh no, don't worry about it. I appreciate the offer, though. Let's see…you're Jacqueline, right? Calling from extension 51339?"

"Right. How'd you know?"

"Your name and info pop up on my screen when you call as long as you entered your extension when the machine prompts you. Pretty convenient. Looks like you're in the TE division…Okay, how about this. We've got some spare monitors hanging around in here, last I checked. Do you mind if I put you on hold while I take a look?"

Jacqueline couldn't help but make a tiny sound of pleasant surprise. "Oh! Sure, that'd be great!"

"All right. I'll be there in…say, ten minutes. Sit tight."

Jacqueline swiveled about in her seat before coming to a rest in front of her rainbow-striped monitor and drumming her fingers on the desk. Mitch said he wouldn't be long, though Jacqueline had no idea how long it'd take him to get to the tissue engineering offices since she had no idea where IT lived. She'd never thought to ask any of the technicians about it whenever she happened to cross paths with one—perhaps it was because many of them tended to look irritated when leaving some of the engineering divisions…

"Knock, knock."

She wheeled around and found the friendly face of a young-ish man with a narrow face and a scrawny frame peering at her from around the cubicle opening. He looked young, anyway—couldn't be older than thirty—but there was something about his eyes that made Jacqueline second-guess herself. Not that they were particularly outstanding; indeed, they were the opposite of outstanding and seemed to blend in softly with the rest of his face. That coupled with the way he seemed to subtly cast his eyes around him suggested to Jacqueline that he was looking for something. Her monitor, perhaps?

"Jacqueline Wilkes, right?" he said, pulling a little cart with a monitor sitting atop it into view.

"That's me. Thanks for coming so soon," said Jacqueline, smiling and getting up to shake his hand. He had a good firm handshake, which was a nice change from the less-than-substantial ones she usually got from the men around Aperture.

"No problem at all. I needed to get out of my cube anyway," he laughed. "So where's the rainbow monitor?"

When Jacqueline gestured at her monitor with the offending pixel-rainbow stripe on it, he let out a chuckle. "Yep, this monitor's busted. Good thing I brought you a new one, eh? Give me a second and you'll be all hooked up with a new one."

There was a slightly awkward silence as Mitch huddled under her desk to disconnect the monitor—one that Jacqueline felt an urge to fill rather than stand there and twiddle her thumbs while he worked. "So," she said when he emerged from under her desk, "where do you guys work?"

"We were up on the surface complex for the longest time," Mitch said as he pulled the monitor's cables out from behind the desk, "but they finally moved us onto this level. It kind of sucked having to come all the way down here from the surface just to deliver a mouse or to take a peek at a server. Then again, we do run into angry people more often now that our offices are down here..."

Jacqueline frowned. "So do people really get angry at you guys for doing your job? I always hear these horror stories and wonder if it's that bad all the time..."

"Oh, we have great people like you," said Mitch as he lifted the old monitor away from the desk and out of the way. "But I've had tons of people blame me when they couldn't figure out that they used up their entire email quota and couldn't send emails. I mean, the message it pops up says to delete your emails. How hard is it to read? Still, though, working tech support has its perks," he added with a small laugh.

"Oh? Like what? Free keyboards?"

"Well, sometimes. But what I like about it," Mitch said as he crawled under the desk to connect the new monitor, "is that we get to learn a little bit about what's going in in the whole company. Some of the engineers love to talk about their work while I fix their things. Except the physics department guys. I can never get them to let anything slip."

"Never?" asked Jacqueline in awe. Mitch laughed again.

"They're good, those physics guys. They even have their own servers — makes me wonder if they have their own IT department to maintain them," said Mitch as he crawled out from under the desk. "But I know one of our guys goes to deliver fresh monitors and keyboards and stuff when they need it..."

"I've always wondered about them," Jacqueline said, folding her arms over her chest and furrowing her brow. "I mean, what do they do there? I walked by one of the entrances to their division and heard the loudest grinding sound. Nobody could explain what the sound was."

