Here we are… the final chapter. I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this fic.
Not counting the combined word counts of fics I have in a series, this is my longest fanfic, clocking in at around sixty-eight thousand words. There were times when I wanted to stop because I thought I simply could not figure out how to write the next part, but I kept going, and those of you who supported my fic certainly helped me with that. Thank you, if you read this fic. Thank you if you reviewed it, or favorited it, or watched it. That was a major encouragement.
I'd also like to thank my beta readers—Hypotenuse Man (who helped with the first chapter), Silverstreams, and my little sister. Their input was invaluable in writing this story.
Finally I want to thank Cobalt and The Dungeon Master, who came up with the idea for this story, as well as most of the plot. Without them, I wouldn't have even written this thing.
Well, with that out of the way, please enjoy the final chapter of The Rodent and the Robot.
He stared up at the machine, shifting his feet.
"I can probably do it. It… it shouldn't be too hard."
"Good. Better do it quickly, then."
And yet he still hesitated. In spite of the fact that with every minute they waited, more of those drones were made and more of them were sent out to scout the surface, he didn't want to keep going. Moving on with the plan would bring them closer to…
"C-Caroline," he stammered, but did not look at the core. When she acknowledged him with a whirr of a few gears, he went on: "Double-check your map. Do you see her chamber?"
"Yes. It's not far."
"Good… good. But in her chamber—there's—do you see a small annex off to the side? It might not be open right now, but there should be one there."
"Hm… yes, I see it. What is it?"
Doug breathed out a sigh, although it was not entirely one of relief. "It's the Stalemate Resolution Annex. We built it in case one of the two cores was not willing to go with the transfer, and a Stalemate Associate is supposed to press the… the Stalemate Resolution Button in order to go on with the transfer, if he deemed it necessary."
Caroline tilted on her rail. "Why would you need something like that? If the central core was faulty, surely it would need to be replaced."
"Yeah, but depending on the alternate core, it could be better to leave the corrupt core there. That's why the associate—and the button—was necessary. In theory, anyway." He scratched the back of his head. "It'll definitely be necessary now—GLaDOS will not willingly agree to being transferred if she winds up being conscious during this whole thing. But… with luck, and a few well-aimed bombs, we might be able to knock her out long enough to initiate the transfer."
"Sounds like the best plan we can have at this point," Caroline said with a slow nod. "But you'll need to modify the bomb path, first."
"Yeah, I… I know." Swallowing, he strode up to the console and began to enter in the commands. They were in a small control room, not far from GLaDOS's chamber—it would be just a short walk there. He would set a portal to where the bombs were released from the pneumatic diversity vents, and another portal somewhere off to the side of the chamber. Caroline would probably have to hook into a receptacle to move some panels, which would likely alert their presence to GLaDOS, but if it all worked out right, she would be knocked out before she could do anything.
It was risky, but it was their best shot.
There were a few clicks and a beep, and with the tap of a few keys on the console, the nearby machine roared to life. Three round, black-and-red bombs shot through the transparent tube attached to the machine, and were sent somewhere else in the facility. They were followed, seconds later, by another set of three bombs. Eventually they heard dull explosions ringing out deeper within the Enrichment Center.
"How do we stop it?"
"We can either set it for a timer—which I wouldn't trust, in case this takes longer than planned—or shut it off manually." He tapped his finger against a blank spot on the console. "She could shut it off, but she won't be able to do that if we initiate the transfer quickly enough. So once you're… you're in the chassis, you'll have to do that yourself."
Caroline nodded, not seeming bothered at the prospect of being nailed by a few bombs immediately after the transfer. "I'll do whatever it takes."
Finally he turned to face her fully, noting the way her eye shields were narrowed, yet her optic was dilated fully, and the way she held her handles—there was no fear in her, or if there was, she hid it well. He saw no hesitance, no worry—just determination.
It reminded him of another strong woman he'd once known.
He shook himself out of his thoughts and turned back to the console. "It looks like the bombs are currently going off in a half-finished test chamber. I'll try redirecting the vents to take it somewhere closer to the central AI chamber. Look at your map again—do you see any portal conducting surfaces near there?"
