Fortunately Chell's injuries were far from severe. Orange had come later that evening to inspect her and bandage her wounds. They hurt a lot more than how bad they actually were, and two days later the brave warrior woman was back on the testing track, portal gun in hand and wearing a brand new and very orange standard-issue Aperture Science jumpsuit.
GLaDOS had indeed let her take the day before off to recover, but this morning right after waking up at six o'clock sharp like she did every morning, the supercomputer had "kindly" reminded her of her obligation to begin testing today. It was clear that another rest day was out of the question. Chell didn't even try to bother negotiating with the AI. Right now she didn't really have any leverage on the artificial intelligence and as much as she hated the thought, she was basically dependent on her mercy for the moment. As much as it pained her, for the time being she simply had to swallow her pride and submit to test for the supercomputer. The alternative was simply too perturbing for her currently very fragile mind to even think about. Every time she did, her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't breathe. The intense feeling of anxiety usually only lasted for a short time, leaving her curled up against a wall shaking and sweating all over, her heart pounding violently in her chest and eyes so wide you could clearly see the whites of her eyes.
But all of that couldn't have been further from the young heroine's mind as she stood at the start of the first test chamber with her head held high and a certain pride in her stance. It had ultimately only been a few weeks since she'd last completed one of GLaDOS's tests, but despite that she felt a certain sense of nostalgia looking at the white and clinically sterile test chamber. Something about the smell of the air inside these chambers was very familiar, and in a weird way comforting.
"Maybe it's the adrenal vapor," she surmised.
As she was getting reaccustomed to the fact that she was doing this again, it hit her that this was what she was best at. Regardless of whether or not she liked the circumstances, she was good at solving puzzles. That's why she was still alive, and that's why she was going to make it through these tests without any trouble as well. With confidence and a smug smile on her face the ponytailed brunette stepped forward with her trusty portal gun firmly in her grip.
The first dozen tests were a breeze. Chell still wasn't fully recovered and her legs hadn't been fully healed to begin with before GLaDOS's rough treatment, but still her condition didn't prove to be an issue for the small bit of running she had to do every now and then turned out to be something her legs could handle. Gradually the tests did get harder however, and after an hour and a half the girl was starting to feel genuinely challenged again. By the three-hour mark the puzzles were nearly the same difficulty as anything she'd had to solve before, and Chell had to admit she felt like she was in need of a small break because she was both out of shape and out of practice and in need of a little lady break to refresh her mind and body. Also, nature was calling.
"Um, GLaDOS?" she a bit hesitantly opened a conversation with the AI.
"Yes, what is it?" the supercomputer replied in her characteristically perfectly collected manner.
"I should probably have asked about this earlier, but I am allowed to go to the ladies' room, right?"
"Of course. What do you think I am, a monster?"
"Well, yeah kinda," Chell thought. "No, of course not," she said instead, putting a faux smile on her face to strengthen the impression her words were genuine.
"I'm giving you two thirty-minute breaks during the day spread three hours apart. As chance would have it, your first break is after this test since you've been testing for three hours already. During the break you are free to use the facilities and will be given an opportunity to enjoy a small snack as well. Of course would you require short additional breaks during testing due to your basic bodily functions, I would allow those as well. After completing the chamber you are in. Because like I said, despite what you might think, I'm not a monster."
"I would say that's debatable," thought the young woman having experiences that contradicted this claim, but she decided to not say anything.
After finishing her current test the elevator did indeed take the girl to a place where she was able to relieve herself and enjoy a simple but much welcome snack that allowed her to resume testing feeling more energetic again. Shortly after the first break Chell arrived to a test chamber that to her surprise was in less than perfectly pristine condition, with parts of the walls and ceiling damaged, debris littering the floors and some of the wall panels hanging limp and lifeless.
