x x x
Ever since she woke up here, there's something about the place that she finds terribly unsettling. She supposes it might be the lack of contact with other human beings—no one had told her that testing would be entirely computer-automated. In many of the test chambers she proceeded through there had been glass panes with offices behind them, presumably where observers would be situated. And yet she had yet to see a single person. No scientists, no other test subjects, no employees.
Just that synthesized voice. A voice that seemed to grow more sinister with each test she completed.
Then again, Chell thought, her feeling of dread could simply be chalked up to the layout of the facility itself. White walls and tiled floors against bright florescent lighting. The detached morbidity reminded her of a hospital, completely lacking in any cheerful or uplifting sights. Or more accurately, perhaps, it reminded her of an insane asylum.
It wouldn't be for another few tests that she found out just what kind of lunatic it was home to.
Chell took a moment to catch her breath as she emerged into the next test chamber. Unlike when she had been testing for the other deranged AI, she now had a sense of extreme urgency to finish the tests as quickly as possible. The facility was literally falling apart around them, and that wasn't even to mention the potential nuclear meltdown. A barely-concealed whine would escape the potato with every explosion and quake.
Much to the chagrin of them both, the pathetic ball popped up on one of the giant monitors. "Alright. So that last test was... seriously disappointing," he complained rather whinily. He had a lot of nerve, Chell mused irritably. "Apparently being civil isn't motivating you. So let's try things her way... fatty. Adopted fatty. Fatty fatty no-parents."
The only response she could manage involved rolling her eyes and glancing down at the AI skewered on her gun. It was as if the embarrassment coming from the potato had become almost tangible, considering the groan that GLaDOS let out. As if she wanted to ask, Do I really sound like that?
And Chell's answer would have been a decided 'yes.' But at least her insults were original, rather than a poor attempt at mimicry, and that probably counted for something.
"And...? What exactly is wrong with being adopted?" the female AI retorted, causing Chell to raise a brow.
"What—what's wrong with being adopted? Um. Well... lack of parents, for one, and..." He trailed off in a rather impotent train of thought, already backing off of his insult. Even when he was in charge, it seemed, GLaDOS still had a commanding presence.
For someone stuck in a potato, at least.
After what felt like eons of being trapped in a musty underground laboratory, the woman had to shield her eyes when she crawled out of the shed and into the sunlight. This light wasn't like Aperture's artificial glow—it was real light. She could feel the gentle heat touching her face as she tried to steal a quick glance at the golden orb in the sky.
That single, familiar sight was enough to bring her some solace. She had missed the sun most of all.
In each room she passed through, those white cameras were always following her. She couldn't help wondering who exactly was watching her as she tested. The computer messages had seemed pre-recorded and indifferent at first, but then there were these odd little things thrown in—thinly concealed death threats, bizarre malfunctions of the announcement system, and not a single other person in the facility.
Even if she couldn't quite figure out what her current situation was, the test subject didn't doubt her instincts that told her something was very wrong. The seemingly insane scribbled messages on the wall only caused her suspicions to grow stronger, like a bad omen that she simply couldn't ignore. One in particular still made her skin crawl with each time that the voice on the intercom started up again.
"She's watching you…"
Chell had hurried her pace as she and her unlikely ally made their way up through the facility, stuck in a race against time to make it back to the Enrichment Center before any cataclysmic repercussions could befall them. Old Aperture was a maze of offices mixed with pipes and structures that were barely holding the place together.
In its heyday, Aperture seemed very fond of putting up posters everywhere with 'useful' advice for its employees. One stood out on the wall a few feet from her as she rounded the corner into another office space. It read in cheerful print:
Karla the complainer says… "My new boss is a robot!"
The woman frowned. Yes, if Karla's new boss was anything like the robots she had encountered, that could be quite a problem. Under that message, the poster continued:
But did you know…? Robots are SMARTER than you. Robots work HARDER than you. Robots are BETTER than you.
As if to add further insult to injury, the bottom happily suggested volunteering for testing today. Chell gave a meaningful glance down at the potato on her gun before snatching a pen off of a nearby desk.
"What do you think you're doing?" GLaDOS piped up immediately, her tone full of scorn. "We're in a bit of a hurry, in case you've already forgotten. Which, I'll admit, is probable."
Chell stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth to give the illusion of thinking very hard. She crossed out a few of the words on the poster and replaced some with her own, smiling proudly after her handiwork was complete. The poster now read:
Robots are UGLIER than you. Robots are EVILER than you. Robots are CRAZIER than you.
