They walked all night until the sky started getting lighter. As the edge of the wheat field came into sight, Chell sighed in relief.
When the sun rose, they made camp. After trekking through Aperture for so long, Chell could sleep anywhere. She curled up under the first tree and was asleep in a matter of minutes. The three androids stayed close to her, but walked around a bit, marveling at the irregularities and oddities of nature. They soaked up the sun. It was a slower method of recharging, but one that lasted longer. Instead of putting them to sleep, it made them feel tingly and energetic.
"And did you know, this stuff was named after me?" Wheatley was prattling on to Fact. "Guess what it's called. Just guess."
"Fact: Wheat was one of the first cereal grains cultivated in the Fertile Crescent, around 9000 BC," Craig said irritably.
"Okay. Okay, that's ONE view you could take. Sure. But just look at the stuff! Bloody massive lot of it, and all of it named after yours truly!"
"False: Wheatley was named after wheat. NOT the other way around."
"I don't know about that, mate. Really think you've got your facts crossed this time."
"Fact: Many humans are unable to process wheat. Wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity, and Coeliac disease are all forms of intolerance to wheat. These can lead to rashes, closing of the throat, inability to breathe, stomachaches, and death."
"Seems a tad drastic, don't you think?"
"Hey," Rick interrupted them. "You see this?"
The other two came over to look. A small brown creature was lumbering through the grass. It was dome-shaped, with arched legs, a long neck, and beady yellow eyes.
"The box turtle is incorrectly named: It is actually a tortoise," Fact said.
"Box turtle, huh?"
"Oh! This looks like the turret-cubes I built!" Wheatley exclaimed. He lowered himself down on the grass in front of the slow reptile. "Hello! I'll bet you could walk onto a button…"
"Watch out, ya'll get yerself bit," Rick chuckled. "How big do these things get around here?"
"This specimen appears to be of average size," Craig said.
"Yeah, they don't grow much in these parts. Now, when I was out in the Solomon Islands, they had box turtles like this, but 50 feet tall! Man-eaters, they were! Slow suckers, but you wouldn't wanna get in their way when they're hungry!"
"The largest species of tortoise is the Galapagos Tortoise, which may reach a weight of over 400 kilograms, and may grow up to 1.8 meters long," Fact said, eyeing Rick condescendingly.
"Yeah, that's the biggest YOU ever heard of."
When Chell woke, the sun was high. They continued on and on, following the edge of the wheat field. After walking for ages, she finally urged them to follow her into the trees. There was a large boulder marking the way, and there were rough pictures scratched into it. The androids paused to look at it.
"Is… is that…? Oh, it is! That's… me!" Wheatley exclaimed.
Chell paused, and nodded.
A smile spread over Wheatley's face. "Did you draw that?" She nodded again. "Wow! That's… quite a good likeness! Well done!"
Chell smiled a bit and waved for them to follow her.
The house was sprawling and dark beneath the trees, but Chell felt a cold knot in her stomach when she saw that the door was open and many of the windows broken. She tensed.
"…Everythin' okay?" Rick asked, noticing her posture change.
She shook her head once and sprinted up to the door. The androids followed her quickly.
As long as she had laid claim to it, the house had never been what she would call nice. It was broken down, drafty, cold, splintering, and even rotting in places. It was hers, though. The only place she had where she could feel a modicum of security.
She ran from room to room. Everything was gone, or broken. Her extra clothes, her bedding, her food, her tools and equipment… All of it.
"Do you… live here?" Wheatley asked uncomfortably. "It's… I mean, I'm sure it's not… as bad as I'm thinking… but… Is it supposed to look like this? Awfully… messy, don't you think?"
"Shut up, yer not helpin'," Rick growled. "Hey, don't fret over this, angel. We c'n help ya fix it up nice."
Chell shook her head numbly. Everything she had saved up was gone.
She turned when Craig cleared his throat softly. He held her battered Companion Cube.
"Fact: Companion Cubes, while sentient, cannot give any sign of response or understanding."
A smile twisted its way onto Chell's face. She took the cube from him, and hugged it close.
(In space, the Space Core giggled and spun around, even though now all four data feeds were close enough that he couldn't see straight.)
She sighed in relief, then looked up at the three androids. She patted the cube, then touched each of them on the arm.
