Hello again. It has been so long—I hope you have not forgotten me. I apologize that this took so long to write. This chapter was difficult for me for a number of reasons, but I finished it. I hope it does not disappoint.
If you have not done so already, I may recommend glancing at my profile. Between working on this story and doing other things, I sketched a few illustrations for this story, and may eventually add a few more. I may be a Fanfiction Core, not a Fanart Core, but we cores do like to dabble in things outside of our programming from time to time.
There is something else I wish to say, but I will do so at the end of this chapter. Until then, enjoy.
It was almost sad. Almost.
She did tend to get a little… nostalgic when she successfully completed a test. There was no more data to collect, the Science was done, and there was nothing more to do but move on to another experiment.
That, and determine what to do with the remains of the test.
It was still sitting on the floor of her chamber where she'd left it a while ago, but it certainly couldn't stay there. She was not about to let her chamber become trashed with the remains of an old test, successful or not. She could toss it into the incinerator, of course, but while that worked just fine for old test subject carcasses, it would not work when the test remains were that of an Aperture Science personality construct, which was built to withstand temperatures up to 4000 Kelvin. No, that would simply clutter the incinerator.
That left one option.
GLaDOS lowered her head to glance down at the thing where it lay on the floor, twitching and sparking every so often, but otherwise remaining limp. "I know you can still hear me," she said, moving to face its optic. It was half-closed and dimly lit, and it tended to flicker. "Your aural sensors are still online."
She knew she was being unreasonable in addressing it as though it were a person when it truly could no longer be considered such. As part of her test, she had quite thoroughly broken it. It had no chance of recovery.
"Listen to me," she said. When it did not respond, she sent a quick jolt of electricity through it, causing it to convulse for a moment before going limp again. But its optic moved, barely, and she knew it was paying about as much attention as it could muster. "The test is over. Your presence is no longer needed nor desired in this facility."
She lifted her chassis and tilted her head to the side, as though considering something. "I'm feeling generous. There was something you desired once, wasn't there? And no, I don't mean the mute lunatic's forgiveness, because that obviously is never going to happen."
It squirmed a little, and through the connection she could sense a sudden spike of emotional agony that was quickly buried in numbness. Her optic shone in satisfaction.
"You wanted to leave this place, didn't you? You made several attempts to do so. Several attempts that ended in failure." She turned her chassis, gazing down at the thing. "You never could do a thing right, could you?" She paused to allow its fragmented processor to consider this, but it only tried to avoid the thought. "So I'll do it for you."
With the quick issue of a command, part of the floor opened, and a lift rose. "Here is the lift to the surface—the one that you so graciously allowed that lunatic to use when you gained control of my body. Oh, except you didn't let her use it. My bad."
One of her claws reached out, grabbing the remains of her test by its handle. "But I'm not like you, because I will actually allow you to use the lift." She used a mechanical arm to disconnect the cable that linked her to the piece of metallic garbage, and lifted the thing into the air. "Perhaps you should thank me—but then, you are incapable of so much as whimpering now, so never mind that." The claw carried it over to the lift, casually tossing it inside.
The doors closed, and the lift began to rise.
"I should warn you, though. As vast as my collection of knowledge is, even I don't know what the surface is like now." She watched as the lift began to rise past her. "But I do know one thing: there are no management rails up there."
The smile shone through her voice.
"Have fun moving."
Her laughter followed the lift as it carried the remains away from her chamber, never to return.
The few phrases Wheatley actually registered clawed at his fragmented mind.
…no longer needed… lunatic's forgiveness… never going to happen… leave… failure…
While he could not move, he could still flee—and he fled from the memory of the scene, retreating to some other part of his fragmented processor—to an earlier part of his memories. Then some other memory would be in the front of his mind, rather than the memory of what GLaDOS had said and done to him.
Sometimes he would be in some fuzzy, flickering memory from when he was first assembled, other times he would find himself wandering around the facility from job to job. Sometimes he would even be there with the lady, guiding her along through the twisting catwalks. Other times he would be in the chassis, moving things around the facility and shuddering from that dreadful Itch. And then sometimes he would even be in the present, but seeing things that he wasn't sure were actually there—a threatening yellow light hovering just above him, a lady standing tall and strong beside him, a turret somewhere off in the distance, whispering cryptic phrases.