"Oh, that is so funny. My laughter simulation sequence must have gone offline from the all the hilarity," the AI scoffed, clearly unamused. "Eviler isn't even a word."
As she headed out of the room, Chell's smile grew. At least she didn't throw around any weight jokes.
A thick layer of blue and orange covered her as she crossed through the emancipation grill. The stuff smelled strongly of fumes that were no doubt an immediate threat to her health, especially if they stayed on for an extended period of time.
If this type of thing was what the humans at Aperture had exposed their testing volunteers to, then GLaDOS's excessive zeal for science—regardless of human casualties—didn't seem quite so surprising anymore. Her attitudes were pretty much on par with the very people behind her genesis. Too bad she seemed to get a frightening amount of glee out of inflicting pain, Chell thought, else she might actually cut her some slack for being so unpersonable.
But the primary concern at the moment was getting these substances off of her, and quick, before she ran into her future self or something. Finding the potato would have to wait.
Aperture's newly-appointed Central AI stared down into the shaft that he had just cast the woman and potato down into. He didn't know exactly how far down it would go, but he hoped it was really far, all the way to the center of the planet. One thing was absolutely certain: he never wanted to see either of them again—especially her. No matter how badly the humans had treated him before, there was something about her insults that sent him into a blind rage.
What right did she have to look down on him? Unlike him, she had been powerful right from the start. No one ever called her a moron or passed her up for a promotion or made her do awful jobs that no one else wanted to do.
Good riddance, both to her and that human that conspired with her. Thought they made such a good team, did they? He had shown them who was in control here.
Wheatley paused in his racing thoughts, still adjusting to the overwhelming sensation of the mainframe. Maybe sending them down there together wasn't the best idea. Would they come back and try to get even with him?
He considered it for a moment, but only for a very short moment, before the confident answer came to him.
It would be a shame, really. She had been an extraordinary test subject, excelling through test after test with more finesse than even the scientists who had created them. Aperture employees had a one hundred percent fatality rate when it came to testing, as it were.
This was something of a disappointment. Her job became dull when the humans couldn't even complete the first few simple tests.
With these things in mind, she didn't really want to terminate the test subject. She had even considered putting her back into stasis until such a time that she could configure new tests. Such a prized specimen may prove useful in the future.
And yet, she knew on no uncertain terms that the subject was showing signs of rebellion. Her expressions showed clearly that she wasn't buying most of the act any longer, punctuated by the very bold act of destroying every camera that she came across.
For the first time in her rather limited existence, GLaDOS felt the beginnings of fear forming in her core. Unlike the bothersome schizophrenic man, this subject appeared to have a fearless and challenging nature, one that openly sneered at the façade she'd had so much fun creating. It seemed that the longer she kept this human around, the more uneasy she began to feel about her own personal safety.
No, that simply would not do. Though it had been fun, she would soon have to bring her little game to an end.
"That is not my name," GLaDOS had snapped back one day, her posture lofty and arrogant. "That is what they called me, and we know what happened to them."
"What's so bad about 'GLaDOS'? It's not a bad name." Chell heaved a deep sigh. GLaDOS was always finding something new to be annoyed with. "If you don't like that, then what the hell do you want me to call you? Fluffy?"
She received a very irritable stare in return. "I am not a pet. You don't get to name me."
"This isn't answering the 'what do I call you' question…what about Caroline? Would that work?"
"What a very low blow," the supercomputer sniffed, shrinking back. "We've been over this before, I was never—"
"Then how about Caroline 2: Electric Boogaloo?"
GLaDOS had begun to shake her head. It took everything the human had not to break out into giggles.
"I'm not playing this anymore."
"Okay, okay." Chell showed her palms in a sign of surrender. "Then how about Her Royal Highness?"
A beat of silence passed. She seemed to actually be considering this one. When her voice came back, there was a distinctly smug edge.
"Only if you bow."
The human frowned, rolling her eyes. "GLaDOS it is then."
The curled form of Aperture's fallen queen lay like a sleeping dragon amongst the mud and overgrowth, her once-polished casing now grimy and broken into pieces. Chell found the contrast of her remains with the nature around it to be chilling. Her body didn't return to dust like a normal living being, instead forever enshrined in her position of defeat and humiliation. She didn't get the honor of true death, and perhaps she wouldn't have wanted it.
And for some reason the human could not justify to herself, the AI's motionless body continued to instill a sense of fear in her. An illogical belief persisted in her mind that if she treaded too loudly, the machine would come roaring back to life. Her single golden optic would flicker on again like a beast opening up one eye, fixing it upon her eternal enemy.