Caroline paused, turning this way and that in her frame as she accessed her internal map. "Yes—some in that Stalemate Resolution Annex you mentioned earlier."
"Well, that makes things a little easier for us… How about somewhere a short distance from the chamber?"
"There's… there's some in a small office nearby, it looks like." She read off the coordinates to him.
"That'll work as well as anything." Entering in the coordinates, he began to maneuver the vent system to direct the bombs into the office.
"…Could you not send the bombs directly into her chamber?" Caroline asked, looking over a few of the screens.
"No—we still need to get to her chamber, and if we take too long, we run the risk of her of shutting down the bombs during the few seconds she's awake between attacks."
"I see. And how do we get to the Stalemate Resolution Annex without going through her chamber first?"
"There should be a path that leads up to the annex from below the central chamber."
"…Yes, I see it."
"Then that's it." He backed away from the console, admiring the monitors that showed the new path for the vent. "The bombs are ready—now all we have to do is fire the portals."
"Good. Let's go."
With that, the core whirred out of the room, leaving Doug staring, bewildered, at her rail. He shifted uneasily before rushing after her, trying to keep up with her pace. Yet she wasn't slowing—she was still pressing forward, forcing him to jog alongside her. That determined expression hadn't left her, and he hadn't seen the least bit of hesitance since she'd revealed her plan. If he were in her shoes, he would probably be close to breaking down at this point, and yet she seemed almost eager.
"Wh-what are you doing?!" he finally blurted out, stopping and gripping the rail of the catwalk.
Caroline turned, now seeming agitated. "What?"
"I don't—I don't understand how you can just rush into this like you're doing—how—how can you not be scared at all? You know what you're heading into, right?"
The core's optic narrowed, now looking more angry than determined.
"I… sorry, of course you do." He let his hands fall limp at his sides, and stared down at the catwalk below. "But aren't you the least bit worried about this?"
"Absolutely." She moved closer to him, her look softening. "But there was something I heard Mister Johnson say—and he used to say it quite often. Act before you can question yourself."
Doug gave a snort. That sounded like the sort of philosophy the insane CEO would follow, given the experiments he conducted.
"He was right. If I give myself a moment, I'll only let myself become afraid—and we can't afford to let that happen right now." And she turned around again, heading back down her rail before he could respond.
…He had to admit, there was some truth to her words. The more he hesitated, the harder this would be. Drawing in a breath, he darted after her.
Still a number of thoughts were swirling around his head, and not just because of his schizophrenia. He couldn't stop thinking about anything—what would happen if they failed, what would happen if he couldn't rid the chassis of the testing ping or euphoric response soon enough, what would happen if they did succeed…
It seemed unreal. No matter how much he thought about it, his mind refused to accept that they were about to be facing GLaDOS in an hour or less. It was even less ready to accept that, should they succeed, he would finally see the sun again.
What was going to happen after this? What was going to happen to him? To her?
He looked up at the core as he ran alongside her, and chewed on his lip for a moment. "C… Caroline?"
"Yes?" Her optic darted to look at him for a moment, but she did not slow.
His stomach twisted. "N-nevermind."
Neither of them spoke, and the whirring her connector on the rail and the clanking of his long-fall braces against the catwalk became their own deafening silence.
The office had nearly been obliterated by the time they reached it, leaving nothing but the panel-white walls, which were the only things that remained unscathed, bar a few char marks. Doug had placed a blue portal there, and the unconnected portal had shimmered and swirled in spite of the bombs that rhythmically pounded against it.
The easy part was done, and now they were headed toward her chamber—toward either their victory or hers. And if just one thing went wrong, it could only be the latter. They would have no second chance.
He was suddenly reminded of a test chamber a colleague of his had designed years and years ago. Though it was a long, complicated chamber, it required the use of only two portal placements—one of at the beginning of the chamber, and one right at the end. The rest could be solved without portals. However, once the subject got past a certain point, he could not turn back to change his first portal. Should that first portal be placed in just the wrong spot, the test would become unsolvable.
Doug hoped desperately that they had placed their portals right for this one.
