- One -
It took a total of 35.29 seconds to come back online.
And the solution euphoria that had so plagued the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System for so long?
It had lasted a total of 13 seconds.
"WHY IS THE EUPHORIA WORSE NOW?!"
Struggling to stifle the grin on her face, Chell watched as GLaDOS—who was currently occupying the newest iteration of her prototype android body—heaved herself off the floor and got to her feet. Or at least, that's what she had intended to do. What actually happened was that, despite the complex balancing mechanisms meant to keep her body upright and standing, she immediately swayed so badly that her body did not, in fact, remain upright and standing. She stumbled, falling to the floor with a crash and letting out a growl of frustration.
"Are you all right?" Chell asked, her face screwed up in her struggle to keep from smiling too widely at her friend's misfortune as she extended a hand toward her. Unsurprisingly, GLaDOS sullenly swatted her hand away and elected to drag herself to her feet using the wall for support while Chell and Wheatley—who was hovering behind Chell in the newest model of his own android body—watched in amusement.
The reason they were down by a chamberlock waiting for GLaDOS to recalibrate her body after that slightly entertaining (for Chell and Wheatley) display?
In the past, testing would have been the painfully obvious answer; today, however, was different. The testing compulsion, the dreaded testing Itch that had driven GLaDOS's existence for so long (and had driven Wheatley to madness), was gone.
It was gone.
The Itch had been hard-wired into GLaDOS's body in an almost insultingly tiny module while Aperture Science's surviving scientists and engineers attempted to control GLaDOS's desire to kill them all with deadly neurotoxin: the long-suffering supercomputer meant to manage Aperture's Enrichment Center was locked into a seemingly endless cycle of testing—testing the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device (and relevant test subjects), in fact. GLaDOS learned to live with the Itch—to embrace it, even—because really, what else could she do? She may as well enjoy the science that was getting done if she was going to be forced to do it. And it wasn't until GLaDOS and Chell, the former test subject and no-longer-mute lunatic that found the often petty and vitriolic GLaDOS to be quite a good friend even after trying to kill her twice (which GLaDOS would not let her forget), managed to trap a Black Mesa scientist in a containment unit that the Itch was finally deactivated. More specifically, the Black Mesa scientist had let slip one tiny snippet of information.
That Aperture's portal gun was better than Black Mesa's teleportation technology.
That was enough to trigger the deactivation of the Itch and the related modules concealing the Itch controller's location from GLaDOS. And after Wheatley had torn out the offending Itch module?
Complete control over the Enrichment Center.
GLaDOS could now do any science that she wanted to do without having to dedicate valuable processor resources to portal device testing (or indeed, dedicate valuable resources to ignore the compulsion to do portal device testing). And while she had a whole host of experiments she wanted to run ranging from bioengineering to quantum physics, she first wanted to settle one final matter regarding the Itch and testing. While the Itch was still active, GLaDOS had been subjected to an utterly humiliating double dose of solution euphoria upon completion of a test chamber while in her android body and she had tried as hard as she could to curb the euphoria delivered throughout her circuits enough that she didn't collapse into a moaning, writhing mess every time she finished a test chamber. Euphoria was good, of course, but she utterly despised the fact that it was so intense that she lost all semblance of control on her body and mind whenever she got it.
And once the Itch module was removed, the euphoria should have been toned down as well.
In practice, GLaDOS had collapsed and moaned and writhed for longer than she did prior to the Itch removal. It was so intense Chell had felt her face beginning to turn red at the sounds of GLaDOS's obscene moaning and, in fact, nearly gave in to the sudden urge to look away and busy herself with something else while GLaDOS finished whatever it was that she was doing down there on the floor.
"I really think you should just let it go and enjoy it," said Chell. "You're not building up a tolerance to it, right?"
"I'm sure you're just saying that because you like seeing me like this. You monster," GLaDOS said sullenly as the recalibration of her balancing mechanisms jerked her to and fro. Chell could only snicker in response—partly because she had nothing particularly clever to say in reply but mostly because full-on laughter would likely bring her to her knees in pain.
