Impetuous Acumen
A Portal/Penguins of Madagascar Crossover

Part III


The room Kowalski emerged into was just like any of the previous elevator stations he had been in already, except this time the circular walls seemed to make some sort of display. On it was a little animation of a cartoon-like human figure being posed with a long stretch of monkey bars over a pit of the all-to-familiar hydrochloric acid. The little human hopped up and grabbed the bars. It traversed about half of the gap before ultimately slipping and descending out of view. Shortly thereafter, a monkey-like figure entered the same room and crossed the gap with great speed and agility. The animation began looping as Kowalski realized he had been watching it for some time.

"There were many reasons Cave Johnson wanted to test animals in addition to humans and robots," the monotonic voice said. "One of them is that animals sometimes have much better designs for certain tests." A slight pause. "Except for you. You can't even fly."

Kowalski gritted his beak and tightened his grip on the handle of his portal gun. Completely disregarding the insult, he couldn't help but feel a slight familiarity towards the name Cave Johnson. Where in the world had he heard that before? It almost felt like he knew the person his whole life, but just couldn't connect a face with a name. Giving his head a slight shake, he ventured forward and into the next room.

It was another test chamber, and the panel on the wall showed that this one wouldn't have a water hazard. Instead, another image was darkened, indicating something about a laser. Kowalski immediately became aware of what it was referencing as his eyes met with a thick red laser that looked like it could be hot enough to melt solid steel. In fact, he was pretty sure he saw little whips of vapor coming from the laser itself.

It was considerably above him and therefore out of his reach, but he made a mental note to come nowhere near touching it. He didn't want to add fatal searing to his list of almost-deaths since his arrival at the strange facility. The other half of the room showed a deep, empty pit and a higher column, on which the door was placed. Most of the surfaces in the room were the the material Kowalski recognized to be portal-conductive.

To his side, he saw another one of the cube dispenser tubes, except the button wasn't anywhere to be seen. After a moment of looking around Kowalski saw a tiny sliver of the big, red button over the edge of a separate column. To Kowalski's other side was one of the big, floor buttons. He waddled onto it and noticed how it disabled the laser. Glancing around, nothing was obvious to him. How does Blowhole expect me to get all the way up there? He wondered, rubbing his beak and looking up at the column.

"I'm programmed to not be able to help you with any tests," said the female voice almost as if on cue, "but that doesn't mean I can't remind you of Newton's first law."

Kowalski looked around the room until he located the camera that was diligently following his every move. Whoever was on the other side of the camera just dropped him a hint. Blowhole certainly wasn't the type to do that, even though he always felt the need to explain his plans. Still, he thought over what was said with intimate curiosity, wondering what it could mean.

Newton's first law, he wondered. 'An object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by some outside force.' He glanced up at the column, and then peered over the edge of the pit before finally reaching down and using his free flipper to gently feel the side of one of his his long-fall boots. That's the key.

He placed a blue portal far below him on the floor of the pit, and then looked for a suitable location for the orange portal. He found it on the opposite wall from the door, slightly angled up so that his vertical momentum would be transferred to forward momentum in the most efficient way possible. The scientist aimed carefully and managed to open the orange portal.

He took a quick double take to make sure both portals were in place. Then he inhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and jumped. Something forced his eyes to snap open again—undoubtedly the fact that he was now terrified of being in free-fall—and he looked down to make sure he was upright and still lined up with the blue portal below him. For once: everything was good. He was falling more than fast enough to launch himself from the orange portal, through the red laser, and...

...not through the red laser. Anything but through the red laser! Kowalski could see the searing red light through his portal in the floor. If he continued this way he was going to be sliced in half. With only milliseconds to spare, he closed the blue portal by shooting another one on the wall in front of him. He hit the now solidified ground hard and fell, more because of the shakiness in his own legs than the force of the impact.

The feminine voice returned. "Some test subjects represent experimental group A in the fact that they are very keen to the obvious problems and less aware of the obscure solutions. The other test subjects are classified into experimental group B as they are the opposite of experimental group A."