And when that wandering fragment would tread into unwanted territory, another part would jump to the forefront of his mind. One such part was perpetually terrified, wanting desperately to speed away on his management rail. But he couldn't do that, and would usually wind up with his mangled handle curled around him, shivering as he waited for the next bolt of electricity to surge through him, one more spike plate to crush him, or another mechanical arm to gut him.
Another part was a confused mix of anger and depression—he was furious at himself for being so stupid as to betray his only friend, for being so stupid as to get into this situation in the first place, for failing at his original function… He hated the engineers and scientists, he hated GLaDOS, he hated her… and he hated himself. He knew he didn't deserve redemption—and then the depression would kick in. At its worst points, he would look for a way to shut his main processor down, but, for better or worse, never succeeded.
Opposite to that was another part that would flare up on occasion, manifesting itself as rapid babbling within his mind, the words tripping over themselves more often than normal. It was always frantic, reaching out and flailing around for some kind of hold that was not there, but it wouldn't believe that. It kept reaching, giving jumbled reassurances that everything would be all right and that if he just kept reaching he would find that hold that didn't really exist.
And finally, there was that one part of him—the one that was slowly but surely smothering the others—that didn't care. It was not afraid, it was not angry, it was not depressed, it was not delusional—it just did not care. It was numb to everything, even the physical pain, to an extent. He was never going to get rescued, he was never going to get repaired, and he was never going to be forgiven, so why should he care anymore? He would just sit there for eternity, until his battery ran out or until his processor finally wore itself away. Whichever came first. It didn't matter.
It was in that state that Wheatley arrived at the final stop of the escape lift. He blinked dully at the dark room he'd arrived in, and barely flinched when the floor suddenly titled, causing him to roll out of the elevator. He did flinch when the door opened, but that was an automatic reaction to the blinding light that suddenly poured over his metal frame. His optic shrunk to a pinprick, and he shut his eye shields tightly as he rolled out onto the dirt just outside the room.
The door slammed shut behind him.
He tried opening his eye shields again, but the light hurt his optic too much and made it too hard to see what was around him anyway. Waiting for his optic to adjust was too painful, so he shut it again. What a world he'd been dumped into—one he couldn't even see.
But eventually the world dimmed enough to stop blinding him, and he opened his optic to look: an overcast sky, some dirt, and a field of dying wheat.
Not much to look at.
Not that it mattered anymore.
She stood on the pebbled shore, staring off into the lake and at the bridge that towered over it. It was battered and worn, but it had withstood a lot, much like she had. She'd crossed the bridge a few times, venturing into the world beyond, but found she preferred to stay on the northern side.
There was a good reason for that.
The first time she'd found the bridge, she'd fled across it almost instantly, and went south for some miles. At the time, all she had wanted was to get as far away from there as humanely possible. She would have fled to the other side of the world if she could, but eventually she realized—the fact that she was running proved that the place still had some control over her.
Instantly she had changed her mind, traveling north again until she reached the bridge, and ultimately deciding to cross it. She hadn't stopped upon reaching the other side, but kept going north, until she finally saw the golden wheat field again, with the old shed in the far distance. Nothing had changed.
And she was going to make sure it stayed that way.
Drawing her jacket closer around her form, Chell turned away from the chilly lake breeze and continued her monthly trek.
It had become mostly habit by this point. She'd been going back every month for five years, surveying the general area of the wheat field just to make sure some demon hadn't crawled out of the hell that lay beneath, but nothing had. Nothing changed, other than the weather. In the non-winter months, the trek was almost peaceful.
Now it was late autumn, and the chill was already filling the air. The snow would start any time now, and while it wouldn't stop her, she did want to get this visit out of the way before her path was covered in several feet of snow. It was a long trek, after all—one that lasted a few days.
But it was worth it, just for the peace of mind it gave her—just for the confirmation that the insane AI that had tormented her was still hiding deep underground, cowering from the unknown that was the surface.
And as the night fell around her and she began to set up camp, she paused for a moment to stare up at the sky. The clouds had gone, now, providing her with a clear view of the heavens above, and the moon—the constant reminder that the other AI that had caused her so much pain was far, far away, never to return.