"I heard they have some huge machines back there to move entire blocks around," he said as he turned on the new monitor. There was a bit of a flicker, but it came right up with her login screen — sans rainbow stripe. "Well, looks like you're good as new. Try not to break this one."

Jacqueline bristled indignantly. "I didn't do anything to it! I treat all my computer things very well, thank you very much."

As Mitch loaded the old monitor onto his cart, he gave her a wink. "I'm sure you do," he laughed. Before he wheeled his cart away — almost as though it was an afterthought, he paused and added, "How's about I let you know if I can ever get clearance to get into the physics department? You seem like you'd appreciate it. All my coworkers think I should just let it go." She couldn't help but roll her eyes at him.

"Oh yeah, good luck with that."

The veil of secrecy around the physics department was never too far from Jacqueline's thoughts. She'd been there almost a year now and was still pondering the mysteries behind the physics department doors — well beyond the time that mostnew employees' curiosity over the department expired. It was easy to understand why they stopped wondering about the deafening noises and the furtive scientists and mysterious expenses; with no way to satisfy that curiosity, only the most curious — or indeed, borderline fanatical — people still fervently harbored their theories about the department hidden behind the doors.

Jacqueline didn't like to think of herself as a fanatic. She'd admit that maybeshe was nosy at times.

And this was one of those times.

"You look nervous," said Mitch, smirking at her and giving her a sidelong glance. "Nobody will catch us, don't worry."

Her nerves may have been due to the fact that she was currently standing in a lift with Mitch, the help desk technician, with the intention of sneaking into the physics department. They'd actually struck up quite a friendship over the few months since he'd replaced her faulty monitor—more and more often Jacqueline had found herself taking a late lunch after dealing with her project affairs and had ended up finding Mitch on his lunch break in the cafeteria with some regularity. He was a pleasure to talk to and often had help desk horror stories that she found bizarrely fascinating—and to her surprise, he could follow along relatively well if she talked about tissue engineering and the lab mishaps that tended to plague her project.

But perhaps what may have really cemented in their friendship with each other was not the mutual enjoyment of each other's company, but rather the mutual obsession the both of them had for finding out what in the world the physics department was doing.

And tonight they had every intention of finding out.

It wasn't unheard of for someone to sneak into the physics department, of course: there had been a handful people that had gotten in and had subsequently gotten caught and were subjected to extreme verbal abuse by Gladys (apparently in public view as well). It was curious, however, how some of the people who'd snuck in had been almost immediately transferred to the physics department; was it some sort of maneuver to secure the internal secrets within the department by absorbing anybody who got too close? The few people that were simply reprimanded hadn't actually seen anything of interest, so it made Mitch and Jacqueline wonder what those taken into the department had encountered…

She wasn't sure that this was the best career move for the lead engineer of R&D for Aperture's commercial tissue biotech, but her curiosity was becoming unbearable. Mitch had said they'd only take a quick peek and that nobody should be around at this time of night.

A quick peek wouldn't hurt, right?

"Look, are you sure nobody's going to find out?" Jacqueline asked nervously. Mitch let out a small chuckle.

"I told you, my buddy in security's going to be conveniently distracted right about now. Besides, it's right around when Perkins leaves, and everyone knows he's a bit of an airhead. We can blame him."

When the lift opened to reveal one of the doors to the physics department, Jacqueline briefly entertained the idea of simply taking the lift back to her floor. In fact, she would have if Mitch hadn't gotten a hold of her sleeve and pulled her out of the lift. "Come on, come on, life's boring if you don't take a few risks," he said cheerfully (a little too cheerfully for Jacqueline's liking).

"You still never said how you were going to get us in," said Jacqueline when Mitch pulled her right up to the doors. He gave her a wink and held up his employee badge.

"It helps to have a friend in the badge group, because we can get in…like so."

He pressed his badge to the card reader on the wall and, to Jacqueline's astonishment, there was a tiny beep and the unnaturally loud sound of the door unlocking. "Here we go," said Mitch, who had an almost endearingly giddy grin across his face.

And they opened the doors—

—to a perfectly ordinary hallway.

