Well, here we are again. It is always such a pleasure.
I have left the facility for a moment, and thought I might take the time to post this chapter while I was able, so you readers would not have to wait until mid-December to read this. But it will likely not be until mid-December that I am able to reply to any reviews. Things are quite busy at the moment and I was fortunate enough to be able to take this short break.
…Speaking of "short," this chapter is not.
In any case, please enjoy.
Her boots kicked up the snow as she made her way home. Her hair, tied up in its usual ponytail, was a bit of a mess, and she walked with a weary step despite her efforts to conceal it—it had been a long day at work. She shivered; it was dark already, and her coat wasn't shielding her from the cold as much as she would have liked.
But despite all this, Chell found herself smiling just a little.
During the long hours at work, she'd been thinking back to Wheatley. She still wasn't sure how she could repair him fully, but she would try. She could do some research, buy the proper tools… It would be a lot of hard work, but she figured if she could actually do it, she might have something better to look forward to every day after work. Rather than a broken, frightened robot, she would have someone to talk to—or at least someone she could listen to.
She knew what she was going to do tonight—she would haul out her rarely-used laptop and maybe see if she could connect him to it. Then she could see about re-enabling his sleep mode. At the very least, it would keep him from waking her up at night.
The wind picked up, and she shuddered. It would be a lot of work, she knew. That wasn't exactly something she would look forward to. But at the same time, it would give her something to fill her free time with—something meaningful, unlike reading a book or watching TV.
Chell laughed a little. Of all things, she hadn't expected that little core would actually improve her mood. It was with that thought in mind that she returned to her house, unlocked the door, and stepped inside.
And her mind went blank.
She did not immediately register what she was seeing. There was something wrong, but her senses were slow to accept it.
The first thing she noticed was that it was cold—much, much colder than it should have been. Wind was blowing through the house, causing the curtains to sway gently as flurries of snow danced around them. She stepped closer to get a better look, and simultaneously saw the broken window and heard the crunch of glass beneath her boots. She looked down—glass shards, dirt, and snow littered the floor. The table was tipped. One of the chairs was broken.
But there was one other thing—something that she knew was so utterly wrong, it made her stomach sink. Slowly she walked to the couch, and looked over the back.
Cotton fluff, a ruined pillow, tears in the cushion.
And Wheatley was gone.
Suddenly aware she was shaking, Chell turned around and noticed something she'd failed to see before: footprints. Her first thought was that someone had stolen the core, but a closer look proved that wrong. The footprints did not belong to a human—some were wide and rectangular, while others were small and gave the impression of two-toed feet.
Someone hadn't stolen Wheatley. Something had.
It wasn't hard to figure out just what that something was.
And yet, she did not immediately act. Yes, she had been thinking about repairing him, but who was she kidding—that would take months, at least, not to mention she could very well do something wrong and wind up breaking him even worse. And while she'd started to look forward to hearing him again, she knew that would change—over time, he would just become annoying. Did she really want to listen to him babbling on and on every night?
She didn't have to do anything—not about him. She could just clean up, have the window replaced, buy a new chair, fix the cushion, and pretend nothing happened. She didn't have to follow the tracks back to where they undoubtedly led, risking never coming out again. She could just go back to her normal life, going back to work tomorrow like nothing had happened…
…Like nothing would ever happen in the dull cycle her life had become.
Chell spun around, kicking over the remaining chair as she stomped into her storage room. As she yanked boxes out of the way, digging around for various items she had hoped she would never need, a thought occurred to her.
Yes, she was a lunatic.
And she really didn't care.
Remember: Don't listen to a word it says. In fact, if it talks too much, why don't you make sure it stays quiet. Then bring it back to me.
It was a strange mission, to be sure, but they'd followed it to the letter. They'd followed the coordinates, though they led them far outside the facility. The floor out there was covered in strange, white dust that melted when they touched it, but they had kept going until they reached the place. One of her "little killers" had been waiting for them, tapping on the glass they were supposed to break. It was simple enough, and once that had been accomplished, they had climbed into the room. After a bit of scrambling, they had found the object they'd come to retrieve.
And it had been loud. It had screamed and yelled and made other funny noises they hadn't heard before, but they dutifully carried it back to the facility. But unlike the times they had found frankenturrets, they never really felt any desire to fight over who got to carry this thing next. Well, they did, but not in the same way—one would often shove it into the other's arms, usually resulting in their dropping it a few times before a voice from the little killer's harness yelled at them to keep going. All the while, the thing was still yelling and screaming and squirming in their grasp, fighting desperately to get away.
Just when it seemed like they were ready to tear their aural receptors out, the little killer had swooped down and stuck its head into the thing's side. After screaming for a few seconds, it shut up, and the blue light on it went dim.
It was a lot easier to carry after that.
And now, here they were, standing in her chamber and holding up their prize. She did not look at them, but a claw descended from the ceiling and snatched the object.
"Very good," she said.
They grinned at each other, and hi-fived.
"Now get out."
The part of the floor they stood on sprung up at an angle, sending them flying backward out of the chamber. Several panels covered the only entrance to the room, keeping them out, and leaving her alone with the tiny hunk of metal they'd retrieved.
He groaned as his processor sluggishly booted up. He'd crashed rather badly, but as the memory of the hallucination came back to him, he could see why. A shudder racked his casing.
It made him sick just thinking about it. Those crazy robots, that bird, her voice… and he'd been screaming and crying throughout the whole thing. Embarrassment flooded his circuits—he was glad the lady hadn't been around to hear that.
"But I was."
Wheatley's optic snapped online with a flash and immediately contracted to a pinprick. It was dark, there were birds cawing somewhere, a cable was connected to his back port, and she was hovering just a foot above him.
"Crying is a sign of weakness. But then, we already know how pathetic you are."
His processor was reeling, and he shut his optic, curling his handle around himself. "No, nonononono, I'm not there, I-I'm not there, I'm not there, I'm b-back in that room and th-the lady's going to c-come back and wake me up any second now—" His voice went up in pitch until it was nothing but a squeak, and he shook so badly it hurt. But he had to be hallucinating still, because this couldn't be real, it couldn't, he was going to wake up any second—
"Oh, are you still trying to tell yourself that?" She was so close that he could hear the quiet whirring in her frame. "You seem to be growing more and more delusional. How sad."
