Chapter One: We've Been Waiting
The funny thing about humans was how easily they died.
Wheatley peered into another relaxation vault, the third one he had checked this week. The power had run out long ago, and the computer had not woken up a single test subject since. Recently, Wheatley had taken it upon himself to wake them up manually. But it was rare that he actually succeeded.
Luckily, the blinds on the window were open. Wheatley lowered himself from the rail slightly and tried to peek in through the thinly slitted openings, but it was dark inside, and the reflection of the bright blue light from his eye dazzled him momentarily. After a while, however, he was able to discern the figure inside. He, or she, he couldn't exactly tell, all humans looked alike to him, wasn't moving. "Hello?" he called. No response.
Mildly concerned, Wheatley raised himself up and zoomed around the outside of the chamber to the front door. He lifted one of his handles and knocked it lightly against the wood in front of him. "Hello?" he called again. "Anyone in there? At all?"
No one answered. Wheatley knocked again. "Helloooooo!" he said, stretching the word out. "Are you going to answer?"
Still no answer.
"I'm warning you!" Wheatley called, "I'm an official here! An official… um… Just let me in, alright?"
Silence. Wheatley decided that the human probably wasn't going to respond, but he was not one to be daunted. "If you don't open the door," he warned, "I'm just going to have to hack it!"
Wheatley waited for what he felt was a minute, but was actually quite a bit shorter, then said, "Alright, then! You asked for it! Stand back!"
Wheatley narrowed his eye, concentrated, and threw himself against the door with all his might. Lights popped in Wheatley's vision as he felt a terrific force slam into him, dazing him momentarily. The door, however, only trembled slightly in its frame, and did not open. The sound of the impact echoed emptily through the facility, rebounding off the walls, the chambers, the air.
Wheatley blinked and shook himself. "Sorry!" he said to no one in particular, "That wasn't a good idea! Hang on! I'm going to try it again!"
He did. The result was no different. "Ow!" Wheatley complained, cringing. "Seriously, mate! Don't keep me waiting!" Wham! "This… This actually hurts quite a bit!" Wham! "This door's a bit difficult!" Wham! "Please open up!"
Suddenly, something occurred to him. In the ceiling of every relaxation vault was a panel that a sphere could easily fit through to communicate with the test subjects inside. It had just entered Wheatley's mind to use this panel to get inside.
"Hold on!" he called. "I just thought of something! Wait a moment!" Bringing himself away from the door, he travelled around and entered the chamber through the top of the vault. The panel slid out from underneath him, and he lowered himself into the room. Darkness enveloped him and the scent of decay reached his sensors. But he ignored his feelings of repulsion and swiveled around to look for the test subject.
There. On the bed directly below him he could discern a figure lying under the sheets. Wheatley nodded, satisfied with himself, and called out:
"There you are, mate! Couldn't hide from me forever, could you? No, thought not. Well, here I am."
The figure in the bed didn't answer, so Wheatley just went right on speaking.
"Sorry it took so long. You weren't actually scheduled for a wake up call, I know. But… um… I don't think you'll get benefit from hanging around here, so, you know… Might as well get up."
The figure still did not answer. Wheatley began to get that familiar sinking feeling, but he tried to ignore it. Maybe, just this once…
"Hold on," he said, "It's really quite dark in here. Just let me get the lights on."
There was a loud buzzing noise, like that of a bee trying to escape a jar, and with a shower of sparks, the room began to flicker with a dull yellow glow.
"There we are," said Wheatley proudly. "Lights on, now. That should make things a bit easier. Hang on…"
Wheatley paused a moment and stared at the test subject. He still wasn't moving. No matter what Wheatley said or did, he had still gotten no response. Truly uneasy now. He lowered himself from the ceiling and leaned in closer, illuminating the figure with the cool blue light from his eye.
The scent of decay grew stronger as Wheatley moved closer, his feelings of repulsion and disgust mounting as he peered over the edges of the covers.
What he saw there, tucked away, was not really a face at all. The tangled mess of a hair up top was falling out in patches, revealed scraped away bits of flesh and what looked suspiciously like bone. The eyelids were stretched rather than closed over the eyes, which appeared swollen in their emaciated sockets. The lips had completely rotted away, revealing a grimace of grimy brown teeth. There was a hand resting on the pillow and it too was being chipped away by rot, the skeletal frame visible in places.
