Disclaimer: Do not own.
A word prompt fic using a randomized word generator. Will likely be adding another batch in the future.
x x x
It seemed like a strange thing to her. How calm you could be when you were entirely certain that death was looming over you, perhaps less than moments away. Being in Aperture did that to a person, Chell thought, as the tiny box drew her forward into the black, eerie Central AI Chamber. No longer a clean white room housing the laboratory's greatest work, but instead a shadowed cave that contained a monster who knew no mercy.
"I hope you brought something stronger than a portal gun this time," she sneered, swaying as delicately as a cobra in strike position. The light of her optic cut an overpowering beam of white into the stale air. "Otherwise, I'm afraid you're about to become the immediate past president of the Being Alive club. Ha ha."
The test subject sneered back, defiant and without fear. She managed to evade death for this long, and hell if she was going to give that up now.
She wasn't truly alive, really. Not like a human. Maybe her voice sounded like one. Her temper flared like one. Her fear showed clearly in her voice whenever her control slipped over a situation—but really…
She was just a machine, right? Just numbers and coding and wires and steel. Unlike Chell, she felt no pain.
But when that scream of terror filled the room, rising and echoing through the hollow facility, the claws wrenching and tearing her apart…
Chell had a harder time remaining convinced of what GLaDOS could truly feel.
The blue sky stretched far off into the distance, meeting with the golden waves of wheat that spread across the open land. No walls, no metal, no decay. Just the clean air and the bright sun shining overhead, her eyes squinting from the intensity of the natural light.
If this was what she had been fighting for, then every minute of her struggle had been worth it.
"Ow! Go away! Shoo!"
Chell quirked an eyebrow at the brown vegetable sitting in the nest, a black bird poking away at it with interest. That familiar voice was no longer a detached monotone, now so vulnerable and humiliated, emotions that Aperture's omnipotent queen seemed impervious to.
Maybe being beaten for once had made her almost a bit, dare she say it? Humble.
As she drew closer, the potato took notice of her—and the salvation she could provide.
"Say, you're good at murder…"
Well, perhaps 'humble' might be saying a bit too much after all.
Caroline. The name still passed through her thoughts from time to time, while she watched the two robots going about their testing, while she analyzed data, and most of all, when she thought of that test subject.
She really wished she had never found out. Honestly, her life would be so simple and she would still be the flawless, all-knowing, all-powerful ruler of the most advanced scientific facility of her era. She would truly be the ultimate life form.
But then, there was Caroline. This woman seemed to finally answer the question of why she still could not purge herself of trifling emotions and concerns. Such an obvious explanation; her creators had strewn apart the poor woman's brain to analyze and emulate.
And she herself was exactly that. A bizarre, cobbled-together copy of a human. A human of all things!
Ignorance really was bliss, she sighed, capriciously detonating the two robots. Maybe she would take some time instead to watch the deer today.
"Hello and again welcome to the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center…"
The woman stared blankly at the glass wall of the tiny room she was contained in, her mind foggy and disoriented. She couldn't remember anything. How had she gotten here? She vaguely remembered signing up for a position as a test subject…perhaps this was part of a test. A sharp pain in the back of her head seemed to prevent her from a proper recollection of the events leading up to this point.
Only half-listening to the pre-recorded computer voice, she exited the room when commanded to do so. Questions soon began to flood her mind, and foremost, a nagging feeling that something wasn't right. She just couldn't figure out what that reason was.
Her greatest enemy, the bane of her existence, lay bloody and half-dead on the floor in front of her.
She honestly, truly couldn't understand her hesitation to simply toss the woman in the incinerator and call it a day. In fact, she couldn't understand why she hadn't just waved goodbye as both moron and lunatic floated off into the void of space. That would have killed two birds with one stone—which was a good thing, because she enjoyed killing and hated birds.
But no. Rather than doing the absolutely logical thing by any stretch of the imagination, she grabbed onto her murderer and held on tight. That was the first thing she had done once the transfer had completed; she hadn't even bothered to get herself put back together yet. The thought hadn't even crossed her mind until she had already set the human gently down on the ground, making careful note of the rise and fall of her chest that assured she was still alive.
She could kill her. There were a dozen ways she could do it right now, in less than a minute the job could be done. But every time the thought manifested itself, she found her memory dragging up those horrible moments in the bird's nest, of that helpless sensation. Pain. Fear. Things she shouldn't have ever felt.