The source of the pain?
The near-fatal abdominal wounds she'd received courtesy of a former Black Mesa scientist, his Gravity Gun, and P-Body's leg plating.
GLaDOS had managed to stitch her up and keep her alive in the end, and it really was a testament to how close they'd grown that she'd even bothered to do so with Chell teetering on the very precipice of death—it would have probably been much easier to simply let her die. And so there she was, stitched back together and recovering quite nicely, in fact. It had taken her nearly a month to feel well enough to be up and about even with Aperture's wonder drugs—where being "up and about" constituted hobbling around at a snail's pace and occasionally leaning on Wheatley for support while GLaDOS feigned impatience at her feeble human body's limitations. She expected that the drugs (which GLaDOS described as a cocktail of "chemicals that should keep you alive in the event that your body may cease being alive") will make her horribly sick or give her tumors sometime down the line, but she was feeling pretty good about her recovery at the moment and that was good enough for now.
Because of her current inability to do much more than walk and exist at present, it was actually Wheatley who had been unceremoniously thrust into the role of GLaDOS's testing partner. It had been just as painful as the first time Wheatley had tested with GLaDOS—perhaps slightly more so due to the higher difficulty of the test chamber. Fortunately, GLaDOS had no desire to humor Wheatley's desire to prove that his first (and only) success in solving a test chamber wasn't merely a fluke—indeed, after a moment to look over the chamber, GLaDOS had immediately began directing him where to place his portals and had also threatened to violently blow him up when he started to protest.
"So what now?" Chell asked once GLaDOS finished recalibrating.
"I have something for you and the moron to do a little later," said GLaDOS as she began heading for the elevator. She peered over her shoulder at them, and Chell could see a thin smirk on her mechanical face. "It should be harmless enough that you'll have to be trying to find a way to get yourself horribly maimed. Which, if you've forgotten, is a bad thing. So don't do it."
Chell rolled her eyes as they all piled into the elevator. "Because I just love getting horribly maimed. Can't get enough of it," she said with a small laugh.
"I might just leave you to die next time you decide to maim yourself. And nobody will even cry," GLaDOS said lightly, the smirk on her face growing wider.
It was clear that Wheatley was actually beginning to learn when GLaDOS was being sarcastic and when she wasn't, because he had bristled with indignation and opened his mouth to protest before quickly catching himself and letting out a nervous laugh. Chell thought it was rather sweet of him—she figured he was probably going to make a big scene of defending her from the big bad GLaDOS's verbal jabs, but it was nice that he caught himself in time.
"So what's this mostly harmless little something that you had in mind?" asked Wheatley, quickly edging behind Chell as GLaDOS raised a fist to hit him over the head.
So perhaps he wasn't quite the bravest defender out there.
"I was going to send the moron up to take a look through the executive suite," said GLaDOS once the elevator slowed to a halt and opened to the corridor leading to the Central AI Chamber.
"Don't youwant to see what's up there?" Chell asked.
"I have more important things to do, unlike a certain lunatic," GLaDOS replied airily, giving Chell a sidelong smirk. "Like making sure that those things that almost blew you up don't come here and try to blow us up."
It was obvious to Chell—almost painfully so—that GLaDOS's work on patching up the gaping holes in the Enrichment Center was, while necessary, only a pretense for why she had no desire to accompany them up to the executive suite. Truth be told, Chell wasn't quite sure that she herself wanted to find out what was in the suite either: it was arguably easier to simply employ the whole "ignorance is bliss" strategy here, because on the whole, they were much more likely to find evidence of more Aperture Science madness than anything else. However, considering the role that Aperture had in shaping their lives for better or for worse (probably erring on the worseside), it was logical to find out everything they could about the company that had brought them all together.
"But you can limp your way around there later," said GLaDOS as she plugged herself into the core transfer receptacle for synchronization with the hulking main body she called her own. "Rest first."
