She wasn't sure how it happened. All she could remember was trying to shoot a portal on the wall in front of her while flying towards it at high speed after building up quite a bit of momentum and slingshotting out of the portal behind her. She'd miscalculated and fired her portal a bit too high, causing her to slam into the wall with bone-crushing force. The pain had been excruciating. It'd felt like most of her ribs had been broken and she'd been able to taste blood gushing into her mouth, but that was not the worst part. Below had been a pit filled with acid and by all logic she should have been dead. But she wasn't.
The very last thing she could remember if she pushed herself really hard, was falling towards her death in agony, drowning in her own scream of torment. But then at the last moment a panel had extended from a wall, catching her, saving her. As she'd watched it happen, she thought she'd heard GLaDOS screaming in immense anguish. It had sounded even worse than when the AI had mercilessly been ripped from her mainframe. Much worse. It was a sound that pierced right into a person's soul, making them feel the agony the one screaming was going through. But the memory was so hazy she wasn't sure if any of that had actually happened. After landing safely on the platform Chell'd blacked out.
Now she awoke lying on an operating table somewhere in one of Aperture's many medical wings. She was alone and the off-putting antiseptic hospital smell filled her nostrils. The girl felt very weak, barely alive, and even breathing felt heavy and took effort. But she was alive. Carefully she lifted her right hand which felt heavy as a stone and inspected herself. She was clad in a white medical gown and when Chell lifted her head a little she could see a surgical scar running down her chest. Tentatively she traced it with the tip of her finger. It felt strange, unreal. Like it had to be a dream.
The sudden sound of the speakers turning on made the girl flinch.
"Ah, you are finally awake," said the all-too-familiar voice, one of the few she knew. "How could you have been so careless? You were suffering from internal bleeding and I had to have Blue and Orange carry you here and operate on you. I had to write a more precise control software for them so that they wouldn't accidentally cut one of your arteries. You were lucky you fell right by the edge of the pit and not in the deadly goo."
"Wait, I thought that–"
"Thought what?" GLaDOS interjected.
Chell was left momentarily dazed by the sudden interruption. "Did I hear you screaming when I fell?" she asked after the unplanned pause.
"Screaming? You must have imagined it."
"Did I imagine it?" the young woman asked herself. But even though the memory was very distant and fuzzy, almost like it'd been but a dream, what she could grasp of it felt so vivid and intense it couldn't possibly have just been a figment of her imagination. Did GLaDOS not want to acknowledge the whole thing? If that was the case Chell decided to let the matter go. All that mattered was that she was still alive and kicking.
"How could I have been so careless?" she pressed herself. She'd shot a portal on a panel on the fly a hundred times before; how could she have made such a rookie mistake? It had happened when she'd least expected it. She'd thought she'd played things safe, but it seemed she'd been too confident in her abilities and thought she wouldn't make any mistakes when it came to things she already knew well. Of course she made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. She should have been dead right now.
The girl turned her head to look at the lone camera hanging on one of the walls. "I guess I must have," she answered the AI.
"You have a few fractured ribs but you will make a perfect recovery. We can also get rid of the scar if it bothers you."
"Thank you," Chell said simply, with more intent behind her words than to thank the AI for her offer just now.
"No need to thank me. Blue and Orange did all the work. Losing our only human test subject after less than two weeks would have been a shame. Since I don't have anyone to replace you."
"Well I'll be out of commission for a while now," the girl replied. She had no idea when she'd be strong enough to return back to testing. Right now all she wanted to do was sleep.
"What are you talking about? You'll resume testing tomorrow."
"But I feel dead!" exclaimed the brunette, the mere act of raising her voice taxing her weak body near its limit. She launched into a couching fit, which made her chest hurt like hell. She wished she was dead.
"You are just feeling groggy because of the sedative. We'll take it easy tomorrow, okay?"
"You crazy AI. Do you seriously intend to make me test tomorrow?"
"That is our arrangement, Chell!" the artificial intelligence replied fiercely. "If you intend to not honor it, I will throw you on that elevator and–"
"Fine! I'll do it," Chell hurried to stop GLaDOS in panic before she got furious. "Stupid fucking bitch," she muttered under her breath.
"Good," the AI said promptly, fortunately not having heard the private addition.
The woman looked away from the camera and an awkward silence fell between the two. A long silence.
"What?" the girl snapped.
"Are you angry with me?"
"What do you think?"
There was a long pause. "What if I said I was sorry?"
Another long pause. "Yes?" the AI said, posing the answer almost as a question. It was clear she was feeling conflicted.