"This is it," Caroline said quietly, and he looked up and gave a start—he'd been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hadn't seen the towering structure looming over them. "Her chamber is just up there."
Stepping back, he tried to take in a better look at the place. There was a long, enclosed hallway above them leading into the upper part of the structure, but they were on a rickety catwalk suspended below, leading underneath the central AI chamber. "Unless she altered this place," he muttered, "which it looks like she didn't, we can access the Stalemate Resolution Annex from under here."
Slowly the two approached the structure, surprised to find that Caroline's rail actually went that far. Then again, he thought, if she was summoning cores in to turn them into those monsters… He glanced up to Caroline and pointed his gun at her. "Let's get you off that rail for now. There might be a trap for the cores inside."
She nodded, disengaging from her rail as he activated the portal gun's grip. Though the gun automatically held her so that she was looking at him, she turned in her casing to face forward.
As they passed through the doorway, he opened his mouth to speak—he wanted to tell her that they could just kill GLaDOS and get out of here, that maybe he could help her still live comfortably as a core, but he saw her twitch badly and shudder, and shut his mouth again.
The interior of the structure was dark, with a few badly-lit catwalks suspended over a deep pit; he couldn't see the bottom when he looked over the rail. A few pneumatic diversity vents wound around the chamber, but they were empty, transporting nothing. The room was eerily silent, and though he knew Caroline wouldn't notice, it bothered him, for it was somewhere around here that they normally kept the defective cores. They'd placed the bins close to GLaDOS's chamber so they wouldn't have to travel far to transport them and give the engineers time to accidentally mix the defective cores with the working ones. The defective cores were usually quite loud, but he heard nothing.
"That's not right," he muttered, taking another catwalk that led somewhere close to another entrance.
"What is it?" Caroline turned to look back at him. "What's wrong?"
"The defective cores—they're not—" He found the bins, and stopped. It was almost entirely empty, with nothing but the remains of a few completely broken, irreparable spheres. He had an idea for where the others had gone, and it wasn't the incinerator.
Caroline examined the bins, frowning, and probably got the same idea he had. "Well, maybe some of them were ones we've already taken care of."
"I-I hope so."
Biting his lip, he turned around, passing a shaft with a core receptacle. But that wasn't what they wanted—that would take them directly up to the central AI chamber, and they would be sitting ducks up there. Or it was possible they wouldn't even make it up; GLaDOS would likely notice if Caroline were plugged into there, and might initiate whatever process she used to create those drones. The idea of Caroline's being unwillingly ripped from another body made him shudder, and he moved on.
Doug stopped by a wall that appeared to be a dead end. As the core he held watched on curiously, he felt around the wall until his hand grazed over a few grooves in the otherwise flat surface, and pushed, depressing a small section of the wall. The section then slid upward to reveal a keypad, which Doug typed a code into. The screen on the keypad lit green, and a hidden door in the wall slid open, revealing a stairwell.
"This is it," he said, drawing in a deep breath. But as he stepped into the stairwell, his legs immediately began to shake and his stomach tied itself into a knot. Once they were in the annex, there was no turning back.
"When we get up there," Caroline said, looking up as he mounted the stairs, "set me down, and fire the portal on the wall."
Both of them already knew their plan inside and out, but he felt better about it when they rehearsed it like that. It almost felt as though if they rehearsed it enough times, it would work. It had to.
Finally they reached the top of the stairwell, and faced the eyes of several panel arms. When Doug took a step closer to them, a few sets pulled away, revealing a mostly-dark annex with a single button standing in the middle. The only things lighting the room were the optics of the panel arms and the small beams that poked out from between the panels ahead, coming from the central chamber.
The panels behind them, meanwhile, took their place once more, blocking off their only exit.
If that weren't enough to make them uneasy, just beyond the panels ahead, they could hear her speaking.
"…and we'll have more of them, soon," came the synthesized voice of the AI, strangely soft and almost maternal. "More humans for us to test. And perhaps if you're good, I'll save a few of them. That's right, my little killers—a few humans, just for you to torment."
Caroline and Doug exchanged confused, horrified glances before Doug crept closer to the wall. Between the cracks, he could barely catch a glimpse of the massive AI hovering over a glass box, within which sat three of some kind of naked, ugly animal.