It was almost anti-climactic, really, despite the fact that Jacqueline hadn't really known what to expect. Not this sort of normalcy, perhaps. The hallway was a little older-looking, perhaps, and a little more worn, but still obviously a part of Aperture Science. Perhaps the only thing that really merited a second glance was the curious rail fixed onto the ceiling. Still, it was all astonishingly unremarkable and Jacqueline felt a little disappointed that she'd been so nervous over this.

"Hey hey hey, where you going?" said Mitch when she turned to leave. "Come on, let's go in further."

"I don't know if that's such a—hey!" She found him pulling her down the hallway by the sleeve before she could even put a hand on the door.

"We're already in—might as well take a look," he said, grinning when she wrenched her sleeve out of his fingers.

And despite her reservations, deep down inside Jacqueline really did want to take a closer look.

He was right—they were already in—and she might never have this opportunity again.

They didn't have much to look at, however—most of the doors they came across were firmly locked and would not respond to Mitch's badge. Even Mitch was ready to turn back (with every intention of pestering his badge-group friend about the badge shortcomings) until one door they tried fortuitously opened when they tried it. The label on the door was "Chamber 27 Observation Deck," so Jacqueline assumed it was some kind of testing environment for whatever physics experimentation they might be doing here.

What she didn't expect was to find the observation deck overlooking an enormous room that had a frankly baffling lack of physics experimentation going on within it. There was a baffling lack of anything in it, really. There was a storage cube sitting on a ledge in the distance and some kind of button on the floor, but otherwise the only interesting thing about the room was the lack of things in the room. Jacqueline was actually more interested in the coffee mugs and various clipboards scattered around the observation deck (which had notes regarding whatever an ASHPD was).

One more for the This-Is-More-Boring-Than-Expected tally.

Mitch, however, looked utterly fascinated. "What's this room all about?" he murmured to himself, pressing his face to the observation deck's glass in an attempt to see what was below.

Jacqueline jumped in surprise when an orange blur passed by the glass of the observation deck, and she found herself being pulled to the floor and out of view. "Get down, get down, someone's there," Mitch hissed, pulling on her wrist. The tension was almost palpable as they crouched below the window—neither dared to even breathe as they waited for any sounds to indicate a person's presence. Was that even a person that had fallen past the window?

"I really like these…How did that look, Wheatley?"

"Absolutely brilliant! She really outdid herself with these—you don't even need the boots anymore!"

The two intruders to the observation deck exchanged wide-eyed glances at the voices drifting out of a speaker on the wall. These voices…

…What were Chell Johnson and her assistant doing in that chamber?

"GLaDOS, I really like these new legs. I really appreciate it."

"I didn't make them for your benefit. It was just convenient to make them match your leg fittings. Now you can test more—I expect they'll make you…oh, fifteen percent more efficient at solving tests. I'm being very generous today, by the way. Any other day and it might have been thirteen percent. Maybe even ten."

"Leg fittings?" Jacqueline mouthed at Mitch, who shrugged but gave her a roguish grin nonetheless.

To her horror, she found him turning and slowly bringing himself up to peer into the chamber from the corner of the window. He watched silently and, after a few long moments, gestured for Jacqueline to do the same. We're going to get caught we're going to get caught we're going to get caught was the only thing that was going through Jacqueline's head as she did so, but all thoughts were forestalled when she caught sight of what Mitch was looking at.

It was their CEO down there all right, but if Jacqueline hadn't first heard the voices through the speaker beforehand, she would have never thought that the woman standing down in that chamber was Aperture Science's own Chell Johnson. She was wearing some sort of black suit that looked very much like some sort of wetsuit, which in itself wasn't too surprising if not for the bright orange pants she was wearing over it. The pants were rolled up to the knees, and if Jacqueline didn't know any better, she might have thought that Chell was barefoot…

…if not for the fact that her feet looked distinctly metallic.

Jacqueline had seen some of Aperture's remarkable robotic prosthetics, but even from her vantage point high on the observation deck, she could tell that whatever Chell's feet were made of were on a whole other level.