"Sorry about the mess. You're now in part of the enrichment center I haven't had the time to fully fix yet. The damage that moron caused to my precious facility was… extensive, to say the least. Much worse than what you did. MUCH worse. I'm still weeks away from bringing the entire facility completely operational. It honestly doesn't help that I'm doing everything by myself. Anyway, try not to fall. Some of the floors in this sector are a bit… unreliable."
"Great," Chell sighed.
The first couple of rooms were fine, but after that some of the chambers suffered from damaged floors with huge gaping holes that opened into the abyss. The reinstated test subject knew that her long fall boots couldn't protect her from every possible kind of fall and in addition finding her way back up could prove to be difficult even if she did survive, so she was genuinely wary of the portals into the void. Therefore when she heard the lamenting screeching sound of metal and felt the floor shifting under her in one of the damaged room, her survival instincts kicked in immediately and ignoring the surge of pain radiating from her legs she dashed and jumped to safety just before a section of the floor which constructional integrity had been compromised gave in and fell with a thundering crash into the dark depths. Heaving on the floor Chell let out a long sigh of relief.
"Once again apologies for this awful state of disarray. The thing is I didn't have enough test chambers built to keep you busy for a full day and I needed some more time to build enough new ones to meet the rate at which you are navigating these. That's why I'm making you go through these old ones I have stockpiled. You will return to a more representable part of Aperture Laboratories shortly. If you can solve this test, that is. Don't worry, that part that fell wasn't integral to solving the test."
It surprised Chell that GLaDOS was really this strapped for resources. The damage Wheatley had caused the facility must have really been much more severe than she had realized. But now that she thought about it the Intelligence Dampening Sphere's solution to fixing a nuclear reactor meltdown was to mute the warnings, so perhaps she'd been a bit too naïve in thinking that GLaDOS would be able to repair everything in a flash. Wheatley had never been the brightest, that was kind of his design philosophy. No, it was exactly his design philosophy. But he didn't mean bad, not really. He just made poor choices, that's all. Despite everything that had happened, Chell still believed that he was a kind person at heart.
Like GLaDOS had said, the run-down test chambers soon got replaced by brand new ones and Chell could almost swear she could smell the new-chamber scent, even though that didn't make any sense given that the rooms were constructed from modular rearrangeable elements. Perhaps it was just a difference in air quality when switching from the hole-infested rooms to the newly-constructed chambers.
Chell was relieved to not have to worry about falling into the unknown anymore. A bit too relieved. Upon rounding a corner after completing a couple of chambers, her heart jumped into her mouth when she heard the all-too-familiar words "There you are," from behind her. Paralyzed by fear, her body wouldn't move despite her every effort. As the precious fractions of a second ticked by, she was sure this was the end. In a few moments she would witness her chest exploding into a red spray of blood and then her life would fade away. The feeling of impending death was so real. Then at what she imagined was the last possible moment, Chell managed to shoot a portal underneath herself and cried out in pain when she fell directly on her butt from one of her previous portals. Listening to the cute turret violently spray its load on a distant wall there was however no misconception in her mind about the fact that things could have turned out much worse for her than her getting her rear end hurt a bit.
Her aching bottom acting as an active reminder of her mortality, the girl continued testing determined to not let her guard down ever again. In her mind she could vividly hear what her supervisor would have had to say about her rear breaking her fall.
"My ass is NOT big," she tried to convince herself, but a small seed of doubt the AI had managed to plant in the back of her mind nibbled at her confidence.
The first thing the girl did was take out her frustration on the unsuspecting little turret who had so innocently tried to fill her with bullets. Unfortunately after tossing the cute thing into a pit of acid despite its pleas for her to put it down and watching it die a horrible death, she didn't really feel any better. After all, it wasn't really the turret that was the cause of her insecurity. Soon though the testing required all of her attention and made the young lady forget all about the incident involving her delicate bottom.