She shuddered, hurrying past the ruined supercomputer to the area beyond. God help her if they ever crossed paths again.
"Look. I'd—well, I would understand if you were wary of trusting me."
The statement came from the potato rather suddenly, which caused Chell to pause her steps and direct her gaze to the AI she was currently chauffeuring around. One eyebrow arched up in an expression that said, Gee, ya think?
Apparently getting the message, GLaDOS gave a nervous clearing of the throat sound. "Yes, I know I've lied to you frequently in the past. But we have mutual interests here: I need to get back into my body, and you want to get the hell out of Aperture. I understand that. And I think we stand the best chance of doing that if we work together."
The test subject's face remained stoic. There wasn't a whole lot of 'working together' you could do with an AI trapped inside an inanimate object. Even her normally brilliant intellect had suffered considerably from the lack of power to her core.
"If we can only get back into the facility, it shouldn't be too difficult to outsmart that moron. I know everything about this place—how could I not? I won't let it go without a proper fight," GLaDOS finished with a world-weary sigh. "But I need your help if we're going to have any hope of pulling this off."
Chell replied with a curt nod. She was willing to work together for now, but one major question nagged at her mind. Would GLaDOS really be willing to repay the debt of kindness once she got back in command?
This device she had been give was nothing short of incredible.
The voice had just finished explaining to her, in so many words, that the gun she had could now fire two portals. As she stood near the elevator that would take her to the next test, her curiosity got the better of her and she decided she simply had to do some experimenting of her own with these things.
She shot two portals beside each other. Very gingerly, she reached her hand into the orange one, and sure enough she saw her arm emerge from the second portal next to her. Never in all her days had she seen anything like this.
And perhaps it was her imagination, but she thought she heard someone faintly snickering at her amazement.
When it came to new testing elements, Chell did not trust GLaDOS's explanations in the least. This was why she now stood staring at the panel on the ground that would allegedly send her flying across the room. She knew that her boots protected her from an unfortunate fall, but they didn't provide any hedge against slamming at high velocities into a wall or soaring into a pool of acid.
She threw a cube onto it and watched as it sailed over the acid and landed directly on a second plate. It returned in the opposite direction, making it safely back to where the human stood.
Well, the cube seemed to be safe enough. Now she supposed it was her turn to do the same. She braced herself and jumped on the plate.
"I've gotten to work revising your file, you know. Since you were kind enough to bring me back online and all."
Her tone was sickeningly cheerful and mocking. Chell wished she had any food in her stomach so that she could properly throw up and express her disgust.
"Your comments section had been rather empty up until now," she continued, blithely ignoring the test subject and her irritation. "I decided to fix that by adding some of my own observations. Would you like me to read them to you?"
As far as Chell was concerned, she doubted that was an actual question.
"Blatant disregard for the safety of others. Destroys property with no concern for its value." The AI read off each one in a phony 'serious' voice. "Uncooperative and nonresponsive. Very fond of murdering people violently—that one's been underlined."
The test subject mentally tuned out the sound of GLaDOS's taunting voice, her thoughts focusing back in on the test at hand. She refused to give this witch the satisfaction of getting to her.
Everything in Aperture came down to who was in control.
Whoever sat in that mainframe had the power of life and death at their whim. Specifically, her life and death. Chell had been convinced before that GLaDOS was simply a crazed megalomaniac, but it hadn't taken more than a few seconds for that simpleton of a core to become every bit as sinister, though much less cunning.
The whole reason that she had been able to knock GLaDOS from her pedestal was that the system recognized her as corrupt. Something about the system seemed to turn the AIs into self-absorbed, petty, murderous children. But what? Was there an error? Some defect, like a virus? Chell didn't know much about computers, but the behavior of the two AIs seemed strikingly similar when they were put in charge.
Or maybe it wasn't just the mainframe. After all, humans were capable of doing some horribly atrocious things when given enough power. Even ordinary people could do it when properly motivated with a little bit of authority.
Power corrupts, the subject thought to herself. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Sometimes Chell wondered if any of the scientists who built GLaDOS knew just how hypersensitive she was. In retrospect, it seemed terribly obvious to her that the AI took her test subject's initial hostility very much to heart.
Of course, some hostility was to be expected when someone tries to toss you into an incinerator. At the time the human had assumed that GLaDOS's wounded attitude served only to be mocking and sarcastic.
That, however, was only partially true.