Mixed in with the decay of the rest of the room was an unmistakable, vile smell. A smell that any human can recognize, that only comes from one thing.
Wheatley didn't recoil right away. He felt more disturbed than horrified. A strange feeling was crawling over him, and he suddenly felt unclean. Without saying another word, he rose up through the ceiling to the control station above.
"Ah," he sighed. "Another one dead. Blimey, they're just dropping like flies now."
Wheatley had never liked the sight of death. Human death, especially, tended to be particularly gruesome. Their bodies didn't hold together properly the way metal did. When they died, they just sort of fell apart. He'd often thought that maybe someone ought to do something to fix that, reinforce their coating or something to make them a little bit sturdier, but they'd told him that humans didn't work that way. They couldn't be upgraded, couldn't be fixed once they died.
"Terrible shame, that," he said to himself.
He looked down. There was no point to this chamber still hanging here, was there? After all, the bloke inside wasn't waking up anytime soon. Or ever. As long as this chamber was hanging here, all it was really doing was taking up room and fouling up the place.
"I suppose there's no more use for this," he said out loud. "Might as well just drop it."
Quickly, he took control of the chamber and the rail it was hanging from, telling the large hook (it wasn't really a hook, but Wheatley didn't have a better name for it) to unlatch. The chamber swung on the rail for a moment, pivoting on its now-free arm, before with a slide and a final jerk it plummeted into the abyss below.
And almost immediately crashed into the chambers directly beneath.
Wheatley yelped in surprise and embarrassment as the chamber he'd dropped slammed into one vault, then another, then another, before flipping over a walkway and tumbling out of sight, all with a lot of noise and debris spilling everywhere. Every time the chamber crashed into something else, Wheatley hastily shouted another "Sorry!"
"Sorry! Sorry! Oh, oh, my God, that's-! Sorry! I don't why I did that! Oh, that looks painful. Sorry!"
He continued to stare, his single blue eye sweeping over the damage he'd caused. A few more relaxation vaults than he'd intended had fallen out of sight, and he was starting to feel a bit guilty about it.
"In hindsight," he admitted, "I probably should have, um, just let that hang there. Wasn't really doing any harm. Uh…" He cast a hasty look around. "If anyone asks," he said, "I'll just tell them that the chamber, um, fell. Yes, that's what I'll say."
He nodded to himself in agreement, then cast his gaze up to the brace that had been holding the chamber up. He noticed that it looked a little too pristine to have just let the relaxation vault fall like that. It needed to look more damaged.
Wheatley paused a moment, looking from the destruction to the brace, back and forth, before slamming himself as hard as he could into the rail.
Apparently, the metal that made up the brace was quite a bit harder than his own.
"Oooowwwww!" he complained, cringing.
Night had fallen, and the sun had gone away, leaving only the stars to turn in the moonless night. Of course, very few of the machines still locked away in Aperture Science Laboratories actually knew this; daylight was simulated at all hours, as per protocol. Still, though, an intangible hush, a quite of sorts, had settled over the facility. Something of the thinness of the night air, the coolness of it, made it down into the top layers of the labs, surrounding those that still lived there with its presence. The darkness of the night didn't make it down, but the whisper did.
Wheatley hated this time of day most of all. Most of the time, he lost track of what time of day it was, but he hated the quiet, and quiet usually happened around the same time that night did. The quiet reminded him of nothing. "Literally, nothing," as he liked to put it. Everything else in the run-down facility reminded him of something. The rippled glass in front of the offices reminded him of the scientists that used to work there, tapping away at their screens doing he-didn't-know-what but at least filling the space around them with the sound of their activity. The turrets, the few he managed to stumble upon, reminded him of the tests, the colorful portals, the testers jumping around in their braces and orange jumpsuits. He honestly never paid that much attention to the tests; he quickly grew bored of watching them, but the portals; now they were interesting. The idea that you could just walk through them and instantly you were somewhere else, it fascinated him. He always used to wonder how the testers did it, figuring out how to place a portal just so, so that they could proceed. The tests always seemed too long and confusing to him. He got a little dizzy just thinking about it. Yes, he missed the tests, too. They reminded him of something.