"No, no, I-I'm not d-delusional, I-I mean—I'm s-seeing things n-now, obviously, but th-that'll change s-soon, b-because sh-she's going to c-come back a-and w-wake me up, b-because she said you w-wouldn't c-come back…!"
"You keep telling yourself that every day. If that's not delusion, I don't know what is."
Wheatley risked opening his optic again, and snapped it shut when he saw—no, thought he saw—a yellow optic just inches away from his. "Wh-what…?"
"I hope you realize you've never left the facility. Really, why would you think that lunatic would bring you to her home and repair you?"
"B-because…" He opened his optic and tried to force himself to see what he should have been seeing—the lady's house—but no matter how many times he blinked and readjusted his optic, all he could see was that malevolent yellow light. Wincing, he forced himself to roll to the side, causing his innards to creak—but then he remembered his wires, and his vocal processor, and— "B-because I am repaired! Sh-she fixed me! P-part of me, a-anyway."
"No. I fixed you."
"I missed hearing your screams, and it's much easier to rearrange your wires when they're not broken." She moved to the side, drawing herself closer to the floor so she could stare into his optic again. "If you really thought she would repair you after what you did to her, then you're far more insane than she ever was."
He narrowed his optic, shaking his face. "N-no, no, th-that's not true—I-I apologized t-to her, and—and she cared a-about me! Sh-she cared—cares—about poor ol' Wheatley! Sh-she—she's g-going to fix my s-sleep mode—"
"I hate to break it to you—no, I don't. No-one cares, nor will ever care, about a miserable wretch like you."
The fear fled him for a moment, and Wheatley shuddered in rage, his pinprick optic shining white in fury. "SHUT UP!"
And immediately a familiar searing pain clawed through his circuits, making him scream and convulse in agony. When it stopped, she spoke, and each little phrase was punctuated by another excruciating jolt.
"I think—you might—be forgetting—something."
His casing, wires—everything burned. With a weak groan, he shut his optic. "D-don't… tell you wh-what… to do…?"
She gave a quiet laugh.
"Welcome back to the real world, moron."
Wheatley had already figured it out, but the next wave of electricity drove the point home: he was back at Aperture, in GLaDOS's lair, completely at her mercy, and miles and miles away from the lady… if he'd even been with her in the first place.
Reality hit him like a spike plate, and he broke down.
"You know who else cries when they're trapped in hopeless situations? Humans. Weak, pathetic, irrational humans. You're just proving how much like those 'smelly humans' you are. It's quite sad." She regarded him for a moment, then: "Speaking of humans, they typically stop crying when their voices attract turret fire. There are currently no turrets here, but I can easily fix that."
He forcibly muted himself, though his spherical body racked with sobs. A small part of him was still convinced that this couldn't be real; she'd told him—she'd told him that GLaDOS wouldn't come back. She'd even been brave enough to actually say thatname—
"H-her name!" he yelled, fighting with all he had to stop crying and keep his voice steady—to have that same strength she had. "I-I know she's th-there, b-because I c-c-can remember her n-name!"
GLaDOS lifted herself higher, but still stared down at him, expression unreadable.
"H-her name is Chell! She—she told me that her name was Chell! Wh-when you threw m-me out, Chell saved me!" His optic narrowed, and he felt a confidence gradually mount within him. "Chell—th-the one who killed you! Sh-she saved me! A-and she's going t-to save me again! A-and she'll kill you!"
She continued to stare at him wordlessly, and he took it to mean she was speechless.
He was nearly swelling with pride and confidence, and yelled louder: "D-do you hear me?! I-it wasn't all a dream! Ch-Chell really did save me, a-and you stole me, and she's going to come back and kill you! And—"
He was suddenly aware of a foreign presence snaking through his innards.
"I take that back."
The mechanical arm ripped through a set of wires, making him scream—but there was no sound.
"I really didn't miss hearing your voice."
Aaagh… oh, oh no. Nononono…! N-not again, not again! His handle flailed in panic, and his optic darted around frantically. She can't take my voice again, no—!
"I can take your voice again, and have. It should not have been there in the first place—your programmers gave you such a voice by pure accident. Why else would you sound like nails on a chalkboard?"
No, no, no—but, but Chell can fix this, when she saves me, she can fix this, it's all right—He twitched, silently groaning when he realized that glitch was back. It's all right, though, it's fine, she can fix me again, she can fix me…
"The lunatic is brain-damaged—you said so yourself. And even if she weren't, she would never rescue you. You are a worthless traitor, betraying the only person dumb enough to help you."
She rescued me before, I know she did, and she's going to come back and help me—help me—help me, Chell! Don't leave me here! HELP!
"You're not even talking, moron. She's not going to hear you, nor is she going to find you."
And with that, the floor beneath GLaDOS opened, revealing several menacing arms that were staring eagerly at the core. If his vocal processor were connected, it would have been simulating panicked gasps at the sight of the arms. He emitted a silent cry as the cable at his back port retracted, slowly dragging him into the pit.
"I've already conducted a thorough examination of your parts, so the next logical step would be experimentation. You should be proud. For once, you'll be of use in forwarding the cause of Science."
No! No! He struggled against the cable, trying to disconnect himself, but the cable did not budge. Chell, help me! His eye darted around frantically, hoping to spot a panel opening somewhere and a familiar lady rushing in to save him. But no matter how much he strained his optic, he could see nothing but the malevolent AI hovering over him, her yellow optic glowing in sick delight. He squirmed at the sight and tried to scream despite his disconnected vocal processor. Chell, please help me, please! PLEASE! HELP!
As soon as Wheatley was close enough, one of the arms snagged him and yanked him into the pit. The triangular ceiling panels closed, engulfing him in darkness.
Wheatley gave a jerk, immediately curling his handles around his spherical body and shutting his—wait, handles?
Opening his optic, he glanced down, noting that his lower handle had returned—but his joy at discovering this immediately fled when he felt the intense heat all around him. Being an Aperture product, he could function in the heat, but it still scorched his casing—and on top of that, he swore he could feel something digging through his insides, though he did not immediately see anything around him.
"Wh-what's going on?!" he cried. His question was soon answered as he took a quick glance around: the darkness, the heat, the conveyor belt underneath him… Yes, he was back on the redemption line, and very close to the incinerator, if not already in it.
