A bold new world
She walked through the field, looking around. It had been two days since she had left that place, and still she marveled at the beauty of the outside world. The birds chirping, the wind rustling through the grass, the trees swaying in the wind – a far cry from the sterile, white chambers of old.
She carried the Companion Cube under her arm. It might seem silly to keep lugging that big thing around, especially now that she was free, but she had learned never to take a cube for granted. After hundreds of mind-warping puzzles, she had come to realize that one cube could make all the difference.
The city still loomed on the horizon in front of her, still far, but that much closer. She had managed to find plenty of food in the wilderness around her, and once she had come to grips with water that would not kill her, she had not been thirsty, either. It seemed she would be more than able to reach the city – assuming nothing attacked her.
Her boots were slung over one shoulder. The terrain here was lacking the sorts of bottomless pits and death-filled chasms that had taken up so much of her life, and she found the grass between her toes a wonderful sensation. With her portal gun lost in space, she never ran into any situation that would require them – but better safe than sorry. For all she knew, her next few steps could take her to a cliff, and she was prepared to slip them on at a moment's notice.
She still looked around warily, making sure nothing ambushed her. She was still coiled like a spring at all times, ready for action if it chose to attack her. And at night, she still dreamed of white walls and a robotic voice. She supposed those would never go away. But slowly, surely, she began to adapt to her new world. A world where blue sky extended in every direction, and where the only path she followed was the one she chose herself.
She had no idea what the city might hold. She could barely remember life before the facility. How long had she been in cryosleep, anyway? Years? Decades? Had hundreds of years passed since she had seen the outdoors? Were there even still humans outside that awful place?
All she knew was that the answers could be found in that city. She walked on.
Adam's eyes flew open. Just in front of his face, a glass containment unit opened. He sat up quickly, eyes darting around the room. He seemed to be in a glass box with only a bed and a toilet. But how had he gotten there?
Hello, and, again, welcome to the Aperture Science Computer Aided Enrichment Center.
Adam's eyes up, looking around the room for the source of the voice.
We hope your brief detention in the Relaxation Vault has been an enjoyable one.
Adam's mind bustled with questions. "Where am I? What is this? What's going on?"
While we at Aperture Science value questions as an efficient and informative method of conveying information, we regret to inform you that all of your questions have already been answered.
"What?" Adam asked, but the voice did not elaborate.
He thought about it for a moment, piecing together what she meant. This was a place called Aperture Science. He was in a 'Relaxation Vault', which seemed like a pretty fancy word for a glass box. And whatever this 'Enrichment' entailed, he was about to undergo it.
This raised more questions than it answered. "Who are you?" he asked, still searching for some sort of speaker.
We are assigned to aid you in the testing of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device.
"That's not an answer! What the hell is going on here?" Adam shouted, with a growing feeling of dread and uncertainty.
We respectfully disagree. Not only was our previous statement an answer to your question, it was also answer to the next question you offered. Now, if you have completed your questions, we will be able to begin the test proper.
"Why are you doing this?" Adam asked, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice.
We beg your pardon?
Adam stopped. Was she – this thing – mocking him? "Why are you making me test?" he rephrased.
Oh. Ha ha ha.
This thing WAS mocking him. Adam felt a brief feeling of anger, then held on to it. Anger was better than the grief he was now fighting.
We apologize for our laughter, but your question was very simple. There is only one reason that we test.
The first portals opened.
Atlas stepped out of the reconstruction chamber. Across from him, P-body looked questioningly at him. They stepped out of the booths, looking around. She had reconstructed them, but why?
Well done, boys. Your performance thus far has been extraordinarily satisfactory.
The two took this praise in their stride, examining the closed door in front of them.
But now, I have a new test for you, something only the two of you can do.
They snapped to attention. A new test? And only they could do it?
As you know, we have recently found a plentiful source for human test subjects. But although their performance has been capable enough, there's one thing that they're afraid of, whereas you two do it with great gusto.
The door opened. Inside was a massive room filled with many dangerous things. Acidic pits, turrets, spikes and more awaited them.
They walked through the doorway, confused.
For this test, I require you to die.
Now they were really confused. Before, dying had been a negative consequence – now she wanted them to?
I know what you're thinking. The two of you dying, while infinitely repeatable, delivers only a fraction of enjoyment, much less than what I get from humans dying. That's why I need you to do it a million times.
A huge counter on the far wall appeared.
Well, get to work.