Subconsciously he placed he hand on one of the panel arms so he could lean in closer, and the arm jerked away with a whirr.
"What was that?"
Doug scrambled backward, the glass box descended into the floor, and the panels pulled away.
GLaDOS stared right at them, her optic wide.
"How did you get here?"
Dropping Caroline, Doug swung his arm backward and fired a portal at the wall behind them. Several bombs blasted out of the portal, sailing toward the AI.
With several room-shaking BANGS, they rammed into her. She screamed as the chassis rocked violently, sparking and shuddering before ultimately hanging limp.
"Central core offline," rang out an automated voice.
It all happened so fast, Doug could barely register what he was seeing.
"Warning: central core is—"
BANG, BANG, BANG.
The chassis rocked again from the force of the explosions.
"Alternate core detected. To initiate a core transfer, please place alternate core in—"
BANG, BANG, BANG.
"Hurry, before she wakes up," Caroline gasped from where she lay on the floor.
Doug's entire frame shook as he reached down, dropping the portal gun and picking up Caroline by her upper handle. While she gave him a confused look, she did not openly question his action as he carried her down to the receptacle that rose from the floor. He stopped in front of it, gave a hard swallow, and crouched down, holding her out.
The receptacle snagged her handles and pulled her in.
"Alternate core accepted. Alternate core, are you ready to start the procedure?"
"Yes," Caroline said, closing her optic.
"Corrupt core, are you ready to start the proc—"
BANG, BANG, BANG.
"Interpreting lack of response as 'yes.' Initiating transfer procedure."
Doug's legs gave out, and he dropped to his knees from his crouched position. "C-Caroline…!"
She opened her optic, looking up at him as the receptacle descended and as a circular wall rose around GLaDOS's form behind them. "This is it, then," she said, her lower lid pulling up in a sad smile. "We've done it."
"N-not yet," he stammered, shaking his head. "Th-there's still the—I-I'll have to fix a few things in the chassis—m-modify some things, b-before…" He suddenly turned away, covering his eyes as hot tears began to stream down his cheeks. "Oh gosh…"
"I-it's all right, Doug," she said, voice wavering. "This is what I was supposed to do. This is—this is what I promised. This is what will get you out of here."
He tried to respond, but the sobs choked his words. After all this time, he was finally going to escape, but at the price of leaving the cube and Caroline—his friends—behind.
He almost didn't want to look back at her, feeling ashamed of his tears, but he moved his hand anyway and turned to look.
Caroline's optic was contracted in consternation.
"Why have the bombs stopped?"
Doug stared for a moment, and immediately his sobs died, and he began to shake for an entirely different reason. His stomach felt like it had rotted as he slowly turned around.
A section of the circular wall pulled away, revealing a fully-conscious GLaDOS directly behind them.
"I should have mentioned, I figured out how to disable that procedure a week ago," she said. "But thank you for surrendering that core to me, anyway."
His vision blurred, and his limbs went numb.
Caroline was screaming his name behind him, and he tried to scramble around, to grab at her, but he couldn't feel his hands, and the floor was closing over the receptacle. He caught a glimpse of her pinprick pupil fading just before the triangular wedges closed, trapping her beneath the floor. He grabbed uselessly at the metal surface, scratching against the aperture until he tore some of his nails, but it would not open.
You've failed you've failed you've failed you've failed you've failed the voices were screaming at him, and he pulled at his hair to try to make them stop, but still her voice was loud enough to speak over them.
"Don't worry about her. She'll make an excellent drone. And speaking of…"
He could dimly hear the whirring of a few panels, followed by a waterfall of tic tic tic tic tic tic tic as he didn't care how many drones came rushing into the room.
"I think it's time for you to go back to testing."
His confused mind scrambled for something to hold onto, and it came to one thing: The portal gun—he'd dropped the portal gun by the annex. If he had the portal gun, he could do something. He could do something. Anything. If he had the portal gun, everything would be okay.
He was already staggering toward it, his legs barely cooperating, the eyes of the drones following his every step and drawing nearer by the second.