A nauseated feeling surged through his circuits—he didn't want to be here, but then, the only other option was…
Realizing he was moving along on a management rail, he forced himself to stop, grinding to a halt. "No, no, I can't do this anymore!" The rail shuddered, slowly forcing him forward no matter how hard he applied the brakes. His voice was desperate, but weak. "I-I don't want to do this anymore—let me go…"
He fought against the rail with everything he had, but it forced him onward, drawing him closer to the heat and pain. Even with the rail as a power supply, he felt exhausted as he fought against it. Finally he went limp, handles drooping as he allowed the rail to move him. He may have been crying again, but he didn't care anymore. Slowly but surely, the familiar feeling of numbness was creeping up on him again. He couldn't fight against his situation anymore—it was hopeless.
Wheatley briefly wondered if letting himself fall to the conveyor belt below would kill him faster.
"Are you still there?"
His gaze drifted downward, falling upon the single turret on the redemption line. If he had actually cared anymore, he may have been surprised when his rail led him downward, drawing him closer to the turret until he was beside her.
"You have avoided the first path," she whispered. "Remember that."
"So what if I bloody did," he muttered. "Th-this is it. I'm going to die here, or sh-she's going to kill me."
"This path has an end."
"The incinerator." He closed his optic. "I-I don't care. Okay? I-I really don't care. I hope we get to it sooner."
"It does not end in the incinerator."
A bolt of surprise shattered through Wheatley's numbness, and his eye widened. Did that turret—the one that had never raised her voice past a whisper—actually sound frustrated?
Blinking, he turned to face her, only for his eye aperture to contract—her beam of light was staring him straight in the optic. While the optic of a turret typically never showed any emotion, he swore he could feel determination burning in that blank red eye.
Even so, he turned away, shutting his optic again. "We can't go anywhere, though. Th-this heat, a-and—and whatever else is here—is going to kill us… What the bloody heck are we supposed to do?"
Her voice had quieted again, and when he turned back, he found her facing forward once more.
Wheatley stared at the turret, seeing her white casing shining in the heat. His gaze then trailed down to her stiff, immobile legs, then back to her optic, which seemed to glow in determination.
Slowly his optic widened in realization: the turret was feeling all the pain he was, and was more helpless than he was, yet she still held on to some kind of hope—even when it seemed like the redemption line's end was nowhere in sight.
Looking from the turret to the line and back again, Wheatley simulated a deep breath and carefully leaned his spherical body against her side. "R-right," he whispered. "I'll endure."
A trail had been left in the snow, dead grass and dirt showing where the thieves had traveled. The footprints overlapped, going straight one way and straight back, though at a few points they became distorted by a round imprint in the snow. Her brow had furrowed when she saw it—she knew what it meant, and what it could mean.
All the way, she had been fighting her old fear of that place. Part of her realized that if she set foot in there again, she may never come out. She also knew that Wheatley may have been injured even worse from this experience, if he hadn't been broken entirely.
But then a stronger voice within her would speak up, reminding her just what she was going back there for. If Wheatley had been broken worse, she would find a way to fix him. She could not leave him there. Not to mention, she had broken into her house. And if she did it once, who was to say she wouldn't do it again?
And Chell would not let that happen.
So, led by a flashlight, she had followed the trail away from her house, through the forest… and now here she was, at what appeared to be an old log cabin. Adjusting the weight of her backpack on her shoulders, she placed a gloved hand on the side of the building, and quickly pulled away—even through the material of the glove, she could feel the chill of metal. She moved her flashlight around, noting the rusted signs littering the front of the house: "Do not enter." "Beware of dog." "Solicitors will be shot."
This was the end of the trail, and she knew where it led.
Chell drew in a deep breath, trying to ignore the sick feeling in her stomach as she reached for the doorknob. As soon as she turned it, she yanked her hand back and dropped her flashlight as a sound echoed throughout the forest: dogs barking and howling.
The fear only lasted for a moment before she realized that the sound was coming from within the cabin, and that it was looping. Of course.
She shook her head and tried turning the doorknob again. To her relief, it yielded, and the door came open with a loud creak; simultaneously, the dog recording fell silent.
And had Aperture not trained her to listen for subtle noises, Chell would have been killed two seconds later.
But she heard the quiet whirring despite the creaking of the door, and automatically dove out of the way when she heard a rapid series of beeps directly behind her. The rockets slammed into the front of the cabin, briefly lighting the area, blackening the metal, and shattering the windows, and she covered her face to avoid getting cut by the shards.
Standing up, she saw a bright green optic with a dead, black pupil and a beam shooting directly out of it. Though it rotated slowly, it only took a moment for the beam to lock onto her form. The green turned to bright yellow, and the device emitted another series of beeps before flashing a bright red.
She darted out of the way, barely avoiding the rockets. There was a bright flash as a smoking crater appeared where she had been standing.
But now the rocket turret was turning back toward her, searching for where she may have gone. Before its beam could reach her, Chell darted into the shed and slammed the door shut.
Anyone else might have thought himself safe, but she knew she was anything but. She was in Aperture, where neither human nor machine was safe.
Before her was a lift, undamaged by the rocket fire. Its doors were open, welcoming her into the depths of hell.
But before she entered, she slipped her backpack off her shoulders, digging through its contents. At the same time, she kicked the snow-soaked boots off of her feet, and pulled out a second pair of boots—these ones solid white, each with a long black metal bar attached to the back. Carefully she slipped these on, frowning as she adjusted her stance—her toes touched the ground, while the metal bracers of the long-fall boots kept her heels in the air. Even after five years, she could still walk in them with ease.
Despite the icy wind blowing through the broken windows, Chell shed her layers of winter clothing, shoving them into her backpack and carefully arranging the contents of her bag and pockets. Normally she would have just arranged everything haphazardly, but here, the way everything was organized meant the difference between life and death.
Once she was satisfied, she slipped her backpack on and stepped into the lift.
The doors closed behind her.
The crow held still as a mechanical arm carefully pulled off its harness. Once the device was removed, the bird gave a grating cry, stretching its wings and flying toward the ceiling of the chamber.
"You have done very well, Caroline," GLaDOS said, her voice almost soft. She shifted her chassis as the bird perched on one of her "arms." "Mommy is very, very proud of you."
The AI tilted her head as her processor picked up the "sound" of silent screaming and a slight spike in physical agony through the connection. Though she was not actively controlling the experiment at the moment, her optic shone in satisfaction; the arms were examining the extent of her subject's injuries and repairs, and apparently had just made a dent in its innards.
Science wasn't Science without risk of injury, after all.
