"This is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and...on...oh, who am I kidding?"
Operation: Annoy GLaDOS Into Submission was not going well.
Doug plopped down on the metal catwalk with a heavy sigh. He pulled his Companion Cube closer, drooping his arms clumsily around it and giving a low groan. For the past five hours, he'd been singing every annoying song he could remember as loud and as off-key as possible in an effort to get the AI riled up.
Truthfully, he wasn't sure how invoking GLaDOS's ire would help his chances of escaping, but he was running out of ideas. A falling injury had left him with temporarily decreased mobility, so scampering around in his usual manner was out of the question. He had managed, however, to hack into her speaker systems, leaving her unable to shut down the incoming speakers to her inner chamber. That meant she was forced to hear whatever noises went on in the center, which had given Doug his most recent brilliant idea.
"I don't think it worked," Cube said. "Do you think she's reprogrammed her speakers yet?"
"No. Not yet. I put a trap code on it. It'll take her days to reconfigure, and days still to delete all the duplicating files once she sets off the trap. Too bad I can't do that to some of her other systems."
He blinked slowly, sleepily. His throat ached from singing, and he was mentally exhausted from hearing the sound of his own gravelly voice. Burying his face in to his arms, he gave another disappointed groan.
"I'm never going to get out of here."
There was a long pause, and then Cube spoke up again. "If you do get out of here, will you take me with you?"
"Of course," he replied automatically. "I don't think you'd like it here by yourself."
"You're right about that. I'm sorry your idea didn't work."
Doug sighed, sitting up and leaning back against the wall. "It's not your fault. We'll just try something else."
Silence crept through the room. From far away came the sounds of pistons and steam, making their own rhythm as they worked. Acid sloshed and sputtered from somewhere underneath him. The haze of the silence, the white noise, spread like smoke, eventually covering up the pistons and the acid, making its own sound in a void.
Doug looked around. The backroom had once been a pristine white, whittled away by acid fumes, rust, and time to resemble a red-splattered murder scene from some slasher movie. Rusted, half-collapsed catwalks danced above him, threatening to fall at a single touch. The one he sat on was quite sturdy, having been built into the poured concrete wall instead of hung haphazardly.
He sighed, the only noise. Though Cube was beside him, there was still an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. There always was, with him. The presence of others always helped to define the boundaries of the real versus imaginary, and now that Cube was the only one around, he knew his perceptions of reality had already slipped. True, GLaDOS was a presence but a surprisingly low-key one. She rarely spoke to him, unless he was trying to get somewhere she didn't want him to be or she merely felt like taunting someone. Most of their time was spent apart and in silence, and Doug generally wouldn't have it any other way.
However, he wished GLaDOS would've reacted in some way to his caterwauling. Though he was purposely trying to aggravate her, it would feel a lot better to have some reaction than none at all. If she was ignoring him, that was fine. But at the very least, she could say something about it.
All in all, even though one never desires their enemy's voice, her silence made him feel lonelier.
Another song popped into his mind, and though he'd been singing nearly all day, something within him desired to vocalize like a caged bird.
"Hello Darkness, my old friend..."
His voice was somehow smoother when he sang in key, less gravelly. Perhaps he'd been resting longer than he'd thought.
"I've come to talk to you again.
Because a vision softly creeping..."
Doug stopped, perking up as a slight, almost indiscernible echo came behind his words. He glanced down at Cube, who sent out the feeling of a confused shrug. Concerned, a little troubled, Doug started again.
"Left its seeds while I was sleeping..."
Yes, there was no doubt now. Someone or something was singing with him. He knit his thick brows, looking around for the source of the voice. Part of him hoped it was her, his savior, the one on which his escape most likely depended. But if she was awake, GLaDOS was most likely driving her through the tests. He continued the song, louder in an effort to uncover the voice's identity.
"And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence."
The voice accompanied in perfect harmony, matching his pitch even when he purposely changed it. Carefully, he stood, propping himself against the wall, eyes wide with surprise and more than a little fear.
"Hello?" he called out.
Sterile, white silence was his only answer. Hesitantly he began to sing again.
"In restless dreams, I walked alone..."
The voice came through on the last syllable, holding as long as he did until the lyrics switched, and it chased his voice into the next line.
"...Narrow streets of cobblestone..."
He felt it. The dull purr of synching wavelengths as they hit his ear and streamed into his head. The tiny vibrations drummed against his cochlea, matching perfectly with the pulses from his vocal chords and creating a heavenly mixture of the two in his mind. Closing his eyes, he pictured the waves of sound, measuring their rise and fall, numbers flowing like water around them, all perfectly balanced and precise.
He felt strangely weak in the knees as the duet continued, and he sank back down to the ground. Eyes still closed, his focus remained solely on the unity of their music, feeling the wavelengths flow through him. It felt strangely connecting, as if reminding him that he wasn't alone after all, reminding him that someone who knew was also present.
He wondered if...
He switched to the low tones, allowing the stranger to have the higher pitch. The second voice came through, strong and confident and familiar.
And he knew.
A part of him felt fear, because that's what he always felt when she was involved. A part of him felt curious, intrigued as to why she would willingly participate in such an act with him. A third part of him – to his surprise, no small part – felt oddly comforted by their shared harmony.
He opened his eyes, staring into the half-darkened room and wondering if this was real or not. Her voice seemed to come from nowhere and yet everywhere, which was almost never the case and generally an indicator of his hallucinations. If it wasn't really her, though, why would he hallucinate her voice? Did he yearn for companionship so much that he would reach out to the most familiar thing?
He stopped, just for a second, just to see if he could catch her voice and test its legitimacy. Now solo, her voice came through, tinged with a passion that suggested she believed in the song's meaning.
And the sign said "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls...
She didn't seem to notice that he'd stopped, and he fell back into the song just before the final lines. Their duet ended, and a hollow silence filled the room. The electronic echoes of her voice were still bouncing off the rust-stained walls; he could feel their minute vibrations. The silence was no longer sterile, no longer white, but now it contained a heavy, dark pensiveness. Two enemies had touched and now were drawing back to inspect their sin.
For the longest time, neither said anything.
Finally, her voice sounded again. It was not taunting and condescending as usual but quiet, almost shy or embarrassed, losing its usual clinical stoicism and harboring a bit of some lucid emotion. "Don't think this changes how I feel about you, lab rat. I just...like that song. That's all."
Doug draped an arm over Cube and allowed a smile to curl across his face. There was no ending click to her announcement, meaning her communication channel was still open. Though hours passed and she said nothing, she didn't shut off her intercom.
Somehow, that made him feel a little less alone.