"As for the havoc you caused a while back, I've taken note of it. When the turrets and neurotoxin are back online, rest assured, you will be the first to know."
He could just see the portal gun up ahead, but when he tried to move closer, his right leg would not cooperate. There was a faint hissing behind him, he turned to see one of the drones biting into his calf. His already-blurry vision began to fade as his view came crashing down to the floor.
And, distantly, he could still hear her:
"Let it be known that this was how the quest of an insane rodent and a broken robot ended…"
His vision turned black.
And he was gone.
A little extra preparation never hurt anyone, she reflected, her optic glowing in a smile. In fact, it helped quite a bit.
GLaDOS had not quite presumed the schizophrenic and the core to be dead. There was always a chance that, against the odds, they would escape—the mute lunatic had taught her that well. And, of course, they had. Granted, she hadn't been entirely sure what they would be doing, and she was not proud to admit that it took her a moment to notice that the turret line was a wreck and the neurotoxin chamber was destroyed. She'd only realized those things when attempting to set up a new chamber and finding that she had no turrets to place, and, on a whim, attempting to fill the chamber with neurotoxin, only for the vents to spew out stale air.
But once she had noticed those, she recognized the familiar pattern: a human and a core taking out her defenses, and then coming to her chamber to confront her.
Idiots. She wasn't about to allow the same thing to happen twice.
Fortunately she had already disabled the core transfer procedure, so she didn't have to worry about that. What she did have to worry about was if they decided to do something to attack her directly. So she had come up with the plan to modify the chassis's pain tolerance—allowing it to endure more pain before it knocked her offline—and fake being knocked out so she could trick them. It hurt like nothing else, though she'd endured worse pain before.
Besides, it had worked. Of course.
And here she was, hanging in her chamber and looking over the unconscious form of a frail human. Meanwhile, the second human was trapped in a core, trapped in a receptacle, trapped underneath the chamber. The only other two people dumb enough to confront her were now subdued, and she was free to go ahead with her plans to begin scouting out the surface and capturing more humans to further the cause of Science.
First, though, she would have to take care of these two. Tilting her head, she sent out a command for the party escort bot to come to the room and retrieve the human. It wouldn't take it long to get here. That left… her.
It was simple enough to figure out what to do with her. The core was in the perfect position for her to initiate another drone creation process. She already had many of them, but more wouldn't hurt. As a bonus, the creation process would wipe the core's personality, which is something she had meant to do quite some time ago.
Optic glowing in satisfaction, she sent a command to the receptacle to initiate the process.
Finally, there were still a few drones standing idly about. She had called in four, not because she needed that many, but because it would simply be fun to intimidate the human with so many. But she no longer needed them for that purpose, and sent out a command for them to return to their stations by the many hidden exits of the facility. The drones responded immediately, and finally there was no-one left in the chamber but her, the rodent, and the robot, and the latter two were in no position to do anything about her anymore.
And for a moment, GLaDOS simply hung there, reveling in her victory.
A soft alert tone brought her out of it.
"Error in transfer procedure."
Strange. There shouldn't have been any problem in turning that core into a drone, but then, it did contain a human soul-turned-code rather than a simple robot AI. Curious, she brought the receptacle back up, looking over the core in question. Its frame was battered and its optic was shut, and a simple piece of red and white cloth hung from its lower handle. She ran a quick diagnostic, and was surprised to find that the personality had already been wiped.
So what had been the problem?
She tried to lower the receptacle to start the procedure again, removing the step to delete the personality, but the receptacle refused to move.
"Error in transfer procedure."
Well, she would deal with that later. The important thing was that she had finally rid herself from Caroline.
The sound of a few panels moving followed by a loud stomping caught her attention, and she turned to see that the party escort bot was marching into the room. Perfect.
…Though now that she thought of it, she wasn't so sure she wanted to bring Doug into testing just yet. Perhaps that could wait. She had other things to do, after all. She needed to make a few modifications to the drones—perhaps she should summon a few more of those back to the chamber. But first, to stop the party escort bot.
Just as she sent the command for the bot to leave, she gave a jerk, swinging backward. What was she doing? No, she wanted that filthy rat of a human out of here and into a testing chamber.