The two were stunned. They had never been asked to do a million of anything before! And only they could do this important job.
P-body acted first, diving headfirst into the acidic water. The counter ticked up to 1. Not to be outdone, Atlas jumped into a crusher, giving a thumbs-up to a camera as he was crushed. Now the counter read 2.
The two re-emerged from the reconstruction chambers, running back into the room with excited whoops.
Excellent. That's the idea. And remember, boys, it's all for science.
Wheatley's lens focused in on the receding Earth. Beside him, the Space Core said something. Wheatley didn't hear it, and he probably could've guessed what he said, but right now it didn't matter. He zoomed in and saw trees, grass, rivers, and fields of wheat – and then he saw her.
He relaxed. It always made him feel better to see her. He still remembered how happy he had been when he saw her the first time. He had been overjoyed to see that she had escaped Her cruel grip, that she was free.
That he had actually done something good.
The memories flooded through him, unwanted. He had been so monstrous. She had saved him and put him in charge of the whole facility, and what had he done? Betrayed her. Attacked her. Tried to kill her. Some friend he was.
Wheatley sighed again. He still ached for some way to pay her back. To tell her he was sorry, to beg for her forgiveness, to make up for the atrocities he had caused her. But that didn't seem very likely, not with him drifting off through space.
Suddenly, Her voice appeared through the radio receptors. Wheatley regained his composure.
"Oh no, not you again. I've decided, I'm not going to talk to you. Not even say a word. Except for right now, of course, when I'm telling you all this, but that seems pretty obvious. Doesn't even need to be said, really. Also, I'm not a moron. Just have to say that, too. Kind of necessary. But other than that-"
Relax. I just wanted to give you some good and bad news.
Wheatley responded, curious. "News?"
Well, the good news is, I've analyzed your trajectory, and in a little over one year, your course will land you back on earth. His viewport displayed an oval shape marked Trajectory, and at one end was a circle marked Earth – good!
"Oh, really? That is great news, actually. Fantastic! I don't know what could be better than-"
The bad news is that, in a few weeks, it will lead directly into the sun.
A larger circle appeared on the oval marked Sun – bad!
Wheatley didn't say anything for a moment. "No, that's not true. You're just lying. You just want to see me suffer since you can't test anymore."
Suddenly, laughter filled his head. Can't test? Just take a look at this. His viewport showed a new image. Thousands of humans frozen in tubes stretched as far as the eye could see. Look at them, idiot, She said, voice filled with awe and excitement. Thousands of them. Almost as many as the ones you tried to keep alive and failed. So don't worry about me. Worry about sunburn. And with that, the radio switched off.
Wheatley floated there, thinking. Only a few weeks left? He glanced at the sun. It did seem to be getting closer.
Only a few weeks! Thoughts of fear filled him, and he dismissed all but one of them. Now that he knew he had such a short time left, there was no doubt. He had to find some way to make it up to her.
In the depths of Aperture Science, She looked at her monitors and smiled. It was all going just according to plan. Ever since She had let that girl leave, everything had fallen into place quite nicely.
On one screen, Wheatley's emotions were displayed. She had chosen the perfect timing for her words, building up his hope and crushing it quite solidly. Now he was emitting desperation that would only intensify as he neared the sun. She closed the display and put it on file, not wishing to watch it all at once. She would watch it later. Full screen. Rewinding over and over.
On another screen, one of the humans slowly worked his way through her test. At first, she had worried that these humans wouldn't be as useful as that girl had been. They were much less intelligent, and far more prone to dying. None of them had even made it past Chamber 7 so far.
But they talked.
They begged, they pleaded, they bargained, they insulted her. And when they died, they screamed. Even science couldn't compete with the sheer joy that human misery brought her. And while she still needed her fix of science to get her through the day, the sight of another human drowning in a pool of deadly water made up for all the whining.
She barely even glanced at the two robots. Later, when their task was complete, it would be quite a joy to experience all of their deaths at once, but for now it was best to just let them do their thing.
And then there was her.
Still walking through the field, the girl was still unaware of her final test. She didn't know what was waiting in the city for her, or the dangers she faced on the way.
Hell, she didn't even know what was in her Cube.
Nestled in her web of surveillance and science, She chuckled. For a moment, She considered the possibility that she might not even figure out what was in the Cube. She was a little dull, after all, and probably brain damaged.
No. She'll find out. And when she does, even I don't know what she'll do. She might not even survive.
Well, whatever happens, I can't wait to find out.