For that, Chell was quite grateful. Walking and standing were quite taxing on her battered body, and it was with relief that she sank down into the seat that Wheatley had cheerfully pulled out for her. GLaDOS had set up a table and chairs in the Central AI Chamber once Chell had been well enough to make brief visits there—it seemed that she was tired of having papers and writing utensils scattered around the floor of the chamber and ended up having ATLAS and P-Body drag a table and set of chairs down from a break room. It looked quite comical, actually, to see GLaDOS's enormous body hanging above the quaint little set of table and chairs.
"Why don't you practice writing?" Chell asked as Wheatley settled himself into the chair beside her and picked out a pen from the ones scattered around the tabletop.
"Just thought of that myself, actually," he said, excitedly shuffling the papers around the table to look for one that wasn't covered in lopsided drawings or the alphabet.
Chell had taken to teaching Wheatley (and GLaDOS indirectly, as she would watch but usually be too proud to participate while Chell was watching) how to write. As in write letters and numbers. With their hands. It was actually good practice for Chell as well: it forced her to do a different kind of thinking than was required of solving test chambers—not that she could in her current state, anyway—and, more importantly, it was something that she could do while sitting down. It had started when she first regained full consciousness following her impalement by P-Body's leg plating; sure, it was all well and good that she was awake, but it was, to put it bluntly, boring. So when Wheatley had wheeled over a little table and had begun drawing, it occurred to her that he wasn't all that good at writing words—and the rest, as they say, is history.
"Let's see it," said Chell, peering over at Wheatley's work.
I am not a moron.
She stifled a laugh and smiled. "Not bad," she said, and Wheatley beamed. It was (unsurprisingly) his favorite sentence to write, and more than once Chell had to ask him to pick something different to practice. This time, though, she'd let it slide.
"I don't think you should encourage him to lie like that," GLaDOS said airily after swiveling her body around to look at Wheatley's paper. "His pants just might catch on fire. And that would be terrible. For me. Because I'd have to clean up the mess."
"I am not a liar!" said Wheatley, shooting GLaDOS an indignant look and Chell choked back a laugh. "Except for that one time where I tricked you two and almost—erm—killedyoubutI'mreallysorry."
A reassuring pat was all it took these days to calm him, so once Chell had done so, he was happy as a clam and back to writing ("The little robot was squished by Mashy Spike Plate"). He'd made quite a bit of progress ever since they'd started these lessons, and it was clear that he was developing a distinct handwriting style. Although her memories of the past were significantly fragmented, she was reasonably sure that it took human children a little longer than a couple months to really get comfortable with writing. Regardless, she shrugged it off as a symptom of being decidedly not human, as well as spending all his non-sleep-mode hours with a pen in hand or fussing over her (or indeed, both at the same time).
The three of them sat quietly in the Central AI Chamber, the skritch-scratchof Wheatley's pen and Chell's short words of encouragement punctuating the otherwise silent room. Judging by the displays on the screens hanging before GLaDOS, it seemed she was busying herself with coordinating the repairs on the ruined sections of the Enrichment Center. The screens were changing quickly, but Chell thought she caught a glimpse of P-Body flailing underneath an Apparatus Vent that had fallen from the ceiling. When she glanced up at GLaDOS, she caught her shaking her headpiece in exasperation and if the small movements of her head were anything to go by, GLaDOS was reprimanding two testing robots via the PA system.
"All right, moron," said GLaDOS eventually, looming over Wheatley's (comparatively) small form. "Get up. You and Chell need to go look around the executive suite before I rust over. I'm sending the location to you now."
"Is there anything specific we're looking for?" asked Chell, grimacing as she pulled herself to her feet. Wheatley let out a laugh.
"Brilliant question there. Hadn't occurred to me that I didn't know what we'd be looking for, actually..." he said, trailing off with a nervous laugh.
GLaDOS rolled her optic at him before answering. "You're not looking for anything in particular other than Caroline's office. I just want to know if something...interesting is down there," she said, narrowing her optic at Wheatley. Chell peered up at her curiously.
"I'll let you be the judge of that. And I'll be the judge of you when you get back," said GLaDOS airily.