"What are you doing? Get back here," she said. Her voice had the same effect as a wireless command, and the party escort bot turned around, blinking up at her. "Take this human to the test chamber."
The bot blinked again before turning back around, heading back to the human. Once it was close enough, it spoke up in its grating robotic voice: "Thank you for assuming the party esc—"
The bot blinked again, looking up at her, and she lowered her faceplate. "No, that isn't what I meant. Get that…"
She couldn't finish the sentence.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Her processors were whirring, her whole frame humming as she tried to diagnose just what was going on, why she couldn't think straight—
Suddenly she ran a search on the core receptacle, looking over its previous actions.
There was nothing listing that it had deleted the core's personality.
…But that would mean…
Frantically she ran a diagnostic on her own frame, and her body froze in horror as she found strings of foreign coding surging throughout her processors—her body—her mind—
GLaDOS's body twisted upward on itself, her threateningly-bright optic dimming in terror. "No," she said. "You can't have—"
I've learned a lot since being in a core, including how to get into an AI's processor.
"You're insane." Her voice lowered, as did her frame, which remained still and tense as she fought to control her mounting horror. "You've only trapped yourself again. And now you will be deleted, just like you were supposed to be."
With no small amount of smugness, she initiated the process to delete the harmful entity, only to be hit by a number of warnings.
I wouldn't do that.
The programming was warning her that attempting to delete Caroline could quite possibly harm her own programming. The woman's data had wrapped around hers in such a way that any hostile commands she sent out might have trouble distinguishing between the two. Caroline had latched herself onto her.
You can't get rid of me, but… if I wanted, I could get rid of you.
I deleted the personality of the core I inhabited. I gained control of its faculties and essentially killed it. After all, what is an AI but a string of coding? You're no different, GLaDOS.
Her entire frame froze up. For the first time since she'd been trapped in the helpless form of a potato battery, GLaDOS was truly, genuinely afraid.
But she was not about to give up yet. There was one thing that broken mind of a woman had not considered: "You latched yourself onto me. If you kill me, you'll die, too."
I know. And I'm fully prepared to do that.
"That's a bluff."
No, it's not. You see, I am the one appointed to run this place, not you. So long as I live, I am the owner of Aperture. And should I see that those beneath me will not cooperate, will not allow me to run this place as I should, I can bring this place down.
"You're lying." She barely kept the frightened desperation out of her voice."Think of what you would be doing—you would kill those remaining in this facility."
A few stray animals and AIs. Doug will have enough time to get out of here. All I have to do… is this.
She felt the sudden urge to pull the lift into the central chamber, and before she knew it, a section of the floor was opening, bringing up the lift. Her faceplate dropped in a confused scowl. "What is this. I didn't want to do that."
You told me before that I influenced you to hate and murder. Well, that's not all I can influence you to do.
Her frame twisted, both in horror and fury. "You monster."
I'm not a monster, because I'll allow you a choice. Let me take my place, or else go down with my facility.
Her vision blurred in a shock she hadn't felt since the mute lunatic had escaped test chamber 19. She was cornered. She was trapped. There was nothing she could do to rid herself of this horrible human presence—not this time.
…It won't be so terrible, you know.
GLaDOS's chassis shuddered as she scoffed the notion.
You were born of part of me. We share the same love. I want to rebuild this place—to do great things in the name of Science… don't you?
"I do. You don't." Her frame loosened, her head slowly turning downward until it was facing the floor below. "Since you've shown you care only about rescuing humans, your view of Science has softened. It's not true Science unless it involves a risk of death. Unless it involves the pain of others. You know that."
I used to think so. My opinion changed, and I think yours will as well.
"Because you'll force it to, just like you're forcing me to surrender everything."
You can do that, or work alongside me.
"Or be killed." She gave a humorless laugh. "You're a kindhearted woman, Caroline."
The voice was silent for a long while, and for a time, GLaDOS almost began to wonder if she hadn't somehow dreamed the whole encounter up. She lifted her head, noting out of the corner of her optic that the schizophrenic was beginning to stir.
…I don't want to hurt you. You were made from me, GLaDOS. If I can change, so can you.