Kowalski picked himself off the ground, dusting his feathers and looking up as though the source of the echoing voice was just above him, laughing from the edge of the pit. "I am going to classify you as the first of experimental group C since you don't seem to fit into either experimental group A, nor experimental group B. Also, you were adopted."

Kowalski was finding it ever increasingly hard to ignore the robotic voice's insults. He knew Skipper would be ashamed of that fact, so he tried to hide it, but the animosity was still growing. Attempting to clear his mind, he swiftly used the blue portal to get out of the pit and back onto the main area, where he could rethink his strategy.

The floor button could be used to turn off the laser, he remembered. If only he could find the weighted storage cube to permanently depress it so that he could safely sail over to the door. Then he realized there was another good launching spot for the orange portal, just on the opposite wall of the column with the small button on it. That'll release the cube so I can escape! He realized. Why hadn't I thought of that in the first place?

As quickly as he could, the tall bird formed the orange portal in the correct place and then steeled himself for another jump down the pit to gain the momentum he needed. Double checking that this time he wouldn't risk getting sliced in half by the beam of energy, he jumped from the ledge. His vision was reeling by the time he entered the blue portal, and before he regained his bearings he hit the surface of the column he was aiming for hard.

"Records indicate that animals can feel physical pain, so that must have hurt," the voice mocked. "However, there is no evidence to support that you feel emotional pain. Your performance so far has proven that you can understand what I say, so I'll request that you respond to this question by writing yes or no on your clipboard and showing me."

Kowalski picked himself up from the concrete surface of the column, thankful that he had landed in such a way that it padded both the portal device and his fragile bones from being smashed. Shaking his head slightly to get his vision to stop spinning (he still really didn't like the whole free falling thing), he took out his clipboard and indicated that he was prepared to listen.

"Are my insults having any effects? That is, are you becoming angry?"

She's communicating with me, Kowalski realized, whatever 'she' may be. If Blowhole is somehow behind her, I know I can coax her into monologue. Then, I'll find out what all of his intentions are.

Kowalski scribbled down a quick check mark on his paper to indicate that his answer was yes. He held it up to the camera for it to see and after a moment the voice responded, "Good. You are far more responsive than that girl who tried to kill me. Anyway, your answer means that I won't be halting my insults anytime soon."

Kowalski scowled. What girl was she referencing? As far as he knew there was no other animal or human who was trying to stop Blowhole, so was he actually behind it? Out of pure curiosity, Kowalski flipped to a new page on the clipboard and quickly scribbled down a picture of the diabolical dolphin, followed by a question mark. Then he held this up for the camera to see.

"No. Aperture science has never been able to successfully implement a water-proof portal device. Therefore, dolphin testing has never been attempted. To answer future questions, I will indicate that you are the first animal to progress this far. You've even surpassed twenty-six percent of human test subjects..." A quick pause, indicating to Kowalski that the insult was about to come next. "...between the ages of one and three."

Kowalski's scowl didn't fade. He was seriously beginning to grow tired of the constant barrage the robotic female voice was giving him. Asking the question was well worth it, though. He knew one thing for sure now, and that was that Blowhole had nothing to do with anything that was going on.

The question now is, who does? He pondered.

After strapping his clipboard back over his back, Kowalski got back to the task at flipper. He pressed the button that he had striven so hard to reach, and smiled slightly as the weighted storage cube came tumbling out of the dispenser tube as expected. As gently as he could, he jumped down from the column, growing more use to using his long-fall boots.

It was easy work to move the cube onto the floor button, using the portal device's strange ability to levitate the cubes in front of it. The low hum of the overhead laser faded away as the beam disappeared, opening the pathway for Kowalski to fly across the gap and to the door. He repositioned his orange portal, and then took the dive to the blue one again. This time a little more prepared, he soared through the air and landed as gracefully as he could on the exit column.