"I don't really think you can even compare us to a cube," Wheatley said, shaking his head. "Not the same thing at all, really. Like comparing… humans… and rocks. I'm just not seeing any resemblance there."
"Shut it, Wheatley," Rick said sharply. "…Ya still got us here, gorgeous."
Chell nodded and set the cube gently on the counter so she could take out her pencil and paper. 'We can rest here, and start out again in the morning.'
"Start out? For where? Do you have somewhere else to go?" Wheatley asked.
She shook her head. 'We can find someplace. There are plenty of empty houses out there.'
That night she slept on the floor next to the slashed remains of the stained couch that had been so comfortable. The androids kept watch, their colorful eyes glowing faintly in the dark. In the morning they set out again, taking turns carrying the Companion Cube. At last Rick made his shirt into a sling similar to the one that had supported his damaged arm in the test, and he carried it on his back the rest of the way.
They searched for days, skirting the tree line on one side of the enormous field, then the other. Chell ate wheat and acorns and any stray berries she could find. She set a few simple traps, and managed to snare a rabbit, which she cooked over a fire. Rick, Craig, and Wheatley all wanted to know how each step was done, so she demonstrated the trap and had them each try it, then showed them how to start a fire, skin a rabbit, and cook it properly. They were fascinated. The next day, she sharpened some sticks and set up to hunt a small raccoon that she noticed in a tree. Her method involved setting out bait, then keeping still and waiting for what seemed like forever. Wheatley and Rick were too impatient, but Craig took to it well. While Chell and Craig hunted, Rick and Wheatley started the fire a good distance away. Rick sent Wheatley out again and again for specific sizes of wood, and once it was started, they both threw twigs on until the other two returned with their kill. It was rather torn up, but Chell still enjoyed it.
They passed a few shacks, some houses that were in worse shape than the one they had left behind, mere piles of boards and bricks, and once, a huge house that seemed to be in good shape. But Chell held the others back and shook her head. She pointed to the shape of a person watching from the window.
"But what if they're friendly?" Wheatley spoke up. "Maybe they have food, and room for us to stay."
Chell shook her head slowly and turned away.
"…She said people ain't too nice around here," Rick muttered, glaring at the window.
They passed through small towns that seemed to be completely empty, but they were too out in the open, and Chell didn't trust them.
One day while they rested, Rick had gone out to look around. He bounded back, grinning.
"Okay, y'all should take a look at what I found. I dunno if it's exactly what yer lookin' for, but… well, it sure beats most 'a the crap-stacks we've seen."
It was a rather small stone house, built into a small hillside. All around it were heaps of old boards; the ruins of other buildings. There was a thin forest surrounding the whole area.
"It ain't fancy, but it's sturdy," Rick offered.
"Bit small, though, don't you think?" asked Wheatley. "I mean, compared to that other place." He stared at the dark opening for a moment. "…What if there's something awful in there?" he asked in a hushed voice. "Like… skeletons. Or birds. Or screaming ghosts…"
"Fact: Ghosts do not exist."
"You said that about space, too, mate. Not true at all! I was there! Kind of hurts your credibility a bit, if I'm honest."
Craig glared at him and looked over to Rick.
"…Nah, can't help ya with that one. Ghosts're out there, pal." Rick grinned widely.
Chell rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"The Adventure Sphere is ridiculous in every way."
"You won't be sayin' that when a ghost flies through ya!"
Chell shrugged and walked up to the house. She stepped over a heavy wooden door that had fallen off its hinges, and the others followed cautiously.
There were four rooms, all filthy and full of debris. In the center was a large fireplace. There was a small opening from it into three of the rooms, and the fourth had a large access point to it. The chimney rising up the middle had a few stones missing, and the top had come off. The walls were in pretty good shape, though one of the rear window frames had collapsed. A tree had fallen to lean against the house, though it hadn't broken through.
"I mean, it's a fixer-upper, fer sure. But it's a strong little thing."
Chell nodded slowly, looking around. It would take a lot of work. But any place that was ready to live in immediately… wouldn't be safe. She turned to the androids and nodded decisively.
They spent days just clearing the junk from the house. There was trash, splintered wood, twisted bits of metal, shattered glass, broken furniture, and empty bullet shells. Chell took pause at these, but there was no sign that anyone had been in the area recently.