Heck, he even missed Her. Well… no he didn't. Not really. Honestly, She was the scariest thing he'd ever encountered, but he had often caught himself thinking that without Her, the place had never been the same; probably would never be the same.
And even She reminded him of something. Even if that something was unpleasant and even horrible, at least it was something.
No, the silence was the worst of all because it reminded him, literally, of nothing. Something was fine; nothing was unbearable. Because every time he heard it, every time a piece of debris slipped and clanked against the metal around it, echoing, he knew: There was no one here. There was no one left; the days when things used to happen were over. They were all dead.
Wheatley sighed, not bothering to try to hold in the sound. He had long since left the broken chamber behind, not wanting to be around if anyone happened across it, but he knew, with another wave of melancholy, that no one would. "Nobody," he murmured. "Nobody left. Not one. Not one." He turned the corner around another cluster of vaults, not knowing where he was going and not really caring.
His biggest problem, he knew, wasn't sadness, though there was that. No, the biggest problem was that he was suffering from a significant case of ennui. Ennui. Funny word, that. He'd learned that word a couple of days ago. (Or was it a couple of months? It didn't matter at this point, really.) Another core had said that word to him, from the port where someone had plugged it in long ago and then forgot it. At the time, Wheatley hadn't understood what the word meant. He thought for a moment that it referred to some kind of rodent, but the core had explained that, no, ennui refers to boredom. Deep boredom, resulting from a lack of excitement. Lack of Excitement: his exact words. Well, Wheatley had thought, if that fancy word didn't describe what was happening, nothing did. Ennui: misery.
It was funny, in a way. Not "ha ha" funny, but funny as in not really all that funny at all. See, back when all the humans were alive, Wheatley had thought that he was sick of them. They were so confusing, they never really explained themselves properly, and once he had become in charge of looking after them, he had hoped for a day when he would never see another one. Well, now that day had come, and many other days had followed it, and Wheatley wished they could be here again. But of course, that could not be. They were dead.
And that was the funny thing. They'd built so much, but now they were all gone.
Sometimes though, when he saw the right thing, whether it be a cracked coffee mug, lying on its side, or a radio, still buzzing that same old salsa tune, his memory would gaze on wearily, and he'd be able to remember them, when the place was crawling with them. When the facility was alive, and they were, too. It seemed so long ago…
The men and women of Aperture Science stood around the metal worktable, waiting.
They were tired. This particular project had spent up a lot of their time and effort. Countless hours had been building, calibrating, programming, doing everything necessary to make sure that it functioned exactly as needed. The nature of the project itself meant that even the slightest mistake or miscalculation in its construction could result in something dangerously unpredictable or defective, and the finest minds of a generation had been busy fine tuning it, day and night. This last night of construction, however, had been the most intense of all. For fourteen hours, they had put everything they could into the project, preparing it for its ultimate purpose. It really wasn't meant to be finished by today, and some of the scientists in the group still expressed doubt that it really was ready, but it couldn't be helped. The board had decided that it needed to be finished ASAP, and as everyone in Aperture had known since the day the company was founded, ASAP meant no sleep.
But now, their work was done, and though they were exhausted, the bags under their eyes heavy and dark, not one of them would dream of going to sleep now. They were about to see whether their hard work would pay off, and all were holding their breath, the anticipation in the room vibrating with their pulse.
The two scientists in the very front were a man and a woman, he dark-haired and olive-toned, she with blonde hair and hazel eyes. The man turned to the woman and said:
"Dr. Sanders, you should do it."
Dr. Sanders looked at him, her tired eyes suddenly very wide. "Are you sure?" she asked. She looked around the room, at the other anxious faces. "Does no one else want to?"
Everyone shook their heads. "No," the man said, "It should be you. This project wouldn't be possible without you."
"But," she began, "Dr. Ramirez, you-"
"I insist," he said. He gestured with a tired, but expectant, smile. "Don't keep us waiting."
Dr. Sanders looked at him, then nodded. She walked up to the metal worktable, her heels clicking against the linoleum floor. She took only a second to glance over the machine lying on its surface before she reached under the table to the control panel waiting just underneath. She punched in a few keys and stepped back.