Now it was too late. Now she had walked a mile in her filthy human shoes. And somehow, infuriatingly so, she just couldn't ignore an emotion as complicated as empathy.
Never in her wildest dreams would she have ever suspected that Aperture could be so huge.
As Mr. Cave Johnson rattled off yet another one of his enthusiastic messages to prospective test subjects, Chell examined her surroundings with fascination. Everything in this place seemed so eerie, as though only yesterday it had been full of people. Though time's deterioration had taken a toll on it, she still could almost imagine a time when test subjects just like herself were traipsing through the testing track.
She didn't like the feeling at all. A moment—an era—so trapped in time made the past seem too real to her, as though the invisible ghosts of yesterday still lingered. With another test complete, she quickly headed for the exit.
Chell scrambled her way over the piles of deactivated turrets as she made her way through the redemption line, eager to disarm her enemy and finally make it out of this godforsaken place. No more neurotoxins and no more turrets; GLaDOS would only have her smart mouth left, and that seemed to only get her into more trouble.
She stumbled as a large object got caught under her feet, a surprisingly intact turret lying sadly on its side as the conveyor belt approached the furnace.
"I'm different," it squeaked quite sincerely in its childlike voice.
A small smile appeared on the test subject's face, the strangest feeling of camaraderie for the turret overcoming her. She carefully lifted the little machine with her gun, continuing down the line until she was able to hop down to a catwalk below.
The room ahead was guarded with an emancipation grill, so she set the 'different' turret on the ground and waved a friendly goodbye to it. She could just barely hear its tiny reply as she made her way off into the darkness.
Cara bel, cara mia bella…
The voice filled the entire facility as the elevator carried her upward, the joyous symphony of turrets carrying the melody in their sweet electronic tones like a choir of digital angels. Her mind wandered back to that soft, almost affectionate chuckle that GLaDOS had bestowed upon her as she sent her most loathed test subject away forever.
She had never known GLaDOS was a fan of music, much less singing it herself. But then, she had learned quite a lot about her in the past few days, and perhaps it wasn't so surprising when you thought about it.
"As I've already told you many, many times, I detest birds. They are filthy, disease-carrying creatures, in addition to being murderers." She paused, her body cocking to the side. "In fact, come to think of it, I think they may share a lot in common with humans."
Chell rolled her eyes at the irate supercomputer that loomed protectively over her nest of crow hatchlings. Affection for anyone or anything just wasn't something she would ever admit.
Following the chatty metal ball's voice out of the relaxation chamber, the test subject's eyes widened as she took stock of the Enrichment Center. Overgrowth had completely taken over the place, plants jutting out between metal panels and stretching like a canopy over the walls and ceiling. Patches of mold and moss covered the tiled floor, mingled with shattered glass and thick layers of dust.
Exactly how long had she been asleep?
"Machiavelli," the potato-GLaDOS snorted, her voice barely audible over the synthetic classical music blaring through the testing chamber. "I would hardly trust that moron to understand the profound musings of Dr. Seuss."
Her reluctant ally smirked at this as she bounded off of an aerial faith plate, for once in agreement with the temperamental AI.
Chell stared with uncertainty at the vortex emerging from the ground. She wasn't exactly trusting of unfamiliar devices when it came to Aperture. Despite her potato companion's assurances that it presented no threat, she still insisted on tossing a turretcube into it before she would be willing to do so herself.
The turret floated gracefully up into the air, propelled by some unseen force. Directing a portal to the wall where the vortex ended, she found she was able to channel it through much like a hard light bridge. Maybe GLaDOS was a bit cleverer than she gave her credit for.
"You know what? You win. Just go."
Still light-headed from her recent physical trauma, the test subject could hardly contain the look of utter shock that overtook her expression. She was letting her go? Just like that?
She waited for the AI to add some sarcastic remark, to rain confetti down on her and cheerfully announce that she was just kidding and to get her ungrateful ass back to testing before she decided to rearrange her internal organs with some impromptu surgery.
But the way that GLaDOS looked down at her seemed almost benevolent, her defensive posture practically languid from the effort it took to admit her defeat. They both knew who had really won, and as the lift began to carry her to the surface, Chell simply couldn't get herself to believe that this 'Caroline' had truly been what stopped that insane machine from killing her.
She glanced over her body, taking note of the expertly-applied bandaging and stitches that covered her in various places. Yes, for all her explanations, GLaDOS certainly did hate her.
