Welcome, reader, to another little story of mine. I apologize for taking so long with this, but this story is much more difficult to write than the previous one.
Speaking of which, while this story is a sequel to A Little Test, I tried to write it in a way that those who have not read (or do not want to read) the previous story might still be able to understand it. The previous story contained, well, a lot of torture (on a robot), so it is understandable if you wish to skip that one. Nonetheless, this story will contain references to torture, so if that disturbs you, you may turn back.
The rating for the story may go up if it becomes necessary in later chapters.
By the way, I would like to thank everyone who reviewed the previous story. All of your reviews have been incredibly encouraging, and have been more helpful than I can express. Thank you.
…Oh, one last thing before I end this overly-long author's note: I appreciate constructive criticism of any sort, so do not hesitate to point out an error if you find one.
She stared into the fire, trying to forget that he was sitting behind her. She'd been trying to forget about him since the moment she stepped out of the wheat field and realized that, yes, she really had brought him with her. Part of her still wanted to go back, pry the shed door open, and throw him back in, but she couldn't. She'd been walking all day, and his weight had slowed her down. She'd be lucky if she made it back home by tomorrow night.
Chell drew her legs in and rested her head on her knees.
What was she doing?
She wasn't even really sure if he was repentant or not. There was no way for her to tell when he hadn't spoken a word—the only thing she'd heard from him was the whirring and creaking of mechanics and the occasional spark.
But one thing she knew: he was fully aware of the fact that he deserved the worst she could throw at him. If she ever made a move to bring harm to him, he would usually just close his optic and go completely still, accepting whatever punishment she wanted to dish out. She'd put her foot on him in preparation to kick him or stomp him, held him over a puddle, and even pointed her gun at his optic, but never followed through any of those, tempting as they were.
He'd panicked once, his optic shrinking and his body squirming when she'd debated throwing him against a large rock, but he eventually went back to going limp. Sometimes he would start shivering in her grip, and other times he would give her a glare, only to glance away guiltily when she noticed it. His emotions were a mess, probably from whatever damage he'd sustained—and she had no idea what to do with him.
It probably didn't help that he had no idea what to do with himself, either.
Wheatley's vision flickered, blurred, and refocused on the forest he was staring into. He was facing away from her, understandably. He knew she probably would've liked it if he would never look at her again. She seemed to have a pretty solid opinion of him, if her silent threats were anything to go by. He just wished he had a pretty solid opinion of her.
On one hand, she was taking him away from that place. After who-knows-how-many-days of endless torture, he was finally free. He was out of GLaDOS's reach. And thus far, the lady hadn't physically hurt him—not intentionally.
On the other hand, she hated him—and she'd betrayed him. She'd come back to Aperture, risking everything, stealing a portal gun, and had demanded him back. He'd thought she'd come for him, but after he nearly broke himself getting their escape elevator to work… she left without him, leaving him down there in GLaDOS's claws, and completely destroying his last shred of hope.
He knew he deserved it, but it still hurt. It hurt to have his only friend completely betray him like that, and he couldn't forgive her for it—especially not with the way she was acting now.
But… she was still taking him away from that place. But then she had threatened to hurt him repeatedly—but she'd never actually gone through with it—but she didn't even want to look at him now—but she hadn't actually done any real harm to him—but—
Wheatley forced himself away from the thoughts; they were making his processor hurt. It would be better if he just didn't think about it at all. It wouldn't matter what she did to him. Whatever she wanted to do to him, she would do, and he would have absolutely no control over it. He had no working speech processor to argue with her and no means of running away, so he would just have to accept whatever happened.
He shut his optic. He was exhausted, but with his sleep mode still disabled, he could do nothing but maybe wait for himself to crash. But more often, his processor would default to something else—either plunging into numbness or hallucinating. He never even got a warning when the latter would start to happen, and when it did, his shattered mind didn't recognize it. He couldn't discern hallucinations from reality anymore, and he didn't have the strength to try.
When he opened his optic, he could see that the world was dark, as it had been, but he was seeing catwalks and distant machinery, not a forest of rotten leaves and skeletal trees. Maybe those hadn't even been there in the first place, and he was just… dreaming? But robots didn't dream. Maybe he'd been corrupted, somehow. That was a worrying thought, but he'd gotten out of corruption before.