Attached to the machine on all sides was a multitude of tiny cables, all sprouting from the worktable, loosely cradling it in the net of their coils. With a series of beeps, these cables detached from the machine's surface and slipped back into their ports, revealing a metal sphere, the circle in the center of its body dark. A square outline appeared on the surface of the table and slide to the side, revealing a cave. Out of this cave rose a large port, which opened, revealing a large plug. Without hesitating another moment, Dr. Sanders stepped forward, picked up the sphere by its handles, and plugged it in.
There was a hum as the port vibrated with all of the energy surging through it. The ring surrounding the sphere's lens began to spin, as a computerized voice from the ceiling announced:
"Intelligence-Dampening Core, online."
With that, the dark lens in the center of the core flickered and began to glow with a steady blue light. The light widened, and then focused, as the core shuddered and then came to life.
The humming stopped, and the core's eyelids suddenly fluttered, threatening to close. "Augh," it muttered, as if exhausted. "Wha… What happened? Where am I?"
Dr. Sanders shot a quick glance with her colleagues. Alright, this is it. She stepped forward, smiled, and addressed the core.
"Hello," she said, using the same motherly tone she would have used with a child. "Can you hear me? How are you feeling?"
"Bloody awful," the core answered. It had a pronounced Bristol accent, which caused the other scientists in the room to exchange glances. None of them could remember programming that.
Dr. Sanders, however, did not react. "I'm sorry to hear that," she said. "Is everything working properly? What seems to be the problem?"
"No, no," it answered. "There's no problem. Everything's fine. I'm just… groggy." It blinked again and emitted a sound that sounded like a yawn. Nobody reacted to this; the cores were all programmed to mimic some aspects of human behavior. It helped them better express their personalities. The core's eye shifted upwards and focused on Dr. Sanders for the first time. It blinked again. "Who are you, by the way?" it asked.
Dr. Sanders smiled at the core sweetly. "My name's Dr. Sanders," she said. She gestured around the room. "These are my colleagues. We're all very glad you're awake." She was speaking rather slowly.
If the core noticed, however, it didn't show it. "Oh, are you?" it asked disinterestedly, sounding as though it was suppressing another yawn.
"Yes," she said. "We are. We've been waiting for you."
"Have you?" the core asked, more interested now.
Dr. Sanders nodded. "Mmm-hmm." She straightened up and assumed a more professional tone that still, somehow, managed to be unthreatening. "Now, I'll need you to answer a few questions for me and do what I ask for the next few minutes, okay?"
The core hesitated, apparently thinking, before nodding once in its port. "Well, alright. Go on."
"Okay," she said. "First of all, are you feeling any pain anywhere?"
"No," the core answered.
"Any blurriness of vision? Can you see everything fine?"
"Yeah, yeah, everything's fine. I told you that."
Dr. Sanders laughed good-naturedly. "Of course, you did. I'm sorry. Can you move alright?"
"Show me," she said. "Nod up and down."
It did so.
"Now side to side."
It did so, after a moment's confusion. It took it a minute to figure out what "side-to-side" meant, exactly. The scientists seemed to relax slightly. But only slightly.
"How about your handles?" Dr. Sanders went on, "Can you move them?"
"My what-? Oh!" The core looked up and down, locating its handles. "Those! Alright, let's see." It moved them up and down, clapping them together. "Huh," it said, sounding and looking very pleased with itself. "I forgot I had those."
"Alright," she said, satisfied. "Now, I'm going to remove you from your port. Don't panic; just do what I tell you."
The core nodded, more awake now. "Right," it said. "Don't panic. Of course."
However, once Dr. Sanders disengaged the port and lifted the core away, it took one look down and immediately shuddered. "Oh, wow," it said shakily. "That's… That's actually quite a distance, isn't it?" The eye swiveled around frantically. "Um, wh-why don't you just plug me back into the thing?"
Dr. Sanders chuckled. "Don't worry, you're fine," she said gently. "I've got you."
"Are you sure? Because, I don't mean to be rude or anything, but your hands do seem kind of sweaty. You're sure you're not gonna drop me? Because, hypothetically speaking-"
Dr. Sanders cut him off, still wearing that same patient smile. "It's only for a second. You're all right."