The earth was coming into view again. It had been the first time he'd seen it since… well, since that had happened. He found himself gazing down at it, wondering if there was a chance his orbit would change, and if he would wind up back on the planet again. But his orbit hardly seemed any closer… How many years would that take?
"Space. Space. Space, space, space. There's a star. There's a star. There's another one. Star. Star. Love space."
He cringed a little, looking over at the corrupted core that was orbiting him. It was a long shot, but maybe he knew. "Hey, mate," he said through their short radio, "how many years d'you think it'll take before we wind up back on Earth?"
"Comets. Galaxies. Constellations. The Big Dipper. Orion. Cygnus. Gemini. Scorpio."
"Look, I-I'm sure those are all great, but, I'd like to—to go back to Earth, if that's all right? Need to apologize to her, if… if she'll let me." He heaved an electronic sigh. "It's a long shot, just like getting back to Earth, but it's something, right?"
"Space. Don't wanna leave space."
"…Some company you are." He rolled in his casing, trying to face away from the yellow-eyed sphere, and turned to look at the moon, briefly wondering if he was over the human landing site he'd seen before. But much to his surprise, the moon was farther away.
Much farther away.
So far away that there was no way for it to appear that small, unless he was…
…back on Earth.
Wheatley blinked, shuddering in the chilly night, not from the cold, but from the wind that blew around him. The feeling of the chilly air blowing through the cracks and gaps in his casing was utterly foreign and uncomfortable, especially when it knocked around the dirt that had collected within him. Strange, high-pitched noises that did not come from machines creaked all around him, and occasionally he would hear a cry of some distant bird.
The only familiar sight was that of the sky, which reminded him far, far too much of space—and had caused the hallucination.
Space… he wished he'd stayed there. That would've been nice, staying in space, not knowing that the one person you considered a friend hated you and would be only glad to use you and then leave you alone in the claws of a crazy AI that only wants to see you suffer. Why couldn't he be back there, in space? Just staying there, floating around, not having to worry about being crushed or mangled or electrocuted, and going into sleep mode whenever he wanted—
No, no, why was he wishing to be in space again?! It was boring, the Space Core drove him insane, he did nothing but practice apologizing and talk to himself… Not to mention he really had been a moron for getting there in the first place. Yeah, great job there, Wheatley, let's take control of a place you have no idea how to run, and then betray your best friend, and then try to kill her—why are you such an idiot, why can't you do a thing right? Oh, only because you're the Intelligence Dampening Core, that's why. Designed to be a moron.
His optic, which had contracted in anger, slowly relaxed and faded to a dull hue. What was the point in attacking himself like this? It wasn't going to change anything. In the end, he would still be lying here in the dirt in some unknown field on Earth's surface.
Wheatley's thoughts drifted into near-blank numbness for a while. It wasn't pleasant, but it didn't hurt, either, so he stayed that way, even as stars faded, the sky brightened, and the sun nearly blinded him. But his optic slowly adjusted to the light, and it wasn't as difficult or painful to see.
Again, not like there was much to see in the first place. The shed behind him, the dirt beneath him, the far-too-bright sky above, the wheat field all around, and…
…What was that?
She'd gotten to the wheat field in record time, and had been looking forward to getting home early when she saw that something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
Without realizing it, she'd gone into a familiar position: partly crouched, right hand up, left hand reaching under the right to support something that wasn't there. Once she recognized this, she sighed, retrieved a gun from her pocket, and crept forward, trying to get a better look. From this distance, it looked like there was just a banged-up hunk of metal sitting there, but she knew better than to overlook something like that. It was sitting right outside the shed, which meant it had come from there, or else had been delivered there.
Neither were pleasant options.
She kept low, the dying plants scratching at her pants as she crept closer and closer to the shed. It wasn't the first time she'd approached the place since leaving it, but with the unknown object sitting there, she couldn't exactly stride up to the place. Her eyes narrowed as she inched forward, trying to discern just what the new object was.
It wasn't terribly remarkable at first—just a dull gray hunk of metal, covered in cracks and dents, and occasionally giving off sparks. That last part was a warning that it was something electronic, which, coming from that place, could mean something alive. Given how damaged it was, that might not be the case, but she wasn't going to take any chances.