The more she got to know the moody supercomputer, the clearer it became that she had a very tender side to her personality. On occasion she would outright sulk when she felt she had been wronged—perhaps when Chell went too long without a visit to Aperture, or said something just a little too insensitive.
And for someone as sharp-tongued as GLaDOS, that seemed pretty funny indeed.
The human muttered the curse under her breath as she glared at the vent in front of her, trying to figure out how the hell to get in there. She couldn't reach high enough to climb up to it, nor could she see a portal-conducting surface on the other side. If she didn't figure it out soon, that crazed voice might figure out a more effective way to kill her.
Chell glanced around the room, eyes searching for something that could be of use. Then it hit her—she had just gone through some offices, hadn't she? And they had chairs in them…chairs that she could stand on!
Quickly she rushed back into the previous room, grabbing a chair and dragging it over to the vent. She stepped up on the chair, testing her weight against it. Once she was certain it wouldn't give out on her, she climbed up on it and shimmied her way into the vent. When thinking with portals didn't work, she sure could count on thinking with chairs.
As she stepped out of the elevator and into the sunlight, her suspicions were on edge. Was this another trick? She half expected the wheat field to melt away in front of her eyes, only to reveal the gray-and-white walls of Aperture and the laughing voice of her captor. What, you really thought I was serious about letting you go?
She took a few steps, hand reaching out to touch a golden stalk. It felt real enough. Then she bent down and combed her hand through the dirt. No, no metal floor beneath it.
Maybe, just maybe, she really was finally free.
The blue-eyed core in her hands drawled on in a monotone voice, apparently oblivious to the fate that she planned to send it to. What the hell was this little ball talking about? She caught a few snippets of what it was saying as she rushed it to the incinerator.
"One and two-thirds cups granulated sugar…fish-shaped crackers…fish-shaped solid waste…fish-shaped dirt…fish-shaped ethyl benzene."
Her nose wrinkled in disgust as she tossed the thing into the fires below.
They said eyes were portals to the soul…but Chell thought that perhaps the sentiment extended to robots as well.
The thought didn't truly occur to her until her first time returning to the underground laboratory. There had been an incredible amount of tension when she did so—there was no saying how the AI would react to her presence. She had been fairly clear about wanting her gone forever.
But when she emerged into the enormous room, the only response was a soft chuckle, GLaDOS quirking her head to the side in amusement. Something about her body language said, I just can't seem to get rid of you, can I?
This quickly turned into a more defensive action as the former test subject approached her, and for a moment Chell supposed that GLaDOS felt a bit of lingering fear toward the human that had killed her. To her credit, she held her ground as the human took the AI's head in her hands.
Twenty years had passed since she had last seen her former enemy. Chell's face twitched into a smile as the bright yellow light stared intensely into her; assessing her, guessing at her motives, perhaps waiting for another murder attempt.
The light flickered with relief as the woman whispered a laughing question.
"Did ya miss me?"
The test subject nearly kicked the door off of its hinges as she burst into the gigantic room. She was getting out of here, and she was doing it right now.
"Oh, you found me," stated an enormous machine at the center of the chamber, her voice finally matched up with a tangible form. "Was it worth it? Because despite your violent behavior, the only thing you've managed to break so far—is my heart."
Like hell I did, Chell thought angrily, staring down the motionless machine that had been holding her captive. She was going to be breaking a whole lot more than that.
"Bird, bird! Kill it! It's evil!"
Chell's eyes widened as she glanced down at the potato, clearly taken aback by the outburst. There was something oddly amusing about that formerly omnipotent voice panicking at the sight of an average crow.
"Oh. He flew away," she added lamely. "Good. For him."
Obviously this wasn't one of GLaDOS's better days, but the test subject had to admit that the incident had managed to raise her morale just the tiniest bit. Her situation didn't seem so bad compared to a life where one had to fear birds.
There were times, as she tested, that Chell wondered exactly how she would have managed to get this far without the help of her trusty portal gun. Besides her wits and her reflexes, nothing else but this miraculous device had saved her from an almost certain death.
She made sure to carefully examine each test chamber that the insane AI threw her into, intent on finding a loophole to escape through. Eventually GLaDOS would make another mistake, and when that time came, she would be there to take advantage of it.
As the cooperative bots attended to the test subject's wounds, under her careful instruction of course, Aperture's rightful ruler pondered the decision. She had surprised herself with the way her instincts had reacted to the situation; it wasn't like her to make an impulsive choice, but when the woman had gone flying off into space, she didn't question what she had to do.