The other scientists in the room didn't speak. Many of them didn't look as though they dared to blink or breathe. The whites of their eyes sparkled like dinner plates, all zeroed on the small, shivering core and the scientist holding it.
"Now," said Dr. Sanders, "Can you still see everything okay?"
"Yes, just fine!"
"How do you feel now? Any dizziness? Lightheadedness? Anything feel loose?"
"No, no, it's all fine!" the core said hastily, "Are we done? Can I go back in now?"
"In a minute," she said. "I just need to ask you a few more things." She brought the core into the crook of her elbow and turned to face the rest of the room. The core's single optic flittered around the room wildly, taking in everything in a gulp. It didn't notice the anxious faces, the stagnant air that should have been sucked in and out with the whisper of half a dozen fleshy valves, but was instead still.
"Now," said Dr. Sanders, "Can you tell me how many people are in this room?"
"Um…." The core's eye darted around again, and a small voice could be heard muttering under nonexistent breath, taking a headcount. "Six," it finally said.
"Including me, dear."
"Oh, seven! Seven!" the core corrected itself hastily. With every word the core spoke, the tense atmosphere in the room seemed to loosen somewhat.
"Alright," said Dr. Sanders. "Good. Now, for the tricky part. Are you ready?"
"Ooh, tricky you say," said the core, "Mm, ominous, that. Well, I actually don't know. I mean, I haven't quite got my bearings and-"
"Okay, here we go!" said Dr. Sanders. She took the core by its handles, and with a turn of her arms, flipped it upside down.
The moment was dire.
"Augh!" the core shrieked. "Where am I? Dear God, what's happening? How did you all get on the ceiling?" The core jittered rapidly, its eye swerving, the small blue iris contracting. "Has the entire flippin' world gone mad?"
"Stay calm, stay calm," coaxed Dr. Sanders, as the other scientists gasped and smiled as if in wonder. "Now, what do you do?"
"I dunno! I dunno what to do; what makes you think I know?" The core's voice was high, shrill. "Did you feel that? Blimey, I think gravity's increasing on me! Can't breathe! Can't breathe! Oh, wait…" The core shuddered, blinked, and rolled its eye upward toward the ceiling. There was a small whirr of a gear turning or perhaps of a switch flipping, and the core's eye flipped back down, the lens rotating in and out.
"Ah, that's it. Just flipped upside down is all. Heh, wow. Boy do I feel silly," the bottom eyelid on the core flipped up halfway, expressing the core's embarrassment, its sheepish indulging in a joke. Out of sight, Dr. Ramirez slightly scribbled something on a clipboard.
"Good," said Dr. Sanders, "Orientation's fine."
"Great," said the core. "Fantastic. Just don't do that again."
Dr. Sanders chuckled. "Alright," she said. "I'm going to set you back on the table now, is that okay?"
"Er… okay," said the core.
Dr. Sanders smiled. She knew that the core would prefer to be back in the port, not rolling freely on a hard surface. In truth, this was her least favorite part of the activation process. The goal was to make the core uncomfortable with not being plugged in, so that the core in question would willingly remain connected to the facility at all times. "It's not humane," she'd said once.
"Ah, it's fine," Dr. Ramirez had said, "They don't mind. It's like throwin' a kid into the pool so they know not to jump. It's good for them."
The core was now on the table. Dr. Sanders bent over it, still smiling. "Now, I'm going to ask you a few more questions, alright? Try to answer them to the best of your ability."
"Er, right," said the core, wobbling a little. "Fire away."
"Alright," said Dr. Sanders briskly. "What's 15^3?"
This was an easy question for any AI, and all the other cores they had asked it to had aced it without any difficulty. Indeed, a simple, non-sentient calculator could find the answer in less than a second.
The core screwed up its one eye very hard, as Dr. Ramirez pulled a stopwatch out of his pocket and clicked it. "Ummm…" the core said, humming the word to drag it out. Stalling. "Lessee. Er, a cube has six sides, so… fifteen six times is… Oh, wait! No, that's not right at all, is it? Eh heh… Alright, let me try… Again… Start small, I suppose… Carry the two…"
This went on for a while, as the core lost its place several times and at one point asked Dr. Sanders if a cube counted as a four-dimensional object. When it finally arrived at the correct answer (3375), there was a haze of cigarette smoke in the room. Dr. Ramirez clicked his stopwatch again and glanced at the small crystal screen. "Twelve minutes," Dr. Sanders heard him mutter.