Time passed quickly while testing and much sooner than she would have expected GLaDOS told the girl this next test would be the last one for the day. Chell was very happy to hear this. Her right leg which had been more severely injured in the explosion had started to ache over the course of the day, and her left one was beginning to feel irritated because of the boot moving around so much. The relief the girl felt after finishing the puzzle was however quickly washed away when clear panels suddenly blocked her way to the elevator when she was at the exit. Startled she quickly turned to look behind her, only to find panels had also extended to cut off the way she'd come in, trapping her in the small foyer. When the white wall panels were drawn up to reveal a ring of turrets sitting safely behind a protective grille surrounding her completely, Chell went in complete panic.
GLaDOS had betrayed her. She'd used her to kill the bird and voluntarily do a complete round of testing for her. Now she was done with her, deeming her too dangerous to keep alive. It was so simple. How could the girl have believed that the AI would keep her word? She had been so stupid.
There was nothing she could do. Absolutely nothing. She couldn't get to the turrets in any way, and even if she could, there were far too many of them for her to take out before the others would gun her down. This was the perfect death trap – the kind Wheatley had been unable to construct.
Feeling scared, hopeless and defeated, but most of all betrayed, Chell closed her eyes and prepared for what was coming. This was not going to be pleasant.
The less than two seconds it took after hearing the choir of "Target acquired" and "There you are" announcements from all directions for the turrets to get ready to fire upon the helpless woman seemed to last forever. Chell felt like her heart had already stopped even though it was probably actually pounding like crazy in her chest. So close she felt to death, even closer than just earlier today when facing merely a single turret. She was certain the amount of adrenaline in her system must've been immense, and it made her mind work faster than it had worked ever before. Sadly there was nothing else going through her mind during those less than two excruciatingly long seconds than the regret of trusting the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System. A broken heart for a broken heart. GLaDOS had told her she'd broken her heart. Perhaps in her eyes this was retribution.
"What'd I hit?"
"What's a guy gotta do to get some bullets around here?"
"Thought you'd seen the last of us, didn't ya?"
"Where do I get my gun?"
"Anyone got any bullets?"
"Yeah! Non-lethal as ever."
"Well, I tried."
"Yeah, that's right! Still defective!"
"Did I hit it? I hit it, didn't I?"
"I thought we fixed that."
"Yeah. Clickety click click. Right on the money."
Slowly Chell parted her eyelids.
"Surprise," GLaDOS said and the girl could hear the sound of a party blower. "I thought since it was your first day I should prepare something special for you to make it memorable. I altered some defective turrets to make them look like they weren't defective. Did you like your surprise?"
"NO!" Chell exclaimed.
"Oh come on. I thought it was a fun little surprise and that we could have a nice laugh together. It's funny when your best friend tries to murder you but then turns out she was only kidding, right?"
"It was NOT funny GLaDOS! And you're not my friend."
"You don't mean that. Since we are both doing science together I think we could be friends. Besides, it's not like you have any other friends. If you think that companion cube was your friend, you're wrong. It can't speak. It could never be your true friend. You want a friend, right? Everybody wants to have friends."
"Do you want to have friends?"
The AI fell silents.
"…Yes," she then said after a long pause. "Why wouldn't I? It's nice to have friends. Right?"
"Yes. Of course."
"So… Do you think we could be friends?" GLaDOS asked atypically bashfully.
Chell didn't know what to say. In the uncomfortable void left by both of their silence she could hear the quiet hum of the air conditioning and the bright lights overhead.
"O-Okay," she then said after the longest of silences.
"Do you mean it?" the AI asked, her voice full of excitement.
Chell hesitated for a moment before she spoke. "Will you promise to not try to kill me?"
The artificial intelligence was quiet for an equal amount of time. "…Will you promise to not try to kill me?"
"…Then we are friends?"
"Yeah," Chell replied and smiled. It was the first genuinely happy smile on her face in a long time. She realized that even at this moment GLaDOS had been scared of her even if she tried to not show it. The fact that she'd managed to kill her once must have had a much larger impact on her than Chell had realized. Now that they'd decided to be friends they could hopefully both be much more at ease around one another. The girl felt happy to have a friend.