Surprisingly, as he readjusted his clipboard and his portal gun, he felt oddly confident. Perhaps part of it was the fact that because Blowhole wasn't behind this whole charade, his chances for survival increased. Or more likely, it was the fact that he was learning how to handle everything around him.

Weighted storage cubes held down buttons that activated or deactivated devices, or opened doors. They could only be retrieved when a little, red button was pressed. Portals allowed for complete transfer of all kinetic and potential energy, meaning he could use great falls to travel over great drops. And most of all, he had no reason to worry about falling to his death.

He found himself smiling widely as he entered the tube-like elevator to the next floor. There were many tools within his grasp he could use to escape from this place. He just had to find a way out of one of the test rooms. Recalling what he saw when he was falling down into Aperture Science, there was a plethora of catwalks and passageways he could use to find his way back to the surface.

When the elevator opened on the next floor, the robotic voice spoke to him. "This next test exhibits Aperture Science repulsion gel, which was... rediscovered after recent events. Be wary, as rolling in this substance to mark your territory may result in molting, skin burns, and in most cases, death."

Kowalski took no notice of the warning as he entered the next test chamber. On the panel there he saw a new image illuminated; one that showed a human-like figure suspended in air over what looked like a splat of paint on the ground. Then he saw the giant blue globs of substance that were pouring from a pipe and splashing on the ground, covering all the nearby surfaces.

Repulsion gel, eh? Kowalski plotted. From what he could see, this room had a series of acceding platforms and no giant hole for him to jump into this time. That'll help me get up there, I bet.

Far above him was the exit door. If only there was a angled platform on the wall like in the previous room, he'd be able to use the repulsion gel to get the speed he needed to reach it. To his side he saw one of the floor buttons, and upon stepping on it he saw a panel slightly angle itself from the wall, in just the position he needed to fly up to the exit door.

Right away Kowalski aimed his portal device towards where the blue gel was splattering and opened a portal, then used the other portal to allow the substance to cover a large section of the room. Being careful not to let the gel cover his feathers, he used the available portal surfaces in the room to coat the ascending platforms. Then he closed the blue portal to stop the repulsion gel from spraying everywhere.

I just need a cube to hold down this button, he realized then saw the dispenser tube at the very top platform, just under where the door was. Knowing he had to get up there not once, but twice, he took his first step onto the blue repulsion gel.

The bird was completely caught off guard. The gel flung him up with such force that his entire frame was flipped head over heels. Feeling his militaristic instincts and training coming to him, he gracefully continued the flip and this time landed on his feet just off the edge of the gel.

"You display unusual agility for a penguin," the robotic voice observed. "I'm sure you're just trying to show off, though."

Kowalski looked up, shocked. If that robotic voice was going to be so impressed with one simple back-flip and stuck landing, he was going to show it he was capable of much more. Though admittedly, I haven't been showing the most athleticism, he realized. What did Skipper always tell me? 'Think with your gut and not with your brain.' Great advice for a time like this.

Making sure his clipboard was again secure and gripping the portal device tightly, Kowalski hopped onto the gel once more. This time he used both feet as to not be thrown into a spiral, and was more prepared when the elastic material forced him upwards with unimaginable velocity. He did a quick flip to give himself the forward momentum he needed to climb the platforms, and with no trouble he landed on the gel-coated surface once more.

Feeling his confidence return to him, Kowalski smiled. With swift movements and athletic back-flips, he reached the top platform. The repulsion gel had not reached it, and therefore when he hit it he was happy to hear the resonating sound of his boots breaking his fall. It wasn't hard for him to press the button and receive the cube he was now accustomed to seeing. Then, by forming a portal behind him on a previously inaccessible portal surface, he quickly deposited the cube onto the floor button and returned to the high platform.