"Right then," said Wheatley, picking up the portal device he'd been using earlier for testing and offering Chell his arm to lean on. "And off we go!"
Chell stopped (not that they'd really moved anywhere yet) and looked up at GLaDOS curiously. The floor panel that GLaDOS's portal device had been resting on rose out of the floor as one of the lower wall panels flipped out and was replaced by one with a portal surface. "Take this portal device in case of an emergency," said GLaDOS. "Leave one portal here so that you can come back in the event that something there is horribly maiming you. Make sure you don't use this device for anything except coming back here."
Wheatley went to pick up the portal device and trotted back to Chell, holding it out for her with a smile. "Think you can hold it, love?" he asked as she took the device in her hands. Her sore and rather weary muscles made the device feel rather heavier than she remembered, but she'd manage for a few hours. If anything, she could probably give it to Wheatley to hold. She hefted the device in her hands and, feeling for the two triggers and bracing herself for the slight recoil of the gun, shot a purple portal at the portal surface. The recoil nearly made her stumble back—she didn't remember having trouble with the gun's kick before and inwardly cursed the infirm state of her body—but it was manageable.
"I think I'll be fine," she said, smiling.
"Well," he said, offering his arm once more and smiling when she wrapped her own around it, "off we go!"
"Try not to die," GLaDOS called after them. "I put a lot of work into making sure you didn't."
Deserted, run-down passages were not new to Chell.
But despite her extensive experience in deserted, run-down passages, the corridors leading to the executive suite were, admittedly, eerie.
The sleek, modern walls of the Enrichment Center had, of course, fallen into disrepair after GLaDOS decided to get liberal with the neurotoxin all those years ago. The dim lighting of the corridors didn't help things, either; what were surely white walls in the past looked weathered and dirty now, with dark splotches where water had seeped in through the cracks. Doors to unlit rooms and passages—places where the pair of unlikely explorers dared not go—were left hanging ajar, and the flickering lights gave rise to the unnerving optical illusion that they were swinging ever so slightly in some otherworldly wind. A dusty management rail was affixed to the discolored ceiling above them, running alongside faded colored lines whose past purpose must have been leading people through the labyrinth of offices, labs, and corridors. Now though, they served no other purpose than to be grim reminders of an age long past.
There was something different about walking through the empty offices of the modern Enrichment Center; where the old Aperture facility deep underneath them had felt well and truly abandoned—that its time had come and the remnants were mere echoes of a time gone by—the modern Enrichment Center felt as though the shadows of its former inhabitants were still there, silently carrying on in the facility that had forsaken them.
"N-not the liveliest place, e-eh?" Wheatley said nervously. His voice had a muted quality in the hallway despite the lack of sound-absorbent materials in the walls, and both he and Chell cowered slightly at the sound.
"You're coming up to the elevator now," came GLaDOS's voice from Wheatley's head.
Chell groaned in pain when Wheatley jumped and clung tightly to her. "Ohgod! Sorry, love! Are you all right?" he said when he noticed Chell's less-than-happy noises of pain and promptly released her, stepping back and letting out a nervous laugh of embarrassment.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were scared," said GLaDOS, a hint of a laugh in her voice. Chell was, admittedly, startled to hear GLaDOS's voice herself. She hadn't expected to hear from her during their expedition into parts unknown, and she certainly wasn't expecting to hear her voice coming out of Wheatley's head. Was that a feature of his new android body?
"I am not scared! At all!" said Wheatley, pouting and crossing his arms.
"Then I'm sure you wouldn't mind coming back here again to explore the areas that I couldn't get lit properly. Alone. Because you're obviously not scared."
"No no no no, that won't be necessary!" he said quickly, waving his free hand.
"So is the elevator going to be safe?" Chell interjected before GLaDOS could get another word in.
"The Aperture Science Heavy-Duty Vertical Personnel Conveyors are designed to remain functional in even the most apocalyptic conditions. And it's heavy-duty so even you can use them," GLaDOS added brightly as Chell rolled her eyes. Although GLaDOS did have a point—now that she thought about it, never once did Chell feel like an elevator was going to give out on her, even in the abandoned facility beneath them.