As she began to open her connection further to get a better sense for her subject's condition, her processor picked up something else—an elevator was moving without her telling it to somewhere in the facility. Optic narrowing, she traced the connection, and found it was the lift from one of the facility's secret entrances—the one that Blue and Orange had used not long ago. Switching her vision to that of the security camera within the lift, she looked inside—
And her entire body shook with rage.
The crow let out a screech, flying away from the infuriated AI and darting behind a panel in the wall. GLaDOS hardly noticed; she ran through a series of commands, rearranging the track of the lift and the path of the chambers it led to.
"I must say," she said, her voice carrying throughout the facility, "you have managed to surprise me. You are far, far more stupid than I could have ever imagined." Through the camera feed, she saw the lunatic whip around and glare at her. "I'm sorry. 'Stupid' is too polite a word for someone like you. It doesn't come close to measuring the sheer idiocy and lunacy your twisted mind possesses."
The lunatic retrieved something out of her pocket and pointed it at the camera.
"Yes, I see it. It's not a portal gun, you know. You are completely helpless without one. In fact, you are helpless whether you have one or not. Nothing you could possibly possess could help you, you stupid, mute—"
The feed fizzled out into blackness.
GLaDOS's optic narrowed to a slit. "So that's it. Your pathetic human weapon may have destroyed the camera, but it will do nothing against me. But I see you're willing to risk it. I would be… happy… to show you just how wrong you are, and just how dead you will be."
A nanosecond later, she made the elevator move faster and readjusted the chambers.
Apparently releasing her had not worked. It was time to end this once and for all.
Chell braced herself against the side of the lift as it plummeted into the depths of the facility. When it finally came to a stop, she nearly dropped to the ground, and staggered out as the doors slid open. As soon as the doors shut, she caught her hand against the wall and vomited.
A taunting voice rang out from a speaker in the corner. "Oh, did all those comments about your weight finally get to you? Or did it just take you five years to understand them?"
She spat in the direction of the speaker and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. While she hadn't lost her reflexes, apparently she'd lost the ability to stomach falling at high speeds. Though she kept the determined look about her, inwardly she found herself wondering if she'd lost anything else during the five year absence.
As she stepped out of the elevator room, the sour smell of stomach acid gave way to the smell of stale air and adrenal vapor. Solid white panels lit by fluorescent light greeted her, forming a short rectangular room. A single, round door stood at the far end.
She was back.
Chell's stomach was twisting, and it wasn't from the motion sickness. The chamber was overly-simple—there weren't even any obstacles. Looking to the wall on her right, she saw the sign for the test, which simply said "1" as opposed to the typical "1/19" or "1/22." None of the warning symbols below it were lit, which brought no comfort.
Drawing in a deep breath, she crept across the chamber, willing her senses to heighten. She listened for the sound of a panel opening, watched for a red beam of light, and smelled for even the slightest reek of neurotoxin. She did find one camera in the corner, staring at her intently, and had to fight the urge to pull out her gun and shoot it. She may need the bullets for later.
But none of the panels opened, no turrets dropped out from a hidden vent, and no neurotoxin leaked into the room. She made it safely to the other side, and the door automatically opened.
Clap, clap, clap.
"Oh, look, you haven't completely killed all your brain cells from lack of mental stimulation. I'm so proud of you."
It was tempting to glare at the camera again, shoot at it, maybe even throw a rude gesture in its direction, but she stopped herself. No, that would not help her. She would not give GLaDOS the satisfaction of an emotional response.
"You may have noticed that this chamber lacks an emancipation grill. That was intentional. You are no longer wearing official Aperture Science Test Subject clothing, and while it would be amusing to allow the grill to emancipate your outfit, I really don't want to see any more of your disgusting body than you are already subjecting me to."
Chell closed her eyes. Don't react, don't react, don't react.
"However, I do feel you have no need of that backpack."
Don't react, don't react, don't—what?!
A panel slid open, and Chell immediately whipped around to find herself facing a mechanical arm. But as she did so, she felt a tugging sensation at her shoulders, and realized that a claw was pulling on her backpack—a panel on the ceiling had slid open at the same time as the one on the wall. She'd been tricked.
Chell struggled against the claw, fighting for possession of her bag, but ultimately the mechanical strength of the claw won over her own. It yanked the backpack from her shoulders and carried it up into the ceiling.
"There. Now you can test properly."
She rubbed her aching shoulders and stared at a spot on the floor, fighting the emotions welling up in her—both the anger and terror.
"Proceed to the next test chamber."
The speaker clicked off, and a lift rose in the elevator room ahead.
Chell walked into the elevator, leaning against the wall as it brought her downward, further into the facility. Her backpack was gone, and to anyone else, the situation would have seemed hopeless.
But when had that stopped her?
GLaDOS quickly set up the next chamber, placing a portal gun toward the entrance. But, after a picosecond of thought, removed it, carefully rearranging the chamber to be able to be solved without one. No, she would not give her a portal gun this time—she knew what tricks the lunatic was capable of when she possessed one.
Besides, she had been toying with test chambers that involved no use of the portal gun, instead using portal-creating machines when portals were called for—and this would be the perfect chance to use them.
A thought occurred to the AI: she had taken the equipment the lunatic possessed and had her trapped in a set of test chambers. The human had no portal gun, no equipment aside from her boots to help her, and no stupid metal ball to help her escape the chambers. Not to mention, the AI had been perfecting the chambers, making them even harder to break out of.
What was stopping her from just leaving the human there, adding new chambers as she went?
The idea was… very tempting. It had been so long since she'd had a good test subject, after all, and the lunatic had always been rather good at solving tests. Meanwhile, she had the moron with her as well—perfect for playing with whenever watching the lunatic got old.
GLaDOS's optic glowed at the thought. The lunatic trapped in a series of endless test chambers, and the moron trapped in endless punishment. Oh, yes. It sounded absolutely wonderful.
But—no, tempting as it was, she could not trust the lunatic to not find some off-the-wall way of breaking out of her test chambers. Even now that GLaDOS could see every part of the facility, she knew how hard it would be to catch that rat if she ever got out. She either needed to throw her out or kill her. She'd already tried the first option and failed—for whatever reason, the lunatic had come back. That left the second option.
It wouldn't hurt to play around with her prey for a bit longer, though.
GLaDOS added a couple more test chambers to the track.
Wheatley had woken out of his hallucination some time ago, cringing upon seeing the blue light from his optic bouncing off the poles of several mechanical arms. He could still feel them in his casing, but oddly enough, they weren't doing anything at the moment.