At last, the house was clear enough to walk around.
"Well it's not what you'd call fancy… but I guess it's better than nothing," Wheatley said, dusting his hands off. "Um… it's a bit small, though. Are you sure there's room for all of us?"
"Fact: Inviting oneself to LIVE with another person without being asked is EXTREMELY rude," Craig said, frowning.
"Sure is," growled Rick. "We gotta find our own… places to live."
The frowned at each other bleakly.
Chell picked up her pencil. She rolled it over in her fingers a few times, then wrote, 'I'd like it if you stayed. There isn't much room, but you're welcome here. If you want.'
"We could help ya out around here," Rick said quickly. "Get this place all nice fer ya. Kick some ass if any lowlifes come around."
"The Fact Sphere is extremely useful."
"Oh, luv, that'd be tremendous! Just really great! You're sure?"
'It's good to have company.' She paused. 'And it makes life easier.'
"…Better all around," Rick mumbled. Chell nodded, smiling a little.
Not long after they had patched the little house up into acceptable condition, Chell went outside with a broken screwdriver and began to scratch at a big rectangular stone in the front wall.
"Hello!" Wheatley, more than the other two, was often underfoot, and always curious about the things she did. She looked up and smiled briefly. "…Rick and Craig are off in the woods getting firewood. They told me to stay here." He sighed forlornly.
Her smile widened a bit, though she nodded sympathetically at him.
He craned his neck to see around her. "What've you got there, luv?"
Chell had scratched a slightly smaller rectangle inside the large one, and was now making a circle near the middle.
"…Oh! You drew me at your old place, are you doing that again?"
She paused and tipped her head, then shook it. She pointed to him, and to the ground.
"I'm here? You're right, luv, here I am, good ol' reliable Wheatley, always here, whenever you're looking for me."
She nodded patiently, then pointed to the wall and shook her head.
"…So… not me, then."
"Oh. I see. Doesn't really resemble me anyway, since you say so. Not at all. Um… If I'm honest… it ALMOST… looks just a tiny bit like… like Her. You know…"
One more decisive nod, and she went back to scratching into the stone.
"…Wait, it IS? You're drawing HER? HERE!? Why the bloody – I mean, not to question your reasoning or anything, but why would you want HER picture on your house? Just the thought of it gives me the willies!"
Chell turned to look at him. She pointed to herself, to him, and over into the trees to indicate the other two androids. She gestured at his mouth. She spread her arms and looked around.
"Um… I suppose so… I don't know, though, I think She just wanted to get you out of Her hair, and didn't really care about us."
She shrugged and gave a half-nod, but pointed again to his mouth.
"…Well… you're right… She certainly didn't have to do that. Pretty decent of Her, really. Though she DID mention it was kind of a punishment for you. Er." He grinned apologetically.
Chell smirked and shrugged.
"Still… Can't say I like Her picture there…"
The smirk turned into a stony frown.
"Your choice, of course!" he said hurriedly. "All totally up to you! Nevermind me. It's your house and all. I'll just… try not to look at it."
Deep in the facility, GLaDOS pulled back slowly from the small monitor placed up high. "Well, we can add 'artist' to the list of occupations the lunatic can never aspire to," she murmured to her two crows and the shiny new crow robot she had built. The living crows were highly suspicious of it, and kept their distance.
She lowered her core down to a larger screen that was split into multiple sections. It showed numerous pairs of cores testing. She watched for a moment before turning on the speakers.
"I would just like to point out that my two testing robots were far more successful than any of you, from the day they were calibrated," she mused. "…And also, that my Artificial Personality Construct Cooperative Testing Initiative control group proved much more adept at cooperation than any of you. I wonder why. It can't be the human's presence, because they each managed to succeed even when paired with another core. Possibly the level of corruption? There's an interesting theory that I'll have to try out… if you ever manage to complete THIS simple test. Or perhaps it was having a larger goal to aim for. Hm. Well, anyway, it seems you need some MORE time to reflect on your failures. You DO have so many of them…"
A military android with a core head had already thrown the Morality Sphere into an endless portal loop. The Intelligence Sphere was frequently shouted into a corner by a very angry android with no leg joints. The Curiosity Sphere's partner had left her behind at every opportunity, because she was far more interested in trivial objects around the chamber.