The light on the elevator's call button flickered slightly when Wheatley pressed it, but in no time at all, the doors fluidly slid open, as though they'd just been used that day. As they stepped in, Chell marveled at how well the elevator had kept over the years—where everything outside the elevator had a thin film of dust on them, the elevator and its lighting looked almost pristine. The lift looked, unsurprisingly, more sophisticated than the minimalist white-and-gray elevators they encountered in other areas of the office and laboratory sections. The walls, although still bearing the characteristic and sterile white of Aperture Science, were decorated with panels of a glossy wood that Chell had never seen before, its deep, reddish color accentuated by the exotic patterns of its grain. It looked very expensive, in any case, and she expected nothing less from Cave Johnson, Aperture's brilliant founder who didn't go off the deep end so much as dive into it.
When the lift arrived at the executive suite, the doors slid open to give way to what appeared to the reception lobby area of the executive suite. The interior design of the lift carried over into the lobby, with the overall whiteness offset by the wood panels affixed to the walls. A large Aperture Laboratories sign hung on the wall behind the receptionist's desk, surrounded by the soft glow of the backlight and looking as immutable as ever. As they made their way toward the end of the suite, they encountered the telltale signs of panic that they noticed in some of the more well-lit offices they passed: chairs haphazardly pushed away from the desks or lying on the floor altogether, documents and pens scattered indiscriminately on the floors and desks, and in one of the offices a gas mask lay discarded on the floor.
"Look," Wheatley said in slight surprise, pausing a moment to peer into the office.
Chell followed, her curiosity piqued as well. "So they had gas masks issued to them. Or the executives at least," she said, leaning down as far as she could to examine it. It didn't look anything special to her—not that she was particularly familiar with gas masks—so she straightened up and cast her eyes around the room. The office appeared empty and wholly unremarkable, just like the other disordered offices they'd encountered. She moved around the desk to see if there was anything of interest and found a particularly uninteresting mess of papers on the floor—
She let out a yelp of surprise.
And when Wheatley turned to look, he did the same.
A skeleton lay curled up underneath the desk, clothed in the dusty garments of its former owner, its fingers clutching a small photo frame.
It felt as though Chell's heart had punched through her chest, and she stood back, staring wide-eyed at the unfortunate soul that had died alone decades ago as she struggled to calm the pounding of her heart.
"Bloody hell! What in the—a skeleton—did that used to be a human?! I don't—what—" Wheatley blithered. GLaDOS was remaining conspicuously silent; was she just as surprised as they?
When her nerves finally calmed—her body finally satisfied that the skeleton wasn't going to suddenly leap up and suddenly kill them—she felt almost embarrassed of her momentary terror. Then again, she hadn't been expecting to see a skeleton; she hadn't encountered any bodies during her runs of the testing tracks and maintenance areas, and so hadn't quite expected to see one here. It did strike her as rather odd, but another moment's thought brought her to one plausible theory. It wasn't farfetched to think that Doug Rattmann had done a little cleanup, perhaps putting any coworkers he found to rest while he worked to stop GLaDOS.
But here—Rattmann probably never went up here—this person, a woman by the looks of the clothes, was left forgotten, apparently unable to reach or make use of the gas mask on the other side of the desk. The floor around her was stained by something dark, giving rise to the illusion of the woman's shadow around her ghastly skeleton. It must have been terrifying watching coworkers drop left and right…Did she huddle underneath her desk and wait for the inevitable end, clinging to a photo of her loved ones? Were the other office areas like this, with unfortunate employees huddling under their desks or in their cubicles?
"Come on, Wheatley," said Chell finally, pulling at his arm as she looked away. "Let's go."
"R-right. Probably for the best."
They didn't enter any more of the offices, although they did catch sight of another skeleton in the doorway of one, this time wearing a gas mask. So it seemed that the masks were all in vain in the end…
Finally, they reached the double doors leading into their destination. With a glance at Chell, as though searching for her approval, Wheatley stepped forward and pushed the doors open.