"Okay, good," said Dr. Sanders. "Here's the next one: What kind of creature has four legs in the morning, two legs in the evening, and three legs at night?"
"False!" the core answered without hesitating.
Dr. Sanders raised an eyebrow.
The core immediately backpedalled. "Wait, no, sorry! That doesn't make sense! Sorry about that; I don't know what I was thinking! Erm…" The core blinked a few times then looked up sheepishly. "What… What was the question again? One more time?"
Dr. Sanders repeated it. The core squinted, its shudders fluttering.
"A mutant?" he guessed after a while.
"Explain," said Dr. Sanders.
"Well, if it… If it's a mutant, then… then it could maybe… Change the number of legs it has at… specific points in the day, or…" The core blinked up at Dr. Sanders. "That's not the right answer, is it?"
"Nope," she said. "Try again."
The core did try. It guessed a mandrake, a doll made by a very upset toymaker, a crippled starfish that had been attacked by a shark and grew one leg faster than the other, a very unfortunate horse, and some sort of South American animal called an, "Etiilvic," which the core swore a little too insistently that it hadn't made up.
Finally, Dr. Sanders ended the core's torment by saying, "Okay, thank you. That's all we need. Those were all good answers." The core blinked, not really getting it, seeming a little tired and overwhelmed. The scientists looked very pleased now.
"Last question," said Dr. Sanders, "Are you ready?"
The bottom lid of the core's optic lifted slightly. "Er…" it said, "I guess so."
"Okay, here it is: There are two doors in front of you. One leads to everlasting happiness. The other leads to misery. There is a pair of twin brothers in front of you. One always tells the truth, and the other always lies. You need to get to the happiness door, but you don't know which one it is. You can ask one brother one question to figure out the correct door. What question do you ask?"
The core looked completely floored. "Sorry, um…" it said, "Could you, maybe, repeat that?"
She did. The core hesitated, then asked her to repeat it again. She did, more slowly. The core squinted.
"So… So which… Which brother's the liar?" it asked.
"You don't know," said Dr. Sanders patiently.
"Ah," said the core. "Right." It blinked again, and began slowly. "Maybe… Maybe you could ask one… a question that you know the answer to. Right? You could be like, 'Hey, mate, how many feet does a duck have?' an' if he says, like, seven or summat, then you know that he's not… the truth-teller."
"But then," said Dr. Sanders, "You still don't know what door to go through."
The core paused. "Ah, right, right. Forgot about the, uh… The doors. Hmm…" The core's eye swiveled down to the polished surface of the table, as though the answer could be found there. "What if… What if you took some C4 and blew up the doors and just washed yourself of the question-making business entirely?"
"You don't have C4."
The core fumed. "Augh, what?" it complained, "You didn't mention that! I suppose I haven't got a lie detector either!"
"No, you don't."
"Blimey," the core said to itself. "Lousy door of eternal happiness. Alright, hang on. Let me try again. Okay, how 'bout this? What if you opened one door slightly and… just peaked in! You know, not all the way, just have a bit of a peak-in, and if the door looks particularly happy, then you go in that one, and if it doesn't, then… you pick… the other one."
Dr. Sanders was smiling. "I don't think you're allowed to do that."
"Aw, what?" the core exclaimed, as though it had just been made aware of a grand injustice that blighted the world. "Where are all these bloody rules coming from?"
"You're supposed to ask a question."
"Alright, alright, what if you made them play cards?"
Dr. Sanders stared. "What?" she asked.
"Right," the core insisted, "See, if the two of them were to play a card game, like Jim Runny or whatever, the liar one would do better, right? 'Cause he'd be cheating or whatever, right? So, you just sit them down and have them play – y'know, it might take a few hours, but it's alright, you're in no rush – then when one of them loses, you say, 'Oy, which door leads to eternal happiness?' And he'd point the way, and you'd be on your way! Easy."
Dr. Sanders looked blank. The other scientists were staring as well. "Play cards?"