Chell remembered that the artificial intelligence wasn't used to dealing with people like this. She knew it was too noble of her, but she decided to forgive the supercomputer this time around. There was clearly still some friction between them but as long as the AI was willing to try to find a common ground, Chell would be willing to do the same. Wasn't that what… friends, did?
Taking a moment before she answered, she finally said, "Fine, I forgive you. But you have to treat me better."
"I-I know. I apologize," GLaDOS replied, her apology feeling more heartfelt this time. "Like I said, I'll make the tests a bit easier tomorrow."
"So she's still insistent on the testing," noted Chell to herself. "I guess that's understandable. Testing is what she does. It is very important to her. As foolish as this might sound, perhaps it is a bit selfish of me to not take into consideration what's important to GLaDOS. Testing is her life. Even if it might seem trivial to me, a simple round of testing means everything to her. She never says anything, but perhaps she is actually very grateful to me for doing these tests for her." The prospect make the girl feel kind of warm and fuzzy on the inside and she realized she was staring at the camera with a small smile on her face.
Quickly she wiped the expression off her face, hoping the AI hadn't noticed anything, and pretending to still be a bit bitter she replied, "I'm going to take my time tomorrow. You've never seen a person go as slowly as I'll be tomorrow." She frowned and turned her head away from the red eye that was staring directly at her. She knew she was being melodramatic for she wasn't all that angry at the artificial intelligence anymore, but she thought it fun and frankly GLaDOS did deserve a bit of a cold shoulder for how she'd acted.
GLaDOS took a moment to formulate her answer, which wasn't very typical of her. "…Fine. But don't think you can get away with trying to slack off after tomorrow. If you do, there will be consequences."
"You can never just be nice, can you?" Chell almost said the question out loud but in the end it was only spoken in her head. Despite how it looked, she knew GLaDOS was trying. She just didn't have enough courage to openly display her kinder side, yet. The young woman hoped the two of them would learn to understand one another better so that they could take each other better into consideration in the future. Their work relationship would greatly benefit from the two of them getting along. The girl felt she'd already learned a lot more about the AI during her stay in Aperture and she hoped GLaDOS was trying her best to understand her better as well. She watched her constantly for ten hours a day so certainly she must have made numerous observations about her down to the smallest things. Now that Chell was thinking about it, a weird feeling started growing in her stomach and she wasn't sure whether she should feel uncomfortable or flattered by all the attention the artificial intelligence was giving her. She was so used to GLaDOS watching her all the time, this was the first time she was fully conscious of just how closely the supercomputer was always observing her.
Chell realized her cheeks were starting to grow warm and she was glad she'd turned away from the AI. "I-I need to use the restroom," she said as an excuse to get away from the computer's presence for a while.
"Already? I guess you've been under for twenty-four hours. I'll send Orange to escort you."
No further words were spoken. Frankly Chell was thankful for a moment of silence she could have to herself. After a couple of minutes the taller of the two bots emerged through the door and helped the girl get on her feet. Allowing her to wrap her arm around her for support, the robot walked the young lady down the hallway to the nearest washroom. As they made their way slowly, the woman realized her body was indeed merely feeling weak and it wasn't really her injuries that prevented her from moving around on her own even if she was in some pain. Whatever GLaDOS had had the bots do, it had been a significant help. Still, a couple of broken ribs was nothing to kid about and she'd surely have to take thing easy at least for a couple of weeks. To be honest she probably shouldn't have been on her feet yet and definitely not exerting herself, but GLaDOS insisted she continued testing since she could stand up and hold a portal gun, barely. They'd have to have a serious talk about working conditions and looking after the well-being of your employees one of these days when Chell'd managed to prove her worth and earn the AI's trust, but for now their "friendship" was barely that and they'd have to work on it before GLaDOS was likely to listen to what she had to say.
…Or was that the case?
As Orange stopped to wait outside, the taxed brunette locked the door behind her and sat down. With an extended sigh, she buried her face into her hands. For several minutes she sat like that in silence. "You saved me, didn't you?" she finally whispered to herself in the empty bathroom.
A/N: I felt like sticking close to the core of the chapter with this one. I could have easily added more content to it to make it twice as long, but I opted not to. I was just in the mood to write something that was stripped as close to its essence as possible when I wrote this one, so I did. From here on there won't be very many opportunities for me to do so, so I'm happy the mood struck me while I was working on this particular chapter.
The next chapter kind of is and isn't important, depends on how you look at it. I thought I already knew how I wanted to write it, but while finishing up this one I got certain aspirations regarding it. I might try to push it further writing-wise than I had originally visioned, but that depends on how I feel when I actually start writing it. If I do, I hope I'm feeling particularly inspired because I'd like to make it a good one. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that it turns out well.
We are gradually getting to the heart of the fic. Hopefully you will only find the story more interesting as we get further.