"Can you activate a faith plate for me? I want to try another jump," came Chell's voice. She wasn't addressing anyone in particular, and in fact was simply staring up vaguely toward the ceiling.

"Er, might not be the best idea to push the new legs so hard," said Wheatley from somewhere out of view. "Remember what happened last time…?"

"Don't listen to the moron. There is a zero-percent chance of that happening with these new legs," came Gladys's irritated voice. So she was watching from somewhere…Was there some kind of control room for this chamber? "Here, I even calibrated it to fling you extra high. Because I actually have faith in you. Unlike a certain someone."

If Jacqueline didn't have a better handle on herself, she might have yelped in surprise.

Chell had leapt onto the thing on the floor (in itself surprising for a woman her age, and even more so for the absolute vigor with which she did so), and was flung high, high into to the air, did some sort of somersault-twist at the peak, and began her descent toward the floor far below. Jacqueline could hardly believe that she'd gone so high and could barely look as the CEO went speeding down toward the floor. There was going to be a horrific splat—her legs were going to be crushed and broken falling from that height—it'll be absolutely horrible—

She landed on her feet in a crouching squat.

There was a distinct THUD, but she had landed perfectly on her feet.

And proceeded to stand up and stretch her back.

Jacqueline put a hand to her mouth. This was—this was inhuman. How in the world did a fifty-something woman do something like that?

How in the world could a human being do something like that?

"Oh, I'm getting old," said Chell, groaning as she straightened up. "I really felt that one in my spine."

"I've already changed your legs out with those. You could go for a full set and change out the rest of your body. Think of the endless science we could do if you didn't need to eat and sleep."

"Nice try, but the answer is still no," Chell laughed as she walked off out of view. "Come on, Wheatley, let's finish up the test so we can go home…"

The curious scientist in Jacqueline wanted to stay at the window and watch whatever test the CEO herself was taking part in, but the rational part of her brain told her that now would probably be a very good time to get the fuck out. Especially if Gladys was somewhere nearby. She turned to Mitch, who was peering at the clipboards that she hadn't been able to make any sense of, and tapped his shoulder. "We should go," she whispered, and was pleased to find that he was nodding in agreement.

She was significantly less pleased, however, to find that he was stuffing a sheet from a clipboard into his pocket.

"What are you doing?" she said in horror.

"Come on, come on, let's go," he said, nudging her toward the door. "Don't worry about it. Just wanted a little souvenir."

"Put that back! You want to get fired?"

"Nobody's going to get fired," was all Mitch kept saying while he ushered her down the stairwell. It did little, however, to ease Jacqueline's worry. For all they knew, that paper could involve something top secret that they weren't authorized to know about. Hell, they weren't even authorized to be in this part of the facility—of course they wouldn't be authorized to know about whatever that ASHPD was.

When they reached the door leading back into the hallway, Mitch peered almost dramatically through the little window for a few moments. Honestly, he looked as though he was having tons of fun while Jacqueline was there fretting away behind him. "Looks like we're all clear," he said, finally pulling his face away from the window and pulling the door open.

"Well hey now, Pinky, guess you weren't lying about these intruders of yours this time."

"The Fact Sphere is never wrong. It is reality that gets it wrong over ninety percent of the time."

Jacqueline could hardly contain the shriek of surprise that threatened to escape her throat when she found two little metal—spheres?—peering down at her from the rail mounted on the hallway's ceiling. Even Mitch had been so shocked that he'd backed away right into the corner of the doorway hard enough to briefly seize up in pain. Jacqueline herself didn't quite know what to do—what do you do when you find talking metal balls talking to each other?

The one with the green—eye?—fixed its gaze on her and flapped its eye shutters in what Jacqueline surmised to be (to her slightly horror) some sort of wink.

"Weeeeell now, a pretty lady such as yourself shouldn't be slinkin' around here this time of night. Tell me, gorgeous, what brings you two to our neck of the woods?"

A/N: Ahaha, this is nowhere near the quality of Resolution and is probably full of typos and junk, but I hope you guys like it anyway. Been a little stressed out lately, so I finished up the chapter.