"Yeah!" said the core enthusiastically. "Just go up to 'em and say, 'Hey, fancy a game a' cards?' and… Oh dang, that's a question…" The core's light dimmed, and it went back to squinting at the surface of the table.
There was a second of silence in the room.
Then, one scientist in the back: "That has got to be the stupidest thing I have ever heard."
And it was as though a valve had been loosened.
Immediately, all of the people in the room, with their white lab coats and messy hair, let out breaths, filling the air with swirling jubilation. They gasped, laughed, reached out hands, palms upward, receiving and giving praise. "Congratulations!" "Thank you!" "Congratulations, it was a huge success!" Everywhere were smiling faces, everywhere were whoops and cheers. Dr. Ramirez came up from behind and took Dr. Sanders's hand, smiling.
"We did it!" he said happily. "Good job, Sanders."
"Oh, no!" she was saying, humbling herself, one hand on her chest. "Everyone on this project worked so hard."
In the midst of the celebratory atmosphere, the little core was jittering and hollering too. "Whoo, yeah! Alright! Smashing!" it was saying. Its eye flicked up to Dr. Sanders, glowing faintly blue. "What are we celebrating?" it asked her.
"You!" said Dr. Sanders, "You turned out perfectly! You're exactly the way we want."
The core blinked, then beamed.
"Great!" it said.
It was a little while later that she explained it to him, after he had been mercifully lifted from the tabletop and swaddled back comfortably in the port.
"Your name is Wheatley," she'd said.
"Wheatley," repeated the core. It looked up at the doctor. "Are you sure? Is that really the best you could do? Doesn't sound particularly intimidating, does it? Couldn't I have something – I don't know – a little more macho, you know? Like, like 'Trent' or something! No, no, that won't work either…"
Dr. Sanders chuckled and shook her head. No, the core's name had already been entered and filed away. It was set. The boys in the Naming Department had spent weeks coming up with it. They would be ever so upset if they'd found out it had been changed.
"Wheatley will do," she'd said.
She continued. "We made you," she'd said, "Because there's a very important job that needs to be done, and you're the only one who can do it."
"What, is it hard?" Wheatley asked, his eye growing wide.
"Oh no, it won't be hard at all, Wheatley," Dr. Sanders said, her eyebrows up. "Not for you. You see, there's someone who needs your help.
"The one in charge of this facility is a computer, like you," she went on gently. "She's been with us for years, and she knows this facility very well. But you see, it's a very difficult job she has, running this place all by herself. And so that's why we made you, so you can help her. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I got it," said Wheatley. He was lost in wonder. "But what do I do, exactly? File paperwork or something like that? Pink slips?"
Dr. Sanders shook her head. "No, nothing like that. You see, running this facility requires problem solving. Cognitive thinking. You need to be able to think outside the box. That's where you come in, Wheatley. You were made to think differently from anyone else in the entire facility. You can come up with things that no one else can. And so that's how you'll help her, Wheatley, by coming up with solutions, new ideas, anything to help her run the facility better. So, if you want to help, we'll need as many new ideas as possible. The more you can think up, the more you'll help.
"Well, how about it? Can you do it? Will you help us, Wheatley?"
Wheatley's optic seemed to sparkle as he became aware of the massive responsibility that had been laid on his lack of shoulders. Really, he had barely the foggiest idea of what was going on in this place, but that didn't matter. These people needed him. He drew himself up as high as he could go, relishing the weight of this new burden. "Yes!" he said in a resolute voice, "I'll do it!"
Dr. Sanders smiled. "Excellent," she said, "I knew we could count on you." She held out her arms. "Well, if you're ready, Wheatley, I can take you to go and meet her now."
Wheatley blinked. "Right now?" he asked. "I mean – yes!" he amended, hastily. "Yes, straight away! Let's go! Duty calls! Don't flip me over, though. Don't like that."
And so Dr. Sanders lifted the core into her arms and carried him away to meet Her.
AN: Damn it!
I can't help it you guys. I think I have an addiction to starting new projects when I really shouldn't. Augh, fate.
This is actually an idea I first had way back in 2011 when Portal 2 first came out. Headcanons are fun.
Writing for Wheatley is also fun.
Reviews are appreciated. See you soon.