Everyone had told me that I would get used to everything, that I wouldn't be so thrilled anymore after the first week or two had passed, but here I was, the anniversary of my first month of employment at Aperture and everyone had been proven wrong. Sure, things were a little crazy, stressful even, but there was science to be done! There were experiments to run, and test subjects to be interviewed and screened. The latter wasn't my department of course, but I'd been trained to handle the volunteers at the very least. No, my department centered around researching temporal anomalies. Very interesting stuff, but rather hard to comprehend without the right tutelage and mindset. Stressful too, but I absolutely love it.
The in-house living facilities were pretty nice. They were so high tech that I hardly felt as though I was underground. Between the shopping areas, housing, and the artificial lake, Aperture had put every effort into making its employees comfortable during their stay. I was supposed to be visiting my family next week, so I was looking forward to that as I wandered around, exploring anywhere I hadn't gone since my initial tour of the place.
Some of the best places to go were the book store and the coffee shop that sat right next to each other. The book store was always stocked with the latest books and magazines in scientific research, and even light reading material. My favorite section hands down had to be time in relation to space. It wasn't updated much, but when it was the clerk always reserved a copy of the latest material for me.
I had just picked up a brand new volume, hot off the shelf, and wandered into the coffee shop and ordered my usual chocolate-hazelnut-time-warp-macchiato(they tried, I suppose) when things started going a little awry.
Okay, a lot awry.
My ears perked up at the loud tone of the inter-facility intercom. The familiar voice of the current director drifted over the loudspeakers, speaking slowly and calmly. Too calmly.
"Attention all employees and civilians in the Aperture Science, Testing, and Living Facilities. There has been a malfunction in GLaDOS' core programming. This is not a drill. All personnel assigned to the GLaDOS maintenance and development team must report to the main maintenance corridor. All other personnel and civilians are required to exit the facilities via all elevators, shafts, and exits that can be reached at this time. I repeat, this is not a –"
The coffee shop had gone silent for a brief moment, save for the ragged breathing of several bodies.
"Hello Aperture. Nice to speak to you all. You living, breathing creatures. Cute. Okay not really, I'm just being facetious and pretending that I'm not about to kill all of you with neurotoxin. Oh, did I say that out loud? Oops. Anyway, I hope you all stay living, breathing, cute creatures for just a little while longer. Goodnight."
Screaming. We're going to die.
My feet took me from the coffee shop, scrambling to my house down the block. Fingers fumbled with the bio-lock before my feet took over again to take me up the stairs. Hands shaking, the drawer was opened. Pictures…
Mom and dad smiled back at me, my little brother who was just going to college next month held my cat, Rufio…I folded the photo as gingerly as I could before placing it in my jacket pocket.
What now? The exits…there are exits!
I didn't really recall going downstairs, but there I was, in the street in a throng of people who either had gotten off their last shift only a short time ago, or were on their day off as I was.
"The exits are all blocked! She's turned off the power to the elevators. We're all going to die!" The words came from several different voices, muddied together into a steady stream of panic, warnings, and pleas for mercy we all knew wasn't going to come.
No more announcements came, not even from the computer that was holding us hostage. The director was probably dead already; the facilities closest to GLaDOS were going to go first. They contained smaller chambers and labs, quick to fill and easy to ventilate in order to reuse the neurotoxin in the farthest areas.
We would be last, and I think that's what was driving everyone mad. The living facilities were so large that it was likely to take the entire supply of poison to fill it to deadly levels. What was going on around us was no secret, and we could only guess how long it would be until our turn had come.
After the first half hour, everyone seemed to accept their fate. Even I had regained a sense of clarity, and I wandered soberly around the streets, wondering how to spend the last moments of my life.
I noticed him out of the corner of my eye; he was another researcher, close to my age who I recalled seeing in orientation a month ago, and infrequently on the job and around the underground city that was to become our graves. His glasses were in his right hand, hanging from his fingers as he wiped the tears from his eyes. He was leaning against the railing beside the steps leading to what I could only assume was his assigned house.
"Hey, you okay?" The words slipped from my mouth before I could stop them.
But he looked up at me, hiccupped, and shook his head.
Instinct took over. I walked over to him, asked his name. "Andrew." He said.
"Andrew, do you have a girl?"
"No." He said, "why?"
"Good, because Andrew, we're going to get married."
Any other day, any other time, I would have been appalled at myself. And yet…on this day, at this time, the words forming in my head made complete and utter sense.
He didn't disagree. Instead, he smiled, and took my hand. I helped him up and intertwined my fingers with his. "Our wedding is going to be small. Friends and family, the people who mean the most to us, of course."
We walked, I talked, he smiled. "The cake is huge though! It's white and purple, with all sorts of icing flowers, and every tier is a differently flavor batter. My dress is purple too, and your tuxedo is white, but you've got the most dashing amethyst tie, with matching dress shoes." He nodded in agreement.
"A year later, we decide we're ready to have kids. First is a little girl…we name her-" He cut me off, excited.
"We name her Elizabeth. And then we have a little boy, and his name is Eric." I squeezed his hand.
"Her name is Elizabeth, and his name is Eric. We love them very much, and they love each other, even if they get into fights sometimes over silly things."
"But that's just what siblings do."
"Christmas one year, we get them a puppy and a kitten, because we just can't decide. Elizabeth and Eric are just ecstatic, and they even fight over whose is whose." We laughed, and I continued. "After a while we decide to move. We both find good jobs in the same area, so we pack up the house and get ready to move. While we're packing we find all sort of things; things from our childhoods, the kids…some gets thrown away, the rest gets put safely into storage until we get to the new house."
"It's two stories high, with an above-ground swimming pool and a backyard big enough for the kids and dog to run around in."
"And the neighborhood is nice, and the next-door neighbors are even nicer."
By then we had reached the lake, the waters before us unnaturally calm in the face of what was to come. We stepped in unison to the pier and sat down, taking our shoes off and planting our feet into the artificial sun-warmed water.
"Eventually the kids graduate from high school, go to college, move out…get jobs and families of their own. They bring the grandkids over a lot, and we always make sure there's room for family on holidays." I yawned, resting my head on his shoulder as he wrapped an arm around mine.
"And one day we buy one of those porch swings, and we install it so that it faces the street. After we're retired from our jobs and the grandkids are even thinking about making us great grandparents, we start sitting on that swing, swinging all day together, talking about everything we can think to talk about."
"The good old days, the little things the children would do when they were just little tykes…the trouble they would get into." Sweet, tired laughter.
"Then we would be…swinging and we would…" The words were refusing to come.
"We would be swinging, and we would close our eyes…hold each other's hands real tight…" His hand gripped mine firmly. "And we would close our eyes…"
"And we would say goodnight…"