He was in a place he'd seen before: conveyor belts, robot parts, distant cries of turrets denying their defectiveness… Yes, this was the turret redemption line, wasn't it?
Wheatley had never liked this place. None of the robots did—it was like watching a line of corpses that were about to be cremated. He was pretty sure he wasn't working here at the moment, and quickly decided to leave.
He turned on his management rail—briefly thankful he still had that—and began to make his way out of the place, but stopped. Thick potato plants snaked up the wall and around the rail, rendering it impossible for him to leave, at least that way. Heaving a sigh, he turned to leave another way. It was a little unsettling as he moved closer to the conveyor belts, giving him a closer view of the scrap remains of the turrets beneath him. He wanted to move past that quickly, but just as he reached a spot over one of the belts, something made him freeze.
"The redemption line isn't just for turrets, you know."
There was a sudden pressure at his sides, and with a shower of sparks he was forcibly ripped from his management rail. Turning his optic up, he could see the claw that was slowly lowering him down to the conveyor belt and forcing its pinchers deep into his sides—
Chell whipped around, scrambling back as she stared at the core that was flailing around erratically, his flickering optic expanding and contracting at seemingly random. Her immediate response was to look around him, wondering if something had hit him or if a spark from the fire had gotten into his casing, but it didn't seem to be anything like that. Perhaps his processor was glitching?
Whatever it was, he needed to snap out of it. She rose, walking over to his side, and nudged his casing with the toe of her boot. The core seemed badly startled by the sudden contact, several sparks shooting out from the broken wires within him, but his optic blinked a few times and refocused on her face.
Wheatley stared at her for a moment before his expression went nearly blank, and he glanced away.
She continued staring into his optic, but when he didn't look back at her, her gaze drifted to the core's various injuries. Now that she wasn't sitting between him and the campfire, she could see the light from the flames bouncing off the uneven surfaces in his casing—all the nasty-looking dents and cracks, places in his sides where it seemed like he'd been held in too tight a grip by a set of claws, a few round holes around his face, scars across his metal eyelids and face, and frayed wires poking from his sides and even from two points where his lower handle had once been attached. When she stooped down a bit closer, she noticed an unusual scar on his right side—it seemed to go diagonally across the panel, just under his handle, and it had the appearance of being welded back together.
Chell found herself reaching out to feel one of the scars, but as soon as her fingers touched the metal, Wheatley twitched, and she pulled her hand away to avoid the shower of sparks. She hesitated for a moment before reaching out again, tracing the welded scar that ran across his side.
His optic turned to face her, but he did not object—he had that same blank look, like he didn't care about what she was doing, whether she chose to hurt him or not.
She pulled her hand away, and sat back as the realization struck her: there was no point in trying to hurt him. What was there to be gained, when he hardly seemed to care anymore?
Though she couldn't help but feel him deserving of whatever it was he'd gone through—possibly a rough trip from space, a couple encounters with turrets, or maybe even revenge from GLaDOS herself. Whatever it was, it had left him an utter wreck—and part of herself, she was unashamed to admit, was glad to see it. He had done so many terrible things and backstabbed her so badly, how could she not at least feel a little better at seeing him like this?
…But then there was that other part of her, the one that looked down at the robot and saw his mangled body and all the pain he was in, and felt bad for him. It was a small part, but it nagged at her.
You used to trust him.
She wasn't sure why she had. He was from Aperture, and when had any other AI from that godforsaken place been trustworthy?
He helped you before.
And then he backstabbed her.
You don't know he's not sorry.
No, she didn't, but even if he was sorry, that wouldn't mean she would actually forgive him. What had he done to deserve her forgiveness?
What can he do to show he deserves forgiveness, in the state he's in?
The thought made her pause, and she stared at the robot again. He was thoroughly mangled and wrecked, and the most he could do was wiggle around a little and flail his dented handle. She wasn't even sure if he was capable of speech anymore. In a state like that, it would be completely impossible for him to prove anything to her.