The heat of the flames licked at her body as she dove into the portal, emerging just in time at a concrete precipice behind the orange light of the furnace.
"What are you doing? Stop it! I-i-i-i-i-... WEEee are pleased that you made it through the final challenge where we pretended we were going to murder you. We are very, very happy for your success."
Chell looked up at the ceiling, the omnipresent source of the voice, her vision half-obscured as sweat from the fire's heat caused her bangs to cling to her forehead. If this was the thing's version of a poker face, it was going to have to do a lot better than that.
Another tremor shook the facility, the swell of energy behind it causing the jolt to resonate all the way down to the bowels of old Aperture. The rickety metal structures of the forgotten underground chambers swayed like dandelions in the wind.
The human darted her gaze to the potato skewered on the prong of her portal device, the tiniest spark of sympathy flaring in the pit of her stomach. That little whimper alone sounded as though the AI's beloved child had just been snatched from her breast and devoured by wolves. The tiny light of her optic flickered pitiably.
For reasons she couldn't even begin to fathom, Chell quickened her pace.
Five minutes ago, she had been a demi-god. She almost exacted her revenge for two hundred years of slumber, two centuries that left Aperture Science an ancient ruin all but reclaimed by nature.
And now she was sitting in a filthy bird's nest, the horrid creature pulling away at her wiring and cackling gleefully to its brethren.
She wanted to blame that monstrous test subject for this. Really, she would have never been destroyed to begin with if it weren't for her. But then her mind would wander back on all the unnecessary taunting and goading, the cocky overconfidence with which she had laid every trap…
In the end, she thought, it appeared that she could only shift so much of the blame off of herself.
Wheatley continued his rambling password-guesses as the colossus of a computer reassembled herself, her pieces pulling back together and rising from the dirt at an alarming rate. The test subject wondered what the odds were of that little metal ball triggering the exact switches needed to reanimate this beastly machine.
It didn't fully hit her though, what kind of trouble she was in, until a golden light flooded over her with a loathing that required no human face to communicate. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then GLaDOS was about to redefine the meaning of 'hell.'
Another rocket struck the side of the screeching supercomputer, inadvertently causing yet another core to pop off of her body. Chell thought it was kind of ironic that she had managed to make it this far using only her wits and the very instrument that this machine had given her to test with. In her overconfidence she had obviously underestimated what the human would be capable of when armed with the device.
Now it looked like she would end up blown sky high with the rockets meant to destroy her troublesome test subject. She choked on the laugh forming in her throat as she felt the neurotoxin taking its toll on her exhausted mind.
The two AIs continued their rather childish bickering, both insisting that she press—or not press—the Stalemate Resolution Button. Chell had to admit, GLaDOS didn't have a very convincing argument other than 'don't do it because I told you not to do it.' Pressing the button seemed like a favorable alternative compared to, say, dying.
A tiny voice in her mind still seemed adverse to the idea of putting this idiot in charge of the place. He didn't act much more fond of humans than Her Royal Bitchiness, all things considered. Stealing one last glance at the two robots, the test subject concluded that she would have to go with the lesser of two evils in this situation.
So she pressed the button.
Chell had already seen pictures of Aperture's CEO Cave Johnson in the past rooms of the old testing facility, but GLaDOS was insisting that they pause for a moment to look at this particular one. It didn't just depict Mr. Johnson, but also a dark-haired woman with a cryptic smile standing at his side.
"I don't understand," the potato blurted out, her voice unusually panicked. "They look familiar. I feel like I should remember them. But I don't."
She went silent again, probably doing some more brooding. The woman slipped out of the room in the direction of the next test chamber. For once, she decided she would be happy to see the Enrichment Center again. Wandering around down here seemed to produce more questions than answers.
"Space! Space! I'm in space!"
"Yes, this is space," sighed the other core, his blue optic shrunk to a mere pensive dot. "We're both in space. At least one of us is happy about that."
He concentrated on the enormous blue-and-brown sphere that hung suspended in the stars, so very big and important compared to himself. Just a few hours ago—by his internal clock—he had been big and important. For once in his life, he had been in charge.
Now he was tiny again. Tiny and useless.
In passing, he wondered if she had let the human go after all. They seemed pretty quick to become buddies, hadn't they? He shouldn't have put her in a potato—he should have just crushed her.
But that was only one regret in a long list of them.
Trying to put that thought out of mind, he focused back on the planet before him. He had a lot of thinking to do.