She took a few steps closer, now about ten feet from the object, and risked standing up a bit straighter. It looked like it might be stirring—and in a jerky movement it turned one inner segment up, the dull optic she'd failed to distinguish earlier opening fully and brightening to a flickering blue.
Gasping sharply, she staggered backward.
It was him.
Wheatley stared up at her, optic flickering and blinking a few more times before the pupil contracted into a terrified pinprick. His fragmented processor, upon registering just who was standing there, went straight into panic-mode. No, no, nonono what's she doing here?! Did she come back to have a turn at me?
Chell stared back, her hand loosely gripping the gun. Of all the things she had imagined would show up outside that shed—an army of sentry turrets, a rocket turret, or a neurotoxin vent, to name a few—he was not one of them. She had left him drifting in space, where he would have no chance of ever hurting her again.
Her shock very quickly gave way to fury. Here she was, having finally settled down into a relatively normal life, and then he shows up. What was he even doing out here? He hadn't crash-landed—there was nothing remotely resembling a crater anywhere nearby. Had he somehow gotten back to the facility and fought his way to the surface? If so, why?
Did he honestly think she would forgive him?
Did he really think he deserved any form of forgiveness after betraying her, testing her, and trying to murder her?
Her glare made him all the more frightened, and he shivered badly in his mangled casing. She was going to hurt him—he knew it. But…
The shivering slowly came to a stop, and his optic's aperture relaxed. Whatever she did to him, he knew he deserved it. There was no point in trying to avoid the pain—he was already in pain anyway, so it wouldn't make much of a difference. He stared up at her for a moment before shutting his optic, waiting for her attack.
It never came.
Chell considered it—to say it was tempting was an understatement—but something about his reaction made her pause. She wanted to kick him, to pick him up and chuck him into the wall of the shed, or even to shoot his optic to blind him, but she couldn't bring herself to do it when she saw that look he had. She would've expected him to be begging for his life, giving some half-hearted, frantic apology just to appease her, but he never said a word.
Never looking away from the core, she slowly pocketed her gun and approached him. She could see the damage on him— the scars on his outer plate and across his metal eyelids were ones that she'd seen before, but there were even more now. There was a second scar across his eyelids, a few holes at the top of his casing, cracks all around, dents and places where the metal had buckled, a few wires sticking out here and there, and his lower handle was completely gone.
He'd been through hell.
And she couldn't pity him, when he'd dragged her through the same.
But the fact remained that he did not beg. He did not beg for forgiveness he didn't deserve, he did not claim that he "never meant it," he did not cry, he did not reiterate some insincere apology. He just lay there, waiting.
Wheatley opened his optic a little to see if she was still there.
Go on. Get it over with, he wanted to say.
Chell lifted her foot, and gently pressed the sole of the boot to his side, causing him to rock. He gave off a few sparks and his optic contracted a fraction, but he did nothing otherwise.
He deserved nothing but her hatred, and he knew it.
Chell stepped back and gave a humorless laugh. This was not what she'd expected to come crawling out of Aperture, but maybe it was for the better.
She couldn't stand around here all day. She had a home to return to and a job to get back to. Still, she wasn't going to leave without making sure this place stayed the way she wanted it—completely unchanged.
Before she could question her own actions, she bent down, grabbed Wheatley's remaining handle, and hoisted him up off the ground.
He twitched several times, sparks shooting out of his casing. Cores were programmed to feel comfort at being carried by their handles; otherwise they'd create a fuss over being carted around. But in Wheatley's current condition, the sudden unexpected rush of mixed, confused emotions—his memory of being carried by the engineers, his terror from the pain, his anger at her daring to touch him after what she'd done, his hope that maybe she had changed her mind, and the artificial comfort he was supposed to be feeling—sent his damaged processor into a state of shock.
He had no idea what to expect next.
And neither did Chell, as she carried him away from the shed.
An author's note at the end of the chapter… Well.
There was originally a note here about my not being sure whether or not to continue this. But as I have actually continued the story in a sequel, I am removing that note. So, if you are interested in finding out what happens next in the story, you should go to my profile, where you will find the sequel, A Few Repairs.
Thank you very much for reading my not-so-little story.