Chell gave a quiet laugh. That's what she could do with him. She would put him through some repairs, until he was at least somewhat functional again. Just a few repairs—and then maybe she would see if there was something in that mangled casing that was worth forgiving.
Rising, she walked over to a small bucket of water sitting nearby, and used it to douse the flames of the campfire. The night was dark, but she could see well enough to find the cheap sleeping bag she'd rolled out earlier. She lay atop it, glancing over at the dull blue nightlight that sat a few feet off.
Wheatley's optic rolled around frantically, searching for the lady in the darkness. His flashlight had been disabled around the same time his sleep mode had, so all he could do was strain to see with the light from his own optic. Eventually a bit of the blue light reflected off of her form, and he tried to relax. Maybe she would stop poking at his scars now and go to sleep… while he wished he could do the same.
His optic turned upward, staring at the heavens. There were stars scattered across the dark blue sky, and the moon was full. It was a reminder of where he could have been, had GLaDOS not brought him back into the facility.
Sometimes he wished he'd stayed in space.
The sun rose the next morning over Michigan's Upper Peninsula, finding the lady and the robot already on the move. Chell had woken up before sunrise and begun packing, shoving her camping supplies into her backpack and retrieving a few snacks she'd packed for a quick breakfast. She'd then grabbed Wheatley, snapping him out of the daze he'd been in, and immediately began heading south.
The morning was much cooler than it had been yesterday, and the wind was harsh, making travel harder. She buttoned her jacket to fight against the chill and fought to walk against the wind, but it was hard to keep a steady pace, and the hunk of metal she carried wasn't helping much.
At least Wheatley was calmer when she held him by his handle. It was hard carrying him like that when he only had one, but her only other option was carrying him in her arms, and the one time she'd tried that had not ended well. His broken casing had been incredibly uncomfortable to hold, and a few seconds later he'd begun to panic, squirming in her arms until she dropped him, nearly hitting her feet. So she'd begrudgingly hoisted him up again, switching the arm she carried him with every so often, and occasionally gripping the handle with both hands. It was tiring work, but if she wanted to get home on time, she would have to push herself.
Not that she wasn't used to doing that.
Wheatley, on the other hand, was not used to anything like this. He wasn't used to seeing these strange plants all around, nor was he used to seeing all these different kinds of animals, from things like the varied birds—ones that weren't solid black like the ones he'd known—to the enormous quadrupeds that appeared to occasionally grow trees out of their heads. While most of them seemed to stay away from the lady, that didn't make it any less worrisome. Before, the only animals he had known had all attacked him, so how did he know one of these animals wouldn't do the same?
Then there was the wind. He'd felt wind before, but now he was feeling it blowing through all the cracks and holes in his casing. His pain had never faded, and though he tried to ignore it, the wind's forcing itself through his casing brought his attention back to his injuries. The dirt that got into his casing every time the lady set him down didn't help much, either.
And when he wasn't sitting in the midst of dirt and rotten leaves, he was being carried by one handle. That couldn't be helped, when he only had one handle, but he'd originally been built with two handles for a reason. He wasn't meant to be carried by only one, and though the lady's grip on it brought an artificial comfort, he could feel the damaged metal joints straining against his own weight. Fortunately it never gave, but that didn't stop it from hurting.
Finally, there was the lady herself. He felt as uncertain about her now as he had the day before, even though she didn't seem to be threatening to hurt him as much, aside from dropping him earlier. She was as silent as she'd been since the day he'd met her, and never once did she seem to smile… though he wasn't sure he could bear to see her smile at him again, given the last time she'd done that.
Throughout the whole journey, all he could do was force himself to bear it—the fear of the unfamiliar outside world, the pain throughout his frame, and the uncertainty he felt around the lady. Whenever it got to be too much, his processor would either conjure up memories and hallucinations or else just go numb entirely. But whichever it chose to do, it would bring him out of his pain and fear for just a while, and that was good enough for him.
The day wore on, the sunlight fading behind a grim cloud cover. It was typical of autumn, but it made the journey no easier. The air was cold, Wheatley was heavy, and her arms and back were killing her, but Chell never let it show. Aperture had trained her that, no matter how sore or tired or scared you were, you never showed weakness. Not in front of her, and you never knew just when one of her cameras would show up. You never gave up, either—and she wouldn't. She had to get home by tonight.