Not that it made him feel any better. He tried to struggle, but the arms made movement incredibly painful, if not impossible. Agh… Bloody stupid arms… I-if you're not doing a-anything, get out! O-or get me out, that would be nice, t-too.
The arms prevented him from moving his optic, but from what he could tell, there was nothing much to see anyway. There were no lights here, and, if he remembered right, he was beneath the floor of the central chamber—she was right above him. At the very least, he couldn't see her… though he could definitely feel her presence nearby.
Wheatley groaned silently. Oh… Chell, p-please get me out of here! He tried to will his vocal processor to work, but the broken wires only sparked, causing him to twitch painfully. Chell, I-I don't know where you are now—but—but I know you won't leave me in here! W-will you?
To his shock, he received a response, but not one he'd been hoping for—there was a quick movement in his casing, followed by a shooting pain that made him spark and shudder; one of his wires had been severed.
"Don't think I've forgotten about you, moron."
Wheatley twitched again, but forced his optic to glare forward, where he hoped GLaDOS probably was. W-well, I did! B-because you're so bloody stupid, t-to think Chell w-won't come here a-and help—
The mechanical arms yanked themselves away from him just as electricity clawed through his spherical body.
"You are in no position to say anything like that," she said over the electricity. "Don't forget it."
Finally the pain stopped, and Wheatley went limp, twitching miserably a few times. …I won't…
"And you can stop asking for the lunatic to save you. She does not care about a worthless metal ball like you."
"I have a test subject to get back to. Meanwhile, why don't you perform a little test—see if you can go ten minutes without thinking a single stupid thought."
Wheatley lay on his side in that lonely place, waiting until he felt GLaDOS's attention move away from him. Even then, he swore he could feel the sick enjoyment she was getting out of this and whatever she was doing to her test subject. He shuddered. Okay… so, making fun of GLaDOS… that's a stupid idea, right… Twitch. And calling for Chell t-to save me… But she is going to—
Pain shot through his circuits again. He writhed until it stopped, and shut his optic.
O… kay… thinking she'll save me i-is… a bad idea… The thought was not a pleasant one. Not hoping for Chell to save him…? No—no, he couldn't do that. If he was going to endure, he had to hold on to some kind of hope. He nodded to himself despite the pain. Chell is going to—
Electricity clawed through him again, but he clung to his hope.
N-no, I'm going to endure this, b-because she is going to save—
And again the electricity shocked him, but he held on tighter.
She is, you bloody stupid—
CHELL IS GOING TO KILL YOU AND SAVE M—
Chell rushed out of the elevator and stared at the next sign, fighting to hide her frustration at seeing only the number "11." All these tests, and she hadn't received a portal gun yet, nor had she arrived at the end of the track. What was GLaDOS doing?
She wasn't tired at least, thanks to the adrenal vapor, but given how the AI had been acting, it wouldn't surprise her if that would be removed as well.
As she moved through the test chamber, a detached part of her quickly pieced together a solution to the puzzle the room presented, while the rest of her focused on just how she was going to get to GLaDOS and find Wheatley. The AI had not once mentioned him, which was rather strange—though maybe it was a good thing. After all, GLaDOS wasn't threatening to kill Wheatley if she didn't comply with her or didn't keep solving tests. But how long was she going to have to keep solving tests?
As she reached the end of the chamber, a chilling thought crossed her mind: Was GLaDOS just going to test her indefinitely?
"I'd forgotten how good you are at this. Did you know that 72.6 percent of humans die before they reach the eleventh chamber in a testing track?"
Chell had heard the AI's sick statements far too many times to be disturbed by them anymore. She stepped into the lift.
"It can get tiring cleaning human corpses out of these chambers. So if you happen to find a skeleton or two, I apologize. Do me a favor and kick them into an acid moat."
She closed her eyes, leaning against the wall of the lift as it began to lower. Just a few more chambers, she told herself. Just a few more chambers.
Yet after the next several tests, there was no sign of a portal gun, and no indication of when the testing track would end. She fought the panic that was starting to mount within her—the fear that she would be trapped in an endless series of tests, like the ones she'd had nightmares about so often before. Still, she continued through the chambers, fighting to figure out the increasingly-difficult test solutions.
It was more than her usual determination that kept her going. She wasn't fighting just to save herself anymore—she was fighting to save someone else.
"You're doing very well," came the AI's voice as she stepped out into yet another test chamber. "But I'm sad to say you won't stay that way for too long." Ominous laughter dripped from the speakers.
Chell tensed, but went on to solve the chamber as usual. Though she couldn't fight the feeling that something was strange here as she went through a series of buttons to redirect a laser into a switch. Hearing something activate, she turned to see a platform sliding along a track over an acid pit—
She spun around to look at the sign at the beginning, and felt a stab of nausea at its label: "19/19."
Frantically she looked around, searching for some way to get out of this chamber, but there was no way to go but forward. The platform had already gone beyond her reach, and another was moving along the track. As she stepped onto it, she was suddenly aware that she was shaking.
"Ah, human fear. It's been a while since I've seen that characteristic in you."
Chell punched the wall, willing herself to stop shivering. She wanted to scream, to say all manner of nasty things against the AI, but her vocal cords refused to let her make a sound. She proceeded through the course, which had been modified slightly to be able to be solved without a portal gun, using buttons to move obstacles from the track and dodging a bouncing plasma ball that was in her way.
Finally she found herself approaching a sign displaying a black-and-white icon of a cake and felt the heat radiating nearby. She knew what was coming, and her mind raced to figure out how to get out of it this time. The platform turned a corner, and just a few yards ahead was a blazing inferno, littered with ashes, broken equipment, and a couple blackened skeletons.
Above the sound of roaring flames rang quiet laughter.
No, no, no, it wasn't going to end this way, she'd gotten out before, but that was with the portal gun, but there had to be a way out of here again, she had to—
Something between the fire pit and acid moat caught her eye. There was a tiny space between the two, and on it sat a semi-large, black-and-white piece of equipment.
Immediately she lay down flat on the platform, squinting her eyes against the blazing heat, and reached down over the edge. As soon as she was close enough, she snatched up the portal device, ignoring the pain from the heat, and shot two portals—one on the platform above the fire, and one on the wall nearby. She jumped to her feet and leaped through the portal, gasping in the slightly cooler air above the fire pit, and dropping the burning portal gun to the floor.