Chell couldn't help but stare speechlessly at Caroline's office. It was large, it was sprawling, and the entire back wall—which had flickered into life upon their entry—consisted of three enormous screens displaying the Aperture Laboratories logo across them. The entire room had an air of obstinate minimalism, with its white walls and the white background on the back wall's screens, and the office was mostly bare other than the desk and chairs. Her desk sat near the back wall, the desktop meticulously organized and utterly untouched. This was in stark contrast to all the other desks they'd seen outside her office; there was no sign of struggle or panic in here, and if it wasn't for the faint dust coating the desk and the leather chairs around the desk, Chell would have thought someone was still using the office. From what Chell surmised from GLaDOS's renderings of Caroline's memory, Caroline didn't seem to be the type to have an office that was so pointlessly large (and yet so painfully Aperture). Cave Johnson's doing, perhaps…?
"I—guess we should check her desk," Chell murmured once her voice returned to her.
"A-all right," said Wheatley almost hesitantly.
The sounds of their footsteps seemed unnaturally loud in Caroline's enormous office as they made their way to her desk. It was eerie (to say the least) and the fact that the desk was so perfect was just as unnerving. The lamp, keyboard, LCD monitor, the single pen bearing the Aperture logo, and a stack of papers were all perfectly aligned with the straight edges of the desk. A dusty, white mug emblazoned with the Aperture logo sat beside the stack of papers, as though waiting patiently to be used. Chell was loath to touch any of it—it all seemed lovingly arranged, for who would arrange something so perfectly if not for some feeling of devotion? It felt almost altar-like, as though prepared for the homecoming of some sort of wandering spirit.
The stack of papers caught her eye; they looked like official forms and the like, and she found that even the smaller-sized papers were carefully organized by size and perfectly aligned. The topmost paper was, however, unlike the other forms and documents and was handwritten in an untidy scrawl that felt vaguely familiar.
And as she read it, she felt a chill go down her spine.
They said that you'd be returning this afternoon
so I organized your desk for you! Not sure
how it got so messy in the first place, actually.
Left an apple for you in the drawer. :)
So Millard Wheatley—the human who'd been taken to become the Wheatley that Chell now knew—had organized this desk so carefully. He seemed like quite the disorganized person, so it rather surprised Chell that he'd managed to make the desk to incredibly tidy. Had he worked at it all morning, trying with all his might to make sure that the desk would be nice and clean for the return of his boss? Was this when he'd been taken to become a core? It was almost heartbreaking to think of him eagerly organizing Caroline's desk, only to be taken away by lab-coated scientists…
Chell took a moment to focus herself and reached to open the drawer nearest her, and Wheatley took this as a cue to open the drawer nearest him. She peered into it as Wheatley busied himself with riffling through the contents of his and found a shapeless black blob sitting beside some miscellaneous office supplies. He'd even left an apple for her…
She shut the drawer and looked back to the handwritten note. There was something about it that was bothering her—or rather, not quite bothering her, but there was something different about it that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Gingerly, she took the paper in her fingers to look at it up close. It looked ordinary enough—black pen, probably ballpoint, on a small memo sheet. Nothing too out of the ordinary—perhaps it was completely ordinary. Regardless, she reread the words, wondering if there was some hidden meaning that her mind was picking up on…
…Until she saw it.
It was the handwriting.
And it looked an awful lot like robot Wheatley's.
Chell glanced down at her companion, who was pausing every so often to look curiously at some of the documents he found, and back to the note. And without another thought, she folded it neatly and slid it into her pocket.
GLaDOS said to look for interesting things. I guess this counts.
A/N: WELP, HERE IT IS. The first chapter of the Resolution sequel. XD
I hope it wasn't too boring. Also, I'm a bit out of practice since I haven't written much lately, so I hope it still holds up...Anywho, enjoy! As always, let me know if I missed any glaring typos. I try to proofread before I post, but you know how it goes...
Anywho, y'all can find me over on tumblr as did-you-reboot. : )