The Emotion Sphere actually seemed to be working well with its current partner, the Doubt Sphere in a mobilization unit with android arms. Emotion purred and whined and rubbed against the other sphere whenever they paused. However, just before Doubt could step through the final portal, Emotion spun on her and snarled savagely, bumping her backwards over the edge of a pit and growling bitterly after her.
"Hm…" GLaDOS mused to herself as she watched. She turned to Blue and Orange, who stood nearby. "You could learn something from that core."
P-body gurgled and danced back and forth. Atlas blipped uncertainly, then spun around. They both fiddled cheerfully with their paperclip chains.
"Hopeless. Just hopeless."
GLaDOS watched the cores form and break alliances. It took time, but many of them grew quite skilled at testing.
Just as She'd predicted, before long the Intelligence Core found a port and quickly plugged herself in. The shock program kept electrifying her long after she'd yanked herself out.
The seasons changed outside. The human and androids gathered wood and hunted animals and often stayed huddled inside to keep warm. They stoked the fire constantly, and kept each other amused. They played games and told stories. They tried to carve things out of wood, with varying levels of success. Chell tried to speak more frequently, but could only manage inarticulate grunts and humming. They tried not to let each other get on their nerves too much. Chell, Craig, and Rick spent part of each day outside, mainly just to get some time to themselves. Wheatley didn't have any such need.
When the snow began to melt, the androids marveled at how quickly flowers and shoots sprang out of the ground. Chell was busy showing them which plants were edible, and where animals were most likely to be found. She cautioned them never to take too much of anything, in case it never came back. Craig and Rick only needed to be told once. Wheatley kept bringing back huge armloads of food that she often couldn't eat before it spoiled.
Once a massive creature like a three-legged spider walked past, at least forty feet tall. It stopped at the smell of wood smoke, and turned towards the little house. Chell froze as she watched it from the window, waving urgently for the others to be ready. It took one step towards them.
Without warning, a yellow beam shot down from the sky and zigzagged back and forth. The beast roared in agony and collapsed.
(Up in space, the Space Core panted and wheezed and babbled incoherently)
The four stayed inside for a whole day, just watching the monstrous corpse. Finally they all went out to investigate, arming themselves as well as they could. Chell had bought a new, larger knife in the city two days' journey from the house. Craig had a cast iron fire poker. Rick had found a large axe in the woods. And Wheatley clutched a rusted golf club. Chell led the little group cautiously up to the huge body. The smell was still faint, but it was worse than rotting meat. Chell made a face.
Rick crept around and prodded a cannon on the thing's back. "What the hell is it?" he breathed.
Craig was poking at its hairy exoskeleton, frowning deeply. "…Fact not found," he muttered.
"Nasty piece of work is what it is," Wheatley growled, hitting the creature with his golf club. "You're just lucky you're dead, mate! Wouldn't want to be in your shoes if you had to face us!" He suddenly cringed back. "It IS… dead, isn't it? Not just stunned? Do you think? I mean, I wouldn't want it to just… wake up…"
"The unidentified… creature… is CLEARLY deceased," Craig said. He walked around to its back and bent closer to the charred gashes. "An intense laser beam was employed to kill it."
"There're some folks out there with some pretty weird machines, but I ain't seen NOTHIN' that strong since…" Rick trailed off and glanced off into the wheat field.
Chell nodded, following his gaze. Then she looked back at the monster and sighed.
"Know what you mean, luv," Wheatley said sympathetically. "Now it'll just sit there forever, getting in the way. Quite an eyesore, really. And doesn't half stink up the place. Any chance we could move it somewhere else?"
Chell frowned slightly and gave one leg an experimental tug. It didn't budge.
"'Scuse me, darlin', let ol' Rick give it a try." The android heaved at the leg, and with his mechanical strength, he managed to pull it enough to make the body rock a bit. "Damn," he grunted. "Thing's heavier than it looks."
Each of the androids grabbed a leg, and together they managed to pull it a few inches.
"Fact: Dividing a heavy load into multiple parts will make its transport 84% easier."
"Sounds like a plan!" Rick hefted his axe.
Once it was cut into pieces, the legs were easy to haul off and push down into a gorge that flooded when it rained. The body, however, was incredibly dense, and they stood staring at it for a while.