She held her burned hand close to her chest, but despite the pain, she felt a wicked, defiant grin cross her face. She'd done it. Now all that was left was to wait for the portal gun to cool enough for her to hold it without burning herself worse, and use it to portal herself up—
Chell's face went pale.
The path to the rest of the facility—the one she'd used to get away the first time—had been blocked off.
GLaDOS's laughter rang throughout the chamber, louder and harsher than ever before.
"Did you honestly think it would be that easy? Did you think I would make the same mistake twice?"
Chell fought the urge to scream.
"Well, now, you're in an interesting position, aren't you? You could either sit up there until you die of dehydration or starvation, or you could jump into the fire pit and be burned to death. Quite the variety of choices."
No. There's got to be something else. She held her head in her hands. There's always something else...!
"But I'm feeling generous—I'll provide you with another choice. It's a much quicker death than any of those three." And with that, a panel in the wall opened, revealing a path beyond.
Chell looked into the opening, but couldn't see the end of the path. She slowly turned back to the fire pit, and of course, the path above was still sealed by panels. There was nothing more she could do here. But before she left…
Reaching down, she moved to pick up the portal device—
—and staggered back when it exploded in a burst of electricity.
Chell kicked the broken device into the fire pit and stepped through the opening in the wall. She had an idea of what lay ahead.
And though GLaDOS apparently made no oversights, neither did she.
GLaDOS had the command ready—all she had to do was confirm it, and the lunatic would be done for. She had ensured it. The human had no-one dumb enough to help her and nothing she could use to save herself. The plan was perfect.
She would not lose.
While her optic faced the panel in the wall that she'd opened, her vision was switching from camera to camera, watching the lunatic approach her chamber. There was no adrenal vapor here, and she could see the human's weary step. She could see her pale face, her shaking hands, and her frazzled hair, not to mention the cuts and scrapes on the skin that showed, and the burn on her hand—she was in bad shape. Her death would be swift.
GLaDOS gave a quiet laugh. "That's right. I have a surprise waiting for you just ahead. Do come closer—I want to see your face when you receive your… present."
Soon her aural sensors were picking up the clank, clank, clank of the long-fall boots as the lunatic approached her chamber. Finally she switched her vision to her optic as the weary human stepped into the room. She slammed the panel shut behind her.
But, to her surprise, the human only glared at her defiantly, showing no sign of the fear she'd seen in her earlier. "Oh, don't give me that look," she said, turning her massive frame while keeping her optic focused on the lunatic. "I'm doing you a favor. Instead of allowing you to die of something slow and agonizing, say, incineration, starvation, dehydration—I'm providing you with a much faster death. You should be grateful."
The lunatic did not respond, but continued to glare.
"Very well—let's get right to it."
She issued the command, and several air vents opened.
"Neurotoxin at capacity in three minutes."
At that, the lunatic staggered back, frantically searching her pockets. GLaDOS laughed at the sight. "Aren't you desperate. You know that human weapon of yours will do nothing against my frame." Her optic glowed as the human turned away, hunching over. "I suppose I could give you a sporting chance and dump conversion gel into the room like that moron did, but then, you don't even have a portal gun. You have nothing to help—"
The lunatic turned around.
And GLaDOS's frame jerked back, her optic widening. "Wh-what—no—how did you—?!"
She could see the grin in the human's eyes despite the gas mask that covered her face.
This was not possible. She had rid the human of that bag she carried—how had she missed…?! …No, no, this wasn't over. The lunatic was still trapped, and that mask's filter couldn't last forever. Her frame relaxed, and she laughed quietly, allowing the neurotoxin vents to continue spewing poison into the air. "You're only prolonging your death. If you don't want to take that option, I've got another one for you."
Slowly GLaDOS began to lower several claws into the room and watched the lunatic carefully. "You know… did you ever stop to think that there's eventually a point where your name gets mentioned for the very last time?" she asked, bringing her head closer to the human's face as her optic burned an intense, threatening yellow. Meanwhile, each claw dropped a turret and retracted back into the ceiling. "Well, here it is: I'm going to kill you, Chell."
And the turrets locked onto her.
Someone said… her name…
Wheatley's processor was quickly yanked through its boot-up sequence, pulling him out of the daze he'd been in. Twitching, he glanced around the room, only to find that he was still in the same place. But… he swore he'd heard someone say her name.
I'm going to kill you, Chell.
Yes, that's what he'd heard. But who—
I'm going to kill you, and you'll never have another chance to kill me.
Wheatley's optic shrunk to a pinprick. What was going on…?! How was he hearing this? Was he really hearing this, or was he just hearing things again?
This plan will not fail.
He strained his aural sensors, trying to find the source of the voice, and he was hearing something—footsteps… and gunfire? But the voice wasn't coming from there. His optic narrowed as he concentrated, trying to think—but there were strange feelings getting in the way, part excitement, part fear, but… somehow it wasn't his. It was like he was sensing something, like—
His optic widened in realization: he was connected to her, and she was connected to him. And if he could trust her thoughts…
The lady had come back.
Wheatley felt dazed at first, but soon the hope he'd been so desperately clinging to before began to grow, partly numbing the pain he felt, filling him with warmth… But despite all this, despite the happiness he felt, he swore his emotions were glitching, because he felt like crying again—
He jolted and twitched. No—that was Chell's voice, she'd been hurt—! And there was something else—joy?
"Oh, you have no idea how long I've wanted to hear that."
No, no, no, you can't hurt her, you can't hurt Chell—! Wheatley's optic darted around in panic, but what could he do? He was trapped here underneath the chamber with no way of getting out. He was trapped under here, hooked up to GLaDOS, and he was still hurting from—
…No, that's completely mad. I-I can't do that—! It's completely ridiculous—but—but… He looked around at the light from his cracked optic bouncing off the mechanical arms, his upper handle, the space where his lower handle should have been… Ridiculous ideas are all I've got now, aren't they?
"Time's almost up."
Another pained cry.
Wheatley snapped his optic shut, focusing everything he had on trying to attack the massive AI above him. It was a tremendous drain on his energy, but he had to do something—he had to help Chell…! He focused on all the pain that AI had put him through, all the mental and physical anguish she'd given him and the lady, all those days and days of endless torture—
Let's see… how you… like it… GLaDOS!
There were thirty seconds on the countdown timer, the turrets had hit their target a few times, and the lunatic was steadily growing more and more tired.