"You act as though I would actually want to change into the half-monster half-marshmallow abomination you've become."
Would you rather I become a complete monster and destroy this place before giving you the chance to choose?
"I'd rather you stopped existing."
But still her frame shrugged in a silent sigh; the mental argument was oddly wearing on her processors. Loathe as she was to admit it, she had no way to rid herself of this nuisance without risking killing herself. She'd been fought into a corner. When moments ago she was reveling in victory, now her frame was drooping in loss.
"Fine," she said at length, her optic narrowing and faceplate dropping to give the most disgusted glare she could muster at the floor below her. "Do whatever you want. I don't. Care."
It was a blatant lie, and both of them knew it. And GLaDOS knew she would be spending most of her time trying to find a way around the human mind, though, deep down, she already knew there was nothing she could do.
…You're not going to like this, but I promise, this is the only time I will ask you to do something like this.
"And that is…?"
She watched as the human stirred on the floor, blinking awake and trying to push himself up on his arms. He first looked down in confusion at his leg, which now bore a bandage beneath the pant leg, where the drone had bit him earlier. He then gazed around the room, obviously bewildered that he was not in a test chamber, and suddenly looked up, scrambling backward with a gasp of horror.
He continued to tremble for a moment, but slowly his body went still, his eyes widening. He recognized her voice. "C-Caroline?"
She wasn't used to this body, so massive compared to the tiny one she had inhabited not even an hour ago, but still she carefully moved it downward, bringing the curved head closer to him. "Yes, it's me."
Slowly he rose to his feet, nearly stumbling on his injured leg, but his attention was focused more on the gigantic robot in front of him. "Wh-what—what did you…? Did the core transfer work?"
Caroline tried to make the robot's face show as much of a smile as it could "No. I… I moved myself into the chassis with her. I've latched myself onto her, and I'm staying that way."
"So that's… that's why I wasn't taken into a chamber?"
She nodded slowly. "I thought laying down my life meant staying in Aperture—sacrificing a life outside."
Doug glanced aside for a moment, probably remembering the words of the prophecy.
"But it's… it's not just that. I don't even have a body of my own anymore."
Of course you don't. It's my body. Get on with it.
She tensed. "I-I don't have long to stay here, but… the lift is ready." She tilted the gigantic head to indicate it. "You can go to the surface, now."
Looking over at the circular elevator, Doug began to tremble once more. "Th… the surface… But…" He turned back to her, his brow furrowed in worry. "What about the humans?"
"It's all taken care of. The drones are set to be destroyed for good."
You're more destructive than the lunatic ever was.
She ignored the voice, moving the frame closer the human before her. "Though it didn't go exactly as we planned… it worked. The humans are safe, and… and you're free."
He stared up into her optic. "And you're trapped."
"It was inevitable," she said, giving another sad smile. "But this way, I fulfill my promise to you… and to him."
A creeping, somewhat painful sensation began to work its way through the frame—GLaDOS wasn't going to let her maintain control for much longer. "My time's almost up. Doug…"
Before she could finish her sentence, he lunged forward, throwing his arms around her. And for a moment, she could truly feel the hug, and not just through the limited sensors on the chassis's frame. She closed her eyes, leaning against him, wrapping her own arms around him.
"Goodbye, my only friend."
Finally they stepped away, and she was in the frame again, staring down at him through the robot's optic.
He reached out, pressing his hand against her faceplate. "Thank you."
Caroline took one last glance at the lift before giving Doug her full attention again. "Go on."
Slowly he pulled his hand away, nodding, and turned to limp toward the lift.
As she watched him, a thought struck her, and she spoke up before he stepped in. "Oh—Doug, I—I have one last favor, before you go…" When he turned to look back at her, she turned to look at the core receptacle in the room, and at the empty core that sat upon it. He followed her gaze, and after a few moments, his face lit up in recognition.
The last thing Doug imagined he would ever look back fondly, if sadly, upon was the memory of that optic watching him. And yet he held onto that memory, closing his eyes as the lift rose, and Caroline disappeared from his sight.
While normally his mind was full of noise—of voices, of sounds, of memories—now it was eerily quiet. He hadn't taken his medication, but it seemed the shock of what had happened was enough to quiet the voices, at least temporarily.