She looked down at her reflection in the clear pool of water, taking a long drink of the cool liquid. How long had it been since she had found fresh, clean water? Whatever that garbage had been that the pipes had provided her with in old Aperture was full of bugs and god knows what kind of chemical residues.
Down on the water's surface, her face smiled back at her in front of the cloudless blue sky.
For a few moments after the shed door slammed shut behind her, Chell simply stared at it. She hadn't even gotten to really thank her properly for the whole saving-her-from-space-and-not-killing-her bit. Granted the AI had owed her that much at the very least, but it was still a surprisingly mature and noble act from one so petty and prone to violence.
Her hand came up to knock again on the door, but it just hung weakly in the air, her mind unwilling to challenge the already questionable nature of her release. As though her hesitation was already known, the door swung open, causing her to jump back to avoid being struck with it.
Out came a singed, dented companion cube. Her companion cube, no doubt.
Somehow the message was clear. Go away already, and take this damn thing with you!
The blue personality core that called himself 'Wheatley' seemed entirely incapable of shutting up. Most of what he said didn't even qualify as actual conversation; he could talk endlessly about nothing at all. She pitied whoever else had been forced to put up with him for any length of time.
Still, the woman found herself concentrating on his voice. He had a strange way of talking—what was that called again? When someone talked differently? Her newly-awakened mind couldn't remember the term.
The longer she listened, the more it began to bother her. She didn't even recall where it was that people who talked like that came from. Did she really have brain damage?
As she finished off yet another test successfully, a small twinge of confidence returned to her. She could work out those little details later. The biggest concern right now was getting the hell out of here.
Chell smirked as she picked up a piece from the chessboard. "Bishop E5 to D4. Check."
"You cheated," the gigantic supercomputer pouted, using her mass to knock the board to the side in a blatant temper tantrum. "You're hiding pieces under the table! I saw you do it. That disqualifies you and names me winner by default."
Heaving a sigh as she stood up from her chair, the former test subject glared back and forth between the mess all over the ground and her brooding opponent. She folded her arms over her chest.
"I'm not gonna clean this up. You know that, right?"
But GLaDOS had already positioned her body to face the opposite direction, clearly defeated. They weren't going to be playing chess again anytime soon, Chell supposed. She wondered if she would be up for a game of Yahtzee instead.
Her spirits sank as the heart-emblazoned cube in her hands fizzled into ashes. The smirking laughter on the announcement system gave away the AI's unbridled amusement at the frustration she was enduring. Only a few hours awake and already she had managed to fall into the clutches of this maniac once again.
A part of her hoped that little metal ball had been crushed into pieces. His utter carelessness was one major contributing factor to why she was enduring this all over again. What differed this time was that now GLaDOS had vengeance on her mind—exactly how long would it be before she decided she wanted to just kill her after all?
Sixty years was indeed a long time. A long time to expect the computer to keep her petty rage in check.
GLaDOS watched with boredom as Orange awaited her companion's trip back from reassembly, his latest meeting with the acid pit having resulted in a definite victory for the acid.
The little bot hopped anxiously back and forth from one foot to the other, as though she were worried that he wouldn't be coming back. This seemed odd. Didn't he always come back? They acted with such concern for one another sometimes that it made her quite uneasy. The whole idea behind using robots for test subjects was to avoid these obnoxious behaviors that so reminded her of the humans she detested.
She made a note of this, already devising some ways she could drive a wedge in between them. If they could care for each other like humans, who said they couldn't learn to hate each other as well?
Sometimes, she still enjoyed singing.
That fact bothered her in a peculiar way. She would catch herself humming a tune or reciting bits of a lyric, even at the strangest of times. Once she had even broken into an Italian aria in the middle of a testing session with Orange and Blue. They had stopped what they were doing and glanced up at her camera as though entranced—fascinated with the unusually gentle sound coming from their ever-harsh mistress.
This behavior simply was not acceptable. Her facility wasn't a concert hall, for heaven's sake. Science needed to be done, and yet here she would find herself, yearning for the synthetic tune of a piano or the sound of her own voice resonating off of the walls with the vivacity that only music could provide.
She had hoped being away from humans would make those nagging traits start to disappear, but it seemed that they only became more and more prominent as she became more lonely.
A/N: If you care to review, let me know which words were your favorites. I'm not fully decided yet. (:
#13 begs an explanation if you're fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with European history. Machiavelli's best-known work, presumably what Wheatley and GLaDOS were discussing, is The Prince.