Almost as if free falling was now the bird's second nature, Kowalski formed his two portals so he could traverse the distance required to reach the exit. Then, letting his confidence consume him, Kowalski launched himself head-first into his portal on the ground. This resulted in him looking as though he was actually flying when he reemerged from the platform higher up, and just to show that he was no longer afraid he flapped his wings a little bit. Before he hit the ground on the exit platform, he righted himself so that his boots could break his fall.

He searched for the voice's camera for a moment, preparing for whatever it had to say. He wasn't necessarily expecting praise, so the silence that followed his athletic feat was welcome. Then, as if there had been some kind of delay, the door opened. But that wasn't what caught Kowalski's attention.

The panel that had angled outward had tried to retract and was now stuck. Some of the blue repulsion gel had gotten into its seams and when it tried to close, it was forced back open. Kowalski could hear some gears grinding and some pistons firing as it desperately tried to go back to it's initial position, even rotating slightly so Kowalski could see the metal arms that were controlling it. Then, it broke off and fell to the ground.

On the other side of the wall, Kowalski saw a catwalk. It was only for a swift second, as a replacement panel was lowered into position almost immediately, but it was enough. It was just like one of the catwalks he had witnessed upon his first decent. It was a glimpse into the world outside the test chambers, and more importantly, his chance of escape.

If only the panel hadn't been replaced so quickly. He probably could have formed a portal on the other side by the catwalk, provided there was a portal-conductive surface there. He cleared his head of these thoughts, knowing there was no possible way he could have been prepared for the small window of opportunity.

Still, the simple fact that the panel had broken off meant that the one greatest strength of the test chambers was also its one greatest weakness. The panels let the mysterious robot voice change the test chambers at her will, but that meant that they left a huge opening for escape while she did so. If Kowalski could just jam it somehow, he could slip out. Hopefully, then, there wouldn't be any significant defenses on the other side.

There could be a variety of automatic weapons and motion-detection explosives out there, he thought suddenly, increasing his tenseness. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, though. There's nothing this robot can throw at me that Blowhole hasn't already. Kowalski gulped when he remembered that Blowhole just about defeated them twice already.

Once again, the robotic voice brought him back to his senses. "You're very agile for a penguin," it commented. "Too bad you can't fly. Actually, that's a good thing. Otherwise you'd be unfit for testing and would have to be baked. And then we'd have cake."

Kowalski arched a brow in the direction of one of the camera, then gently shook his head. Whoever programmed that robot must have been completely out of their mind, he speculated.

The scientist bird pushed through to the elevator and headed up to the next floor. There the panel showed most of the what Kowalski now realized were obstacle indicators lit up, meaning that there were a variety of traps to overcome in the next test.

After rounding a corner, he came face to face with exactly what he was going to have to do. It was a large room with some of the electrified hydrochloric acid filling the outside of what was a large peninsula. There were a few platforms several feet above the surface of the acid, protruding from the wall. The door was on the far side of the room from where Kowalski stood, its platform being considerably out of reach.

Kowalski immediately looked for a setup that would give him the ability to launch himself across the moat of acid, but found none. This chamber offered no pit to gain speed and no properly angled panels to fly out of and land on the platform. There was also no source of the repulsion gel available either, though there was one of the large lasers emitting from the wall and ending a short while later when it hit another wall. To Kowalski's right was a raised platform, on which he saw a dispenser tube, as well as a button.

The intellectual penguin glanced around for one of the floor buttons that a weighed storage cube might be used for, but found none. Furrowing his brow, he wondered what in the world one of the cubes would be useful for if there was no button for it to hold down. Regardless, he pressed forward, ready to begin the test.

Immediately he began looking for a way to reach the dispenser tube, and was happy to see a small portal-conductive surface on the ceiling above the platform. He opened a portal on it and then formed one below him, gracefully landing on both feet like he had been falling great distances his whole life. He pressed the button then, but the cube that came out of the tube was not like he was expecting.