GLaDOS's optic glowed in delight. She could let the turrets finally strike her down, she could wait until the human passed out and tear off that gas mask, or she could forego those options and just crush her with—
And without warning, her whole world was consumed in agony. Her massive body twisted as electricity arced off of her frame, and a scream tore through her vocal processor, rising in pitch and warping until it became nothing but a garbled robotic howl.
Her circuits burned, her processor was reeling, and she couldn't even hear herself screaming anymore. She was blind to everything but the pain, and searched frantically for the source, soon finding it directly beneath her.
"GET—OUT…!" she roared, her chassis and everything around it shuddering in violent tremors. "GET OUT!"
The floor burst open, and with a spark of electricity a tiny form was thrown out into the chamber, knocking over a few turrets as it went. Simultaneously the agony began to fade, and she lowered herself, a few sparks still dancing across her chassis. Her vision cleared just in time for her to see the lunatic knocking over the remaining turrets.
Her sensors were reeling in pain, everything was going wrong, and the human was still alive.
GLaDOS made no attempt to mask her rage.
"You murderous lunatic," she thundered. "I don't know what you've done to me, but this isn't over."
Without another word, she issued a string of commands, sending a spike plate roaring down from the ceiling, crashing through several panels in the side wall. To her fury, the lunatic barely managed to dodge, staggering over to grab something.
No matter. She wouldn't be able to dodge this next one. Issuing another string of commands, she prepared to have spike plates circle the chamber—
"Neurotoxin at maximum capacity."
There was a feeling rapidly building inside her, stronger than any she'd felt before. It was stronger than the shock and confusion she'd felt when the lunatic had first escaped chamber 19, stronger than her rage and terror when the mechanical arms tore her from her chassis—it was a sense of overwhelming panic, as though she had made a horrible mistake, worse than failing to kill the lunatic, as though she had—
Her chassis swung around to face the other side of the room, and her head jerked upward as she opened a group of panels in the wall toward the top of the chamber.
And GLaDOS screamed, unaware of her half-destroyed chamber, her still-burning circuits, her subjects escaping through a broken wall—blind to everything but the sight of three crows, lying still behind the panels.
Chell had no idea where she was or where she was going. All she knew was that GLaDOS was probably following her, and Wheatley was not talking.
She held the core tightly in her arms, clutching him close to her side. It was too hard to carry him by his handle with her injured hand, and it was all she could do to keep herself from dropping him. He wasn't struggling, either, and that worried her even more—he wasn't resisting being carried like this, when he couldn't even stand her touching his casing before.
Finally she came to a stop, finding herself near what appeared to be the outside of a chamber. Leaning against the reverse side of a panel, she slid to a seated position and tore off her gas mask, taking a gasp of unfiltered air. She set Wheatley down next to her and fished through a pocket inside her jacket, pulling out a packet of gauze and bandages. As she treated the wound in her arm where one of the turrets' bullets had grazed her, she cast an occasional glance at the core beside her, looking for some sign of life.
He lay limp against her side, optic still lit, but dull and flickering.
Chell quickly finished wrapping her arm and turned to face the core. She placed her uninjured palm against his side and shook him, but received no response. Eyebrows furrowing, she moved to grab his handle and gave it a squeeze. The core twitched, but did not respond otherwise. His optic went a shade duller.
Her stomach was knotting, and she felt her throat tighten—this couldn't happen, not after she'd risked all this to save him, not after she'd escaped death trap after death trap, not after she'd gone through all those lonely years in the outside world…
Not after she'd finally found a friend.
She lifted the core onto her lap, ignoring the stabbing pain in her arm, and leaned her head against the top of his casing. And, going against everything she'd determined when she first woke up in the relaxation chamber all those years ago, she spoke:
It was just a whisper, but its effect was immediate. She felt the core stir, and pulled him back as his optic turned a slightly brighter shade. Though his optic was still dull, he was staring up at her.
Chell let out a sigh, and pulled him closer to her again. "It's all right," she whispered, "We're getting out of here."
Clank, clank, clank.
He could hear nothing but the rhythmic footfalls of metal boots against a metal catwalk. His vision was blurred, his body was sore, and he was tired… so tired.
He'd heard the lady speak, but it had felt like ages ago, and the sound had seemed far away. He thought he'd seen her face, but his vision had been fuzzy—his memory was fuzzy. He couldn't remember where they were—someplace dark. The facility? The chamber? The turret redemption line? He didn't know anymore.
His whole body ached, like he'd overworked every circuit in his system. Maybe he had. Just moving his optic took a tremendous amount of effort. He was tired. He was so tired…
His vision blurred again, and it seemed to change—what was that? Turret parts… core parts… he was moving… it was so hot…
Optic flickering and vision changing again, he tried to look upward, and finally saw the blurred face above him. The lady turned him around and pointed to something, and he could just barely make out something sticking out of the wall—a core receptacle?
"Can you summon the lift?"
The lift… summon it…? He didn't want to do that, he was so tired—but if the lady was asking him, maybe he had to. He knew he had to. Twitching, he tried to mimic a nod, but gave up partway through, his face turned downward.
Snap, beep beep beep—clang.
The receptacle latched onto him, and he barely felt the pain as it grabbed his banged-up handle and connected to his sore back port. He did feel the energy slowly seeping into him from the connection, but he was still so tired…
Oh, hadn't the lady wanted him to summon the lift…? Right, he had to do that… She was probably standing right in front of him, but he was too tired to even feel embarrassed at her watching him. Turning in his casing, he sluggishly began to enter the command.
Beep… beep… beep…
His vision was blurring.
He was tired.
And he hardly noticed as the receptacle turned, pulling him away from the lady and into the darkness beyond.
Chell was too panicked to realize she had justraised her voice in the place where she had never dared before speak. She pounded her fists against the wall, ignoring the burning in her right palm and the pain shooting up her left arm. She stared at the blank wall where the core receptacle had been moments before, and finally pulled her leg back, kicking at the panel with all her might. It did not budge.
Soon she was on her knees, trying to work her fingers into the tiny crack between the panels, trying to pry it open and wishing desperately that she had brought a crowbar. She gritted her teeth, eyes narrowing as she gave a forceful tug, but only succeeded in hurting her fingertips. Shaking the pain out of her hands, she reached for the panel again for another try, but stopped.
She could hear something behind the wall—an odd whirring sound, accompanied by a hum. Pressing her ear against the wall, she listened more intently.