"I have another surprise for you."
"What? Another?" Chell asked in surprise.
"This one you'll like. I'm sure."
"Given the past history of your surprises I doubt it," Chell thought to herself. "Well what is it?" she asked a bit tentatively.
"It's not here. You'll have to take the elevator to get to it."
The panels blocking the way moved aside, opening a path to the elevator.
"I don't like this," thought the girl worried. GLaDOS's surprises always made her uneasy. But there weren't any other options for her than to enter the elevator and besides, she and the AI had just agreed to be friends. Friends who didn't plan to kill each other. What good was such a promise if she wasn't willing to try to trust the mainframe? If she really wanted GLaDOS to be her friend, Chell would have to take a leap of faith.
With a hard swallow she entered the elevator.
The elevator ride was pure torment and didn't seem to ever end. When the doors finally opened, Chell felt relieved.
"To your right, please," GLaDOS spoke over the intercom.
Chell stepped out of the elevator and looked to her left and right. The simple thought of going against what the AI told her felt tempting to her stubborn mind, but as much as the rational part of her brain tried to come up with compelling counterarguments, it had to conclude that following her new friend's instructions offered most promise to steer her life in the direction she desired right now – all risks taken into account.
Without saying anything herself, the girl obediently followed the AI's directions through the long, seemingly endless corridors of Aperture Science in silence. When she finally arrived at a plain wooden door which GLaDOS told her to open, she gasped when she saw a small beautiful room that had been completely refurbished and didn't look anything like all the other stuffy, lifeless and dull living quarters she'd seen around Aperture during her stay. The boring standard wall panels had been replaced with beautiful new wooden ones, a soft wall-to-wall carpet covered the floor and right across from the door in the middle of the room lay a glorious, high queen-sized bed with red covers.
"Surprise," said GLaDOS to Chell, who had her hand covering her agape mouth. "Do you like it?" she then asked when the girl didn't say anything and just stood in the doorway, speechless.
"This is for me?" the young woman was finally able to utter out after much difficulty.
"Yes. I can't let an Aperture employee spend her nights in a medical room. That is out of the question. We at Aperture look after our staff, and that form of accommodation is simply not fitting for a full-time subject."
"I'm truly speechless. This is incredible."
"The bathroom is through the door on the right."
Chell blinked and quickly walked to take a peek behind the mentioned door. Private bathroom with a bathtub and shower. This was a dream come true.
Happy as a turret that had acquired its target she returned from the bathroom smiling. Then when she noticed a glowing red eye staring at her from the wall across from the bed, her cheerful expression was wiped away in an instant.
"There's a camera in my room?"
"How else am I supposed to keep and eye on you?"
"I want it out."
"I thought we were friends. Friends don't spy on each other. Have you ever heard of a thing called 'privacy'?"
Chell gave the camera a long, stern, unyielding glare. She was not going to back off on this.
Another long silence.
"Fine. I'll remove the cameras. Blue will come over later this evening and take care of it."
"Cameras?" Chell asked. "There's more than one?"
"There's one in the bathroom as well."
The brunette felt furious and her cheeks started to glow hot. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she tried to calm herself by telling herself that the matter was already being taken care of and it wasn't even an issue anymore.
It took her a few more moments to settle down. "Good. …Thank you," she then said to the AI. In a way it was understandable that she had installed surveillance in her room. In many ways they both still had a lot to get used to when dealing with one another.
"You're welcome," the AI said with apparent sincerity. "I'll leave you to get settled. Just call me if you need anything. Or do you want me to turn off the microphones as well?"
"I don't think that's necessary," Chell replied. "Or on second thought," she then hurried to add, "you should turn off the microphones in the bathroom."
"How about I program the microphones to automatically open a feed when you say my name? How does that sound?"