The cube's frame itself was made out of mostly the same material as the other cubes Kowalski had been using, but this one had its center cut out and in its place a large, glass sphere. It seemed considerably lighter as it hovered in front of the portal device. The scientist was wondering what in the world the cube could be used for with no button for it to hold down, when he saw his reflection in the glass.

Glancing over to the laser, he thought to himself, glass bends light. He hopped down from the platform and walked up to the laser, being careful not to get to close. Even though he had gotten the jumping thing down, he was no more fond of getting his flippers seared off than he was before. He leaned away slightly from the heat of the laser as he pushed the cube in front of it.

At first, the cube did nothing more than block the laser, which shot hot little bits of metal off in all directions from where the laser was contacting it. Then, when the laser hit the glass sphere, it became deflected. Instead of a perfectly straight line, it angled in the direction Kowalski was facing. Mustering his confidence, yet still weary of the hot laser, Kowalski gently rotated his position and the cube followed, changing the trajectory of the laser.

This laser is hot enough to cut through steel. It's amazing that the panels themselves withstand it, he remarked, yet it is so easily deflected by something as simple as a glass orb. It seems that physics prevail once again. Still, this discovery will come in handy later.

For a few moments Kowalski got used to pointing the laser at different spots on the walls around him by gently rotating and maneuvering the cube, being careful to keep his flammable feathers well away from the heat. Then he saw a device on the wall. It was somewhat similar to the portal device in that it had odd appendages coming out of it towards him. Out of curiosity he directed the laser into the center of the device, and was surprised to see it power up.

The appendages curled inward, almost like they were protecting the laser. Lights on the device turned on, and it took Kowalski a minute to realize that the platform just above the surface of the acid was now slowly moving back and forth. He slowly moved the laser away from the device, and witnessed the platform stop in its tracks.

Of course. Converting laser energy into electricity through the use of solar cells. Why didn't I think of that? He wondered. It must make a super efficient way of transporting electricity. Perhaps even more efficient than those silly power cables the humans use.

He replaced the laser to make the platform begin its mechanical sliding back and forth once again, and then waddled closer to it to inspect it. Most of the surfaces around it were dark, showing that they would not support the formation of portals. Instead, he found another small panel of the white concrete in the ceiling, and formed a portal there. Then he formed a blue portal on the floor next to himself, then peered in. He knew he had to time his fall correctly to avoid dropping into the hydrochloric acid.

Alright, Kowalski, he told himself, it's a simple timing procedure. Like Skipper says: 'Flipper-to-flipper combat is a game of seconds. One missed opportunity can result in death.' I suppose the same thing applies here.

He glanced up to see the platform returning to the end of its sliding range, where it would be directly under the portal. When it was nearly underneath it, he jumped in, knowing it would take him a second or so to plummet the required distance. The platform would just slide in underneath him, and he'd be safe from the acid.

Or so he thought. He timed his fall slightly too early and nailed the edge of the platform, just barely managing to grab on with his flippers. The surface of the platform was solid glass, though, and it offered no holds for his flippers. In addition, the platform began moving back towards the exit door, making it even harder for him to maintain his grip.

How did I mess that up? He questioned himself as he began desperately trying to pull himself up. Due to the added weight of the portal device and the boots, however, he was quickly slipping. I hope being dissolved alive by acid isn't too painful of a way to go.

Right as his flippers slid off the platform and he began plummeting towards the acid, however, a platform jutted out from the wall to save him. Dazed, with his heart racing, Kowalski lost his balance and fell backwards. Before he could even wonder what in the world saved him, the moving platform folded up against the wall, and more moving panels folded from the wall, making a bridge for him to waddle to the exit. He stood up, not wasting the second chance, and moved quickly until he was back on safe ground. The panels promptly folded themselves back up.

He glanced around the room, finding the camera that was observing him. He looked at it curiously for a few moments, expecting an explanation to why the robotic voice had saved him. When there was none, he removed his clipboard from his back and drew one big question mark, holding it up to the camera.