The metal ball she carried slowed her down, so she made it a point to take as few breaks as possible. Frequently she was tempted to just leave the core sitting in a pile of dead leaves, but the idea of something from Aperture falling into the wrong hands was not a pleasant one. No, Wheatley would stay with her so she could keep an eye on him.
Her legs ached with every step, and occasionally she would cast a glare down at the core, feeling a little envious that he didn't have to be the one walking. But then she would catch a glimpse of his cracked optic, which would either be blank or glitching, and would be gladshe wasn't a malfunctioning AI trapped in a mangled hunk of metal.
As the light began to fade, she found herself envisioning her shower with its hot water, and her bed, looking warm and comfortable. The thought of taking a shower and finally lying in bed kept her going, despite how sore and cold and exhausted she felt. It was a relief to finally begin seeing familiar landmarks, like the old apple orchard and the farmhouse, still recognizable even in the dark. She was almost home.
By the time Chell finally reached her house, she felt the last of her energy begin to ebb away. Her hands shook as she unlocked the door, and she stumbled into the little one-floor house, automatically shrugging her backpack off of her shoulders—and forgetting that she was still carrying Wheatley in one hand. The strap caught against the core, yanking him out of her hand and to the floor.
The robot started out of the daze he'd been in, internal components creaking as his optic frantically looked around. Fortunately the floor was carpeted, so the impact hadn't been too bad, but it was apparently enough to frighten him.
Chell sighed, kicking the door shut behind her and stooping down to pick up the core again. She had no desire to put her things away or find some suitable place to set him at the moment—she just wanted to take a quick shower and get to sleep. Glancing around, her eyes fell on the dining room table, and she dragged herself there and set the robot down with a clunk.
She ignored whatever silent protests he may have been making and gratefully made her way to her room, and to the personal bathroom that was attached.
Wheatley blinked, optic swiveling as much as it could in his mangled casing as he tried to discern just where he was. He'd been lost in his memories for a while, thinking back to the time when he had to watch over the humans in cryosleep, when the backpack strap had suddenly snagged against his casing and sent him tumbling to the floor. And how he was sitting… somewhere in this unknown building.
He looked around for the lady in vain. The light from his optic did light up a bit of the room, but not nearly enough to determine how big the place was, or where he was. The most he could see was the surface he sat on, and a bit of the closest wall, which was white. …And, it occurred to him, a lot of the walls in Aperture were white, too.
A sudden, paralyzing fear seized him—while he'd been out of it, had she turned around and gone back? He didn't know how long he'd been hallucinating or numb or unconscious or whatever had happened, so it wasn't entirely out of the question. If she had brought him back, though… well, she hated him anyway, so should that really come as a surprise to him?
…No, but it didn't make it hurt any less.
He looked around the room again, trying to discern the shapes in the darkness, but his eyesight wasn't good enough—not with that cracked lens. Though maybe there really wasn't anything to see. Maybe he'd been put in an empty room, like that one time—
His processor yanked away from the memory so quickly that it nearly stunned him—like a person pulling their hand away from a hot surface. Those memories were far too painful to think back to, and his mind seemed to be unconsciously building a wall around them, making them harder and harder to remember. Sometimes there would be a crack in the wall that he could slip through, but usually he'd be yanked away before he could dwell on them too long. Usually.
Shutting his optic, Wheatley tried to focus on something else. If he was back in Aperture, where could he be? He couldn't see much of anything, so that didn't help, but maybe he could hear something that would help him figure it out?
Focusing on keeping still and straining his aural sensors, he picked up the sound of… running water? Where would there be running water in the facility? Unless she was purposely flooding the room—that wasn't something she'd tried yet. Flooding the room… that would be the end of him, wouldn't it? And… well, it'd be the end of his pain, at least.
But even then, the thought of dying was terrifying. Back when GLaDOS had just left him out on the surface, the idea of death seemed so far away and almost welcome. But now that he was closer to death again, his fear returned—that fear his programmers had planted into him when he was first made.