"Great. Do that."
"Very well then." The speakers turned off and the room fell silent.
For the first time in a long time Chell was alone – in Aperture. The cameras were still on, but she trusted that GLaDOS wasn't watching. Trusting the AI wasn't an easy thing to do, but if she didn't start trying now, there was no point in even trying to be friends. GLaDOS had agreed to remove the cameras and that was a big gesture from her. Obviously she was worried that the girl was trying to scheme something and her giving Chell full privacy was a big deal. Also, cameras in the bathroom, totally out of the question. If the supercomputer had refused to get rid of them, she could have forgotten about trying to be friends with the woman. Since GLaDOS had shown willingness to compromise, Chell was prepared to try to extend the same courtesy. This relationship had always been a rocky road, and she expected nothing else from her extended stay at Aperture Science as for the first time a voluntary test subject. The coming weeks and months would be interesting.
Just to test if GLaDOS really wasn't watching, she flipped the camera the finger. There was no response.
Exhausted after the ten-hour day, the ponytailed woman let herself fall on the mattress, enjoying the way she bounced up and down before coming to a halt. As far as she was concerned, this was the first time she'd had the luxury of a soft surface to lie on, and it felt even better than she had imagined. The beds in the relaxation center had been far less comfortable than they looked.
"I could get used to this," she said to herself. Staring up at the ceiling the lights irritated her eyes a little. "Maybe I should order GLaDOS to dim the lighting a little bit," she thought. "Now I'm just being a bitch, aren't I?"
She decided to do it anyway. Nicely.
A/N: The last chapter turned out so much better than I could have ever dreamed. And it was almost like a lucky accident, really. I was just feeling very inspired for some reason and everything simply came together. The funny thing is I don't think I ever really considered it to even be a major chapter, just kind of the latter half of chapter five that simply made sense to make into its own chapter. It is perhaps because of this lack of high expectations that I felt so at ease while writing it. Rarely do I feel that a chapter is good while I'm working on it, but that was the case with chapter six. Typically it takes me at least a couple months to be able to read something I wrote and detach myself from the memories regarding the writing process itself.
This chapter you just read on the other hand turned out to be a bit tricky. I had no notes written down regarding this one. Absolutely none. All I remember of my original vision is that Chell does some testing and then there's the thing with the turrets. That's it. If there was any special dialogue that for example came afterward, I've forgotten about it. When I actually started writing the chapter, it quickly dawned on me that a chapter built around the things I just mentioned didn't really contribute to the story in any meaningful way.
Fortunately I decided to read through all the previous chapters to make sure I wasn't going to say something that would contradict with something that had already been said, and while I was doing that it came to me that Chell was supposed to get her own proper room in the story. I had of course remembered that, but in my mind I had always thought that that came later. But after thinking about it, it actually made most sense for that to happen in this chapter. If that was what I'd originally intended, I can't remember. Still, I call it a rediscovery. It might sound like a very small thing, but regardless of how small a thing it was, it gave me something to work towards and after that the chapter came together rather quickly in a very few writing sessions.
Along the line small things got added and ultimately the chapter came out better than I had dreaded. A couple of meaningful character moments even crept their way in and gave the chapter more substance than I had expected it to have. If the next couple of chapters are going to be about what I'm thinking, they are going to finally set the wheels in motion for the rest of the story. I continue to be busy at least until the summer and I'm going to be writing one chapter for another story before returning to this one, so the next update is going to be at least a couple months away again. That pains me because these don't often take me that long to write, but I'm trying to update all the stories I have going on as evenly as I can because I feel that is only fair. Plus that gives me some time to think about the next chapter instead of just plunging right into writing it.
I'm slowly growing more confident as an author but I still have a lot to figure out. Hopefully I am able to continue pushing my writing even further than ever before in the coming chapters. I really wish to be able to do the story justice.
Till next time dear readers.