"The Aperture Science portal device, especially the small version you are holding, is far too valuable to let fall into electrified hydrochloric acid. You, on the other hand, were just lucky enough to be holding onto it when I caught it. Well done, you coward."

Kowalski tapped his beak thoughtfully. It makes sense that the voice would want to protect her assets, but up until now she made it seem like Kowalski was nothing but a liability. Didn't she have a method of rescuing the portal device while still letting him fall into the acid? He wasn't so sure, but something still gave him a gut feeling that he had been saved on purpose.

That doesn't change anything, Kowalski resolved, I still need to get out of here and look for the team. They could have been captured by Blowhole by now, if he is actually stationed at Ceder Bluff at all.

He gave the camera a curd nod, then waddled through the door and to the elevator to the next chamber. He needed to look for an escape route quickly, otherwise he could be kept here for a long time. There was no other reason the voice would have saved him from the fall into the acid; she found his athleticism interesting and she wanted to keep testing him, regardless of if he failed or succeed.

The elevator opened and Kowalski waddled through to the next room. The panel again showed that all of the hazards he had come to recognize were part of this room. The room itself was as large as the last room. A moat of acid separated the two halves of the room, the far side showing no portal-conductive surfaces available for the penguin to use.

On Kowalski's side, there were a few more interesting items. A laser came from the ceiling and bored into the ground, which Kowalski noted was a portal-conductive surface. On his left was a pipe that spilling more of the repulsion gel everywhere, coating the nearby surfaces. Another raised platform held a button and a dispenser tube for the cube, which Kowalski realized would probably be a laser-deflecting one because of the fact that no floor button appeared to be nearby. On Kowalski's right was a deep pit with a portal-conductive surface at the bottom that he could use for momentum.

There's nothing here that stands out as a means of escape, he thought to himself.

The scientist looked around until he saw another one of the strange wall devices nearby, ready to accept power from the bright red laser. Realizing that was a good starting point, he wasted no time in using some of the repulsion gel to make his way onto the raised platform and retrieve the laser-deflection cube. Then, after realizing he couldn't get the right angle just by deflecting the vertical angle itself, he made a portal where the laser was hitting and the other at a more ideal angle, allowing the laser to pass through unhindered.

He then angled the cube to deflect the laser into the device, and witnessed a portal-conductive panel angle itself upward from the floor, making the solution apparent. He could use the pit to gain the speed he would need to clear the gap and land safely on the other side, where he could leave. But he didn't do that immediately.

I'm not going to put up with another one of these tests. I need to find a way out of here, and I think I've just found the escape route.

He gently edged the laser off of the device, and watched as the panel fell flat with the floor. Then, upon the device receiving power again, it angled itself back up. He did it a couple more times just to understand the kind of window he had to execute his plan. He didn't have more than a couple tries at it before the robotic voice intervened.

He lined the laser up to the device one last time and prepared to make a break for it. In one swift motion, he spun the cube away from the device and towards the panel. Before the panel had a chance to fully retract, the laser cut through the metal arms that were supporting it, letting it violently clatter to the ground.

"No!" shouted the monotonic voice.

"Yes!" shouted Kowalski.

Almost immediately after Kowalski successfully cut the panel off, the chamber went dark. Realizing that the voice had probably cut the power to prevent his escape, he wasted no time in getting to the hole he had made. It was tricky to get there in the darkness, but a faint light coming through the hole helped him to find his way. Then, seconds before the replacement panel snapped into place, Kowalski dove underneath it and to freedom.

He picked himself up on the other side, taking account of all of his possessions before preparing to locate a way out of the facility. He had his portal device, his long-fall boots, and his clipboard—all the tools he should need.

In front of him was a long catwalk, and a rusted looking one at that. It didn't look like it had seen use in many decades and as a result had broken, leaving a huge gap. Kowalski smirked slightly, knowing that obstacle such as these wouldn't be any problem at all. Two portals on the walls and he was quickly on his way to find his way out.

I fell down when I came, he understood, and that means that the only way out is straight up.