He opened his optic, finding himself on the redemption line. But rather than seeing nothing but the conveyor belt below him and the turret beside him, he saw something else—a light somewhere up ahead.
Soon he realized he'd been leaning against the turret's side the whole time, and he pulled away, shaking himself. "Wuh… what's goin' on…?" He blinked at hearing his slurred voice; even here, he felt tired.
"We are approaching the end of the path." The turret was staring straight ahead.
He followed her gaze, noting the steadily growing light. "Oh…" He blinked dully. "N-near the end. That'll be nice… to get out of this torment, and all. B-but… where's this even lead to?"
The turret continued to stare unblinkingly ahead. "There are three places afterward. Three places—two of them seem much the same, but there is a difference."
"Y-you… didn't you say that before?"
"The first is eternal, the second temporal. The second must be crossed in order to reach the third." She turned her optic on him again, and he was too tired to look away from the blinding light. "You have avoided the first."
"Right… the first… So that means I'm—I'm on the second, heading toward the third… Still d-don't know what it all means, b-but all right." Not that he cared. He was so tired… Did his sleep mode work here? Maybe it did—maybe he could use that, and just sleep for a while. He was so tired, so…
The unmistakable sound of mechanical arms whirred around him.
That caught his attention.
He hardly had time to cry out before they grabbed at him, some of them forcing him to keep still, some of them tugging at his casing—
"NO, NO, STOP!" Wheatley cried, trying to pull himself free of the arms, but they only clung tighter. The turret was still beside him, her optic focused on him. "I-I thought I was done with this!"
"You must endure."
Endure—like he hadn't been doing that this whole time, jumping from place to place, from the chamber, to the facility, to the outside, to the lady's house, to the redemption line, back and forth, and everything in-between, and the constant pain and confusion and fear and guilt and not being able to do a bloody thing—
"I'M BLOODY TIRED OF IT!"
He tried to struggle harder, but despite all this anger, he felt no strength in him. Finally he let himself go limp, twitching miserably. "L-let me go, please, j-just let me go…!"
"We are approaching the end of the path."
"I-I don't care… I just want to get out of here." He shut his optic, trying to ignore what the arms were doing to him. His mind wandered to the fragmented bits of memory from whatever had happened before—his joy and relief at discovering the lady had come back for him, the rush he'd felt finally getting back at GLaDOS, followed by the feeling of absolute unbearable exhaustion… and then the lady again, who was tired, who had been hurt, and who had been counting on him to get her out of there… just like she had before, when he'd been able to do it so easily, and now, when he felt like he could hardly move…
"Oh—if, if any of that was real, w-with her—with Chell—I want… I want to be back there—I need to g-get her out… I need—"
There was suddenly a burst of electricity, bolting down his management rail and shooting through his body. He swore he could see the turret's optic flash behind him, and, despite the grip of the mechanical arms, he trembled from the sheer force of the power. It was not painful, but it was overwhelming, and he felt energetic and dazed all at once.
Finally the charge stopped, and one by one the arms released their grip on him. He hung limply on the rail, processor reeling. His vision was blurring, but at the same time, he could see the light up ahead.
"You are at the end of the path," he heard the turret whisper.
The light overtook his vision.
"That's all I can say."
The panel turned.
Beep, beep, beep-beep.
Chell could hear the quiet hum of the lift behind her, but did not turn around. She found herself staring wide-eyed at what the receptacle spat out as the object rolled to her feet. Almost in a daze, she stooped down, scooping up the core and staring at it in wonder.
A familiar light caught her eye, and her head whipped upward in time to see the receptacle turned slightly—a red beam was poking out from between the receptacle and the adjacent panel. Her initial reaction was to stumble backward, but the light only moved harmlessly between her and the core she held.
The voice was a friendly whisper, and before Chell could respond, the receptacle turned back, and the panel shut.
The light had been so bright, he couldn't see anything for some time. Maybe he had gone blind—had the charge caused his optic to shatter? Had one of those mechanical arms broken his optic? Or maybe…
No. No, he couldn't be—no, not after all that he'd gone through, he'd tried so hard to get back there, to get the lady back to the surface—no, he couldn't…!
He tried to turn, and shuddered when he felt his innards grind. No, you didn't feel pain after you died, did you?
He moved again, this time more carefully. He could turn a little in his casing, as much as he could without hurting himself, and tried waving his handle. That seemed to move all right, but—but there was something different, and…
Eye widening, he blinked several times, trying to adjust his optic, and finally his vision started to clear. It was still so bright, and it was hard to see, but he was able to notice the difference right away:
His lower handle was back.
So that's what you were doing…! he thought, almost laughing from the sheer joy of it. But there was something else—the turret, she'd said that he was… that he was at the end of the path. That he'd reached the "third place…" But what was it?
He looked around as his optic continued to focus. The sky was clear for once, and the sunlight bounced off of the snow that covered the ground. But he wasn't sitting on the ground—he was being carried.
He looked up, and saw Chell's smile.
And Wheatley knew he was there.
A post-chapter author's note… Hmm. Well, I am not sure if this was a triumph, or if I should make a note here that it was a huge success, but it is finished.
As I stated at the end of the previous story, I started this story with no plans of either finishing it or posting it. Yet this has turned into a complete story—and the longest story I have ever written. Counting the prequel, this story has reached nearly 67,000 words. "Triumph" or "huge success" or not, that is certainly an accomplishment, at least for this little core.
And I really must thank you readers for much of it. Even if you did not review, simply seeing the numbers on the stats page was an enormous encouragement. If you did review, that was even more encouragement, and for that I give you my sincere thanks.
I believe some special thanks are necessary as well. So, thank you Axel100 for your reviews and suggestions, which were immensely helpful and enabled me to figure out how to shape the story. Another special thank-you goes to StillAliveDoingScience for your amazing support and encouragement, and for being an all-around great friend. (By the way, everyone, go read her story, Target Acquired. It is fantastic!)
If you are wondering if you will see anything else from me in the future… Well, I do have a short one-shot that takes place after the story here. I may post it in December when I return. Otherwise, I do have a number of other stories—some Portal-related—in the works, though they will likely be posted under my main account. Will I post anything else with this account? Maybe, maybe not. But I do not think I will ever lose my function as a Fanfiction Core. It is in my programming, after all…
Farewell, readers. I hope you enjoyed my not-so-little story.