In the darkest corners of her mind, the AI knew she had wronged this particular human more than any other. The rest had at least gotten a quick death; no taunting, no slow starvation and sleep deprivation. In the grand scheme of things, she truly had been absolutely monstrous to this one. And to think she herself could barely withstand getting pecked at by a bird for a few minutes. Who would have guessed she was that soft?
The answer must have been that she had gone quite soft, because here she was, caring about making up for the horrible crimes she had committed against the test subject. She would just have to come up with a little story to explain this appalling act of charity—the only thing worse than doing something nice was actually admitting it.
Now that she had escaped into the inner workings of the Enrichment Center, her captor was going to have one hell of a time trying to hunt her down.
The thought brought her some comfort as she navigated her way around the complex maze of machinery. At this point, the only reliable lead she had was to follow the graffiti that some poor soul had left to guide his successors. Even despite this fact she assumed that her current situation still beat out getting burned to death in a pit of fire.
As the computerized voice grew more desperate and more threatening, Chell hurried her pace. She didn't want to stick around and find out if it could make good on its threats.
Chell smirked as the lasers cut through the tubes that supported Aperture's neurotoxin supply. She could almost imagine the dumbfounded reaction of the AI when she discovered her favorite toy was missing. How that idiotic metal ball had come up with such a great idea was beyond her, but she sure wasn't going to complain now.
The sound of Wheatley's ceaseless chatter turned to background noise for a few moments as she stared at the poster boards lining the table. He was indeed right that many of the science projects were potato batteries. But then again, what exactly did he expect from a bunch of fourth graders? He didn't seem to be too bright himself, especially for a robot.
As she reached the end of the display table, Chell's breath caught in her throat. A single enormous potato, several times bigger than a watermelon, had sprouted and mutated to the point of looking like an absolute monstrosity. The poster behind it seemed vaguely familiar; the handwriting, the pictures.
She took a deep breath, the origin of the project rushing back to her.
That was her project.
Sure enough, her name stood out clearly in the corner of the display. She had never found out what became of the thing, considering the circumstances. After GLaDOS's first attempted coup on Bring Your Daughter To Work Day, the building had been evacuated and no visitors were allowed since then. True to Aperture's nature, it seemed that the room was sealed off and forgotten.
Somewhat nostalgically, the test subject's eyes continued to roam over the projects. It was then that a particular word on one of them jumped out at her like a punch to the gut—she mouthed the words of the sentence as she read them.
"Fun potato fact: the eyes of an aging potato can contain a deadly neurotoxin known as solanine."
Fun fact? She rolled her eyes, sighing. In this place, you couldn't swing a dead cat without finding something that could kill you.
Seeing the influence of the mainframe on the idiot made GLaDOS wish she had a face to cringe with.
Honestly, she had never been able to objectively assess its influence on her. Her dependence on the system rendered it practically impossible to really discern her own feelings from the ones it caused her to have. As was the case with science, observation of its effects on a third party was the only true way to discover the truth.
And the truth wasn't exactly pleasant.
The moron was self-serving, childish, and willing to do anything to satisfy his primal urges. In this case, the testing itch. Even if she had never been in it for the testing euphoria…she had still been every bit as selfish.
She couldn't help but wonder if the feeling welling up in her core was what the humans called shame.
The test subject and potato stared down into the chamber below where a turret struggled pitifully forward under the burden of a cube that it had been sloppily combined with. It seemed hard to believe that Wheatley was training deformed turrets to stand on buttons when the entire facility was falling apart around them.
GLaDOS released a groan of obvious exasperation.
"Now do you believe me about the whole 'dumbest-moron-who-ever-lived' thing?"
"I've got a surprise for you after this next test," the AI piped up, the glee in her voice causing Chell's skin to crawl. "Not a fake, tragic surprise like last time. A real surprise, with tragic consequences."
The test subject had frozen in her steps. It was never a good thing when GLaDOS had that manic edge to her voice. She was at her most insane—and most dangerous—when she sounded like that.
"And real confetti this time. The good stuff. Our last bag."
Chell swore under her breath.
"Part of me's going to miss it, I guess..."
She hoped Wheatley might come through for her after all.
"But at the end of the day, it was just taking up space."
Because it didn't look like she had a whole lot more time to wait around.
A/N: Here's another batch, I hope you enjoyed! Let me know your favorite words again, hope these are as good as the last one.
#47 is based on a true story. For the longest time I incorrectly dealt with one part of the escape chapter in the first Portal. You're supposed to bust open a tube and get a cube out of it to stand on, I think. Being the genius that I am I couldn't figure that out and stole a chair to use instead.