"That shell it's got ain't easy to hack to bits," Rick said, frowning.
"Can't seem to manually override it," Wheatley muttered thoughtfully.
"Wild strawberries are not truly strawberries, and are actually quite tame," Craig said with a twitch, and shook himself.
Chell finally shrugged, and gestured for them to leave it. They spent the day hunting and gathering food, firewood, and fresh water. Now and then, Chell would look up at the sky. A few clouds floated lazily across the sky, and she saw nothing out of the ordinary.
They were off in the woods when the air hummed and something exploded. Chell raced back to the house, which was splattered with gore. So was the rest of the area. The place where the spidery-creature's body had lain was now a smoldering crater.
"What the hell happened?" Rick growled as he ran up.
"What's going – AAAAAHHH!" Wheatley cringed back. "Augh! What IS all this? What happened?" He backed away, and didn't notice the pile of ooze behind him until he had slipped in it and fallen on his back. "Ohhhhh, that's disgusting. That's worse than old conversion gel," he moaned.
Craig kept his distance, but gestured questioningly up at the sky. Chell nodded slowly and shrugged.
It took Wheatley a while to clean up, especially because he was afraid of the water. But finally, Chell convinced him that washing his clothes, and a wipe-down with a damp cloth, would be far less deadly than keeping the goo all over him. Also, she wouldn't let him inside until he was clean enough for her standards.
A massive thunderstorm that night washed the monster's innards off the house, and mostly out of the field. The four fell into a strange sense of normalcy.
One nice day, Chell went out alone. She usually took at least one android with her, but today she made them stay behind. She walked out into the vast wheat field, carrying her pack.
It was easy to lose one's way in all the wheat, but Chell kept walking in the same direction for hours, orienting herself by the position of the sun and trees. As she walked, she plucked a few stalks of wheat and wove them into a small wreath.
The shed was just as she'd left it: Standing tall, alone among the grain, slightly rusted… It looked fragile and lonely from the outside. But there was the tiny camera, hanging under the eaves. She walked up to it slowly, and looked into the optic lens. Then she set her wheat wreath on the concrete pad just outside the door. She fished in her pack and took out a small carving.
Over the winter, when she'd decided to practice her woodcarving, the androids had wanted to try as well. Wheatley had nearly lost a few fingers, and Craig had managed to make a few decent spoons, but Rick had shocked her when he began to carve figures. They were rough, but clearly recognizable, and quite a few now decorated the house. There were more waiting to be traded in town. It had gotten Chell thinking, and she tried her hand at a few more complicated shapes.
It was a doe. She had originally thought to carve a stag, but the antlers had proven too difficult, so she broke them off and scraped the head smooth. The skinny legs had been a challenge, but she was satisfied with the end result. The important thing was that it was a deer. Rick had carved a better one, but this one was hers, and that mattered. She paused, looking it over one last time, and set it neatly in the middle of the wreath.
She looked at the camera again for a long moment. The red light that would have shown that it was recording had been broken.
Chell smiled, touched the side of the camera, and disappeared back into the wheat.
After ten minutes, there was a clanking sound. The door opened slowly, and Atlas and P-body crept out. They had been here before. Many times. But they still chirred and beeped excitedly. Atlas gently picked up the figurine, and P-body took the wreath. They then returned to the elevator. The door closed behind them.
GLaDOS stared down at the gifts.
"…She is, after all, a lunatic," she said in a distracted voice. But she called softly to her crows, and they flew down to her core. They took the items from the robots, and followed GLaDOS as she stretched up to her small monitor up near the ceiling. The wreath was draped over the corner, and the figurine was set very carefully on top. GLaDOS looked at them for a moment. The monitor showed that Wheatley was wandering around behind the house talking to himself, Fact and Adventure were sitting on the roof watching the field, and the Companion Cube sat serenely by the fireplace. If she strained the Space Core's satellite eye, she could just make out a small shape moving through the open field. Away from Science. Back to her life.
Whew, that was long, and went all over the place. And I'm happy with that. Thanks for reading! All the comments, questions, and art have been great. I don't plan to continue this, although there may be shorter offshoots at some point in the future… or not. Any questions, comments, concerns, hopes, dreams, or aspirations? I'm always up for those…