Wheatley opened his optic, its pupil contracting into a pinprick as he strained to see in the darkness again. But the light didn't reach far enough, and his cracked optic couldn't see well enough to tell just where the water would be coming from. He stayed like that for a few terrified minutes, waiting to be drowned and shorted out in the flood, but the light from his optic never bounced off any water, and eventually the sound stopped.
At the very least, it was a relief to know he wouldn't be drowned… but then, what was GLaDOS or the lady planning to do to him now? There was nothing hooked up to him, so that ruled out at least some of the things. But it didn't rule out…!
He tilted back as much as his damaged casing would allow, and looked up—
The floor dropped beneath him, sending him falling at a speed that rivaled that of the remote claws, and a mechanical roar surrounded him as the many-fanged spike plate chased him downward. Occasionally his optic would catch a glimpse of some of the rows of spikes—spikes long enough to ram through one side of his body and come out the other.
The fact that they might miss his main processor and not kill him made it all the more terrifying.
He struggled to get away, knowing that it was useless to start with, but he had to do something. He rocked his spherical body as much as he could, flailing his handle, but the spike plate was getting closer, and—
If the sudden noise of a heavy metal object coming in contact with the floor wasn't enough to wake Chell up after she'd just fallen asleep, the rattling and squeaking and clanking noises that followed definitely were.
Immediately she jumped out of bed, heart racing as she wondered just who had decided to break into her house—and why they had decided to break into a dumpy one-floor place when there were much nicer houses elsewhere. She edged closer to her bedroom door, listening to the sounds and trying to pinpoint where they were coming from. It took a few seconds for her to realize that they were coming from her dining room, and it was only when she opened her door and saw the very faint blue light looking around wildly that she remembered.
Of course, after she'd done the favor of dragging him away from that place, he would repay her by waking her up at some ungodly hour in the morning.
Her adrenaline rush quickly draining, she heaved a sigh, walking over to the dining room where the core was lying on the floor. He was squirming around wildly, flailing his handle, and his optic seemed to dilate and contract in a glitchy, frantic way. On top of that, she swore she could pick up a faint whisper of static coming from him.
Chell rubbed her eyes, stooping down and staring at the malfunctioning robot. She didn't have time for this—she had to get some amount of sleep to be able to function at work in the morning. Whatever was wrong with him would have to wait until after work tomorrow, though she at least had to get him to calm down.
She tried reaching for his handle, but jerked away when it banged against his casing. She wasn't sure how strong that handle was, and didn't want to find out just how much damage it could do to her fingers. Heaving a frustrated sigh, she grabbed either side of his casing and lifted him off the floor.
Too late, she remembered what had happened the last time she'd tried that, and he completely panicked, writhing around in her hands and causing her to drop him. Darn it, she just wanted him to calm down so she could go to bed—
"Hey, settle—it's all right, it's—"
The words were quiet and more harsh than comforting, but the effect was immediate. Wheatley froze, and his dull optic focused on her with an expression of utter shock.
She'd never spoken in Aperture. From the very beginning, even though she had no idea where she was or what she was doing there, she had refused to talk to what she had once thought was an automated voice. Finding out what it really was only made her more determined—she would never, ever give GLaDOS the satisfaction of hearing her voice.
Even after defeating her, she couldn't fully remember what had happened—everything after she'd thrown the last core into the incinerator was a blur. But she knew that if GLaDOS was still around, she was listening, so she'd never spoken, not even to Wheatley. And it stayed that way, all throughout Aperture, until the day she finally stepped foot on the surface.
She'd never wanted something from that place to hear her speak, but in her exhaustion and frustration, she'd completely blown it.
Chell fought the urge to add some rather unsavory words to what she'd just said.
But at least the core was calm now, or as calm as he was going to get. She grabbed him by the handle, hoisting him into the air and setting him back on the table.
They stared at each other for a moment, Chell still inwardly cursing herself for letting that slip. It would not happen again. Instead she motioned to the core, lifting her finger to her lips—be quiet—and turned to drag herself back to her room.
Wheatley's optic never left her, and continued to stare in her direction long after the door had closed.