And yet, it wasn't enough for the fact to sink in entirely. The idea that it was all over—that after years and years and years of scurrying around an underground facility, sleeping on cardboard, living off of cans of beans, he was finally going to the surface. The idea that he was finally free… it felt like such an impossibility that his mind had trouble processing it.
He opened his eyes again, expecting to see the cold walls of the facility around him, and he did—only they were falling below him, faster and faster as the lift rose up through the layers and layers of floors. Part of him still thought that this could be a trap—that there would be turrets waiting just a few floors ahead, or a neurotoxin vent, even though they'd disabled both of those—but it never came. Instead, the doors to the lift finally slid open, and a thick, heavy metal door swung to the side, allowing daylight to pierce through the darkness of the tiny room.
Doug jumped back, throwing his arm over his eyes—he could barely remember the last time he'd seen daylight like this.
…No, he could—back when GLaDOS was first overthrown, and he'd come out to find her being dragged away…
He staggered out of the shed, pulling his arm away, yet still he could hardly see anything for the bright, glaring sunlight all around him. It bounced off the bright yellow of the wheat field, dancing on the horizon between the cloudless blue skies above…
He opened his mouth—he wanted to say that they'd made it, congratulate her on her successful plan, but there was no reason. There was no rail beside him, no core at the end of a portal device.
The scene before him didn't seem all that stunning, as he slowly realized that he had no-one to share it with.
He turned down to stare at the ground, only two flinch away at the light bouncing off of the bright cement below him.
My eyes! My eyes!
He remembered that—that was what… what the cube had said when it had gotten out with him for just a few, fleeting moments. How strange that he felt now the same way his companion had then.
Before he could fall back into the memories of what had happened before—what she had told him of the fate of his old friend—something struck him, hard, in the back.
He fell forward, hitting his ribcage against the cement and knocking the wind out of himself. There was a loud BANG behind him—the door swinging shut again, he realized later—and he gasped to regain his breath. He thought he'd heard a voice cry out, but that was probably one of the many ones floating around his head—of course they wouldn't keep away for long.
My eyes! My eyes! Oh…
And there was that memory again… he wasn't sure why it wouldn't leave.
I can't see… is… is that…?
Eyes wide, Doug sat upright and turned around to find a familiar, if scorched, gray and pink cube staring up at him in surprise.
Doug! it cried as he threw his arms around it, leaning his head over its top surface. I thought I would never see you again! What happened?
He rubbed his hand over the top of the cube, pulling away for a moment as a genuine smile stretched across his face. He looked down at the cube, which looked back up at him in bewilderment. "She kept her promise."
I didn't know you had that sort of goodness within you.
"It doesn't take 'goodness' to ensure your enemies don't come scrambling back into your territory," she growled, glaring at the far wall and shaking the soot off of a remote claw. "I did that for the lunatic. The rat was even more attached to his 'friend,' so it was only logical that I do the same for him."
GLaDOS refused to respond; she'd found that the other entity wouldn't talk as much if she refused to acknowledge her speech. Besides that, the woman wasn't so keen on talking anymore anyway, now that her rat of a companion had left. She could pick up on the sadness within her, and decided to let her mourn. She could take her time. The longer she took, the more time GLaDOS would get without that voice in her head.
Unfortunately the absence of the woman's voice did not change her influence at all. GLaDOS could not summon more cores to her lair to create more drones, nor could she even send in robots to fix the neurotoxin generator properly. The turrets she could get working, at least, but those were only to use in testing the co-op bots.
…At least that was something she could do, anyway. The co-op bots were still around, and the woman had said that she had a few experiments she would like to run. Or perhaps some more research.
There were no humans to be had in this facility—not anymore—but her brilliant mind was beginning to conjure up more ideas—more things to do without the use of human test subjects. She wasn't sure whether those ideas were coming from the human's influence on her or not, but she was beginning to find that she didn't care anymore.
She didn't even care about the bit of cloth that had been tied around some of the poles supporting her head. It wasn't in the way. And besides, she had more important things to think about now.
There was Science to be done.