(A Portal 2 Fanfiction)
Test Subject 4733 leapt back behind the corner as a hailstorm of bullets rattled into the wall behind where she had just been standing. Her heart thudded in her ears and her arms were trembling with the unaccustomed weight of the Device. She could hear the quiet insect sounds of servos turning as the turret searched for her.
"Where'd you go?" it inquired childishly. Test Subject 4733 cursed under her breath. The red laser, apparently having finished sweeping the area, settled on the bullet-riddled wall.
"Nap time," the turret sighed, and quieted.
Test Subject 4733 continued to curse under her breath, searching her environment for something to dispatch the turret with. In the very brief glance she'd gotten at it, she hadn't seen any white concrete surfaces to throw a portal onto―only the unyielding black tile, cocooning the little monster in a shell of invincibility. Taking a deep breath, she poked her head around the corner. The turret shrugged itself awake and looked at her.
"There you are," it said, as though relieved. Test Subject 4733 jerked her head out of range as another barrage of bullets tore through the air where she'd just been. The turret expressed its concern at losing her, then settled down once more.
Her brief reconnaissance had confirmed her suspicions―the turret was insulated by non-portalable surfaces. She had only one option―the cube she'd abandoned a few hallways back just might provide enough cover from the storm of bullets for her to get close enough to knock over the turret before it riddled her body with friendly bullets.
She trekked back down the maze of halls, observing with a certain sobering scrutiny the bullet holes peppering the walls from the other turrets she'd already dispatched; their inert casings lay nearby on the ground where she'd left them. She'd been lucky enough not to get shot so far, but her hopes of this being a continuing trend were swiftly dwindling.
Test Subject 4733 made it back to the cube, which was also, she noted, shot through with a few holes from the previous turrets' dying volleys as they twitched on the floor. She picked up the cube and caught sight of herself through the portal directly next to it.
She hadn't seen herself in a very long time; she wasn't certain she'd ever seen herself, since her memories of a time before the Enrichment Center were hazy at best, nonexistent in most cases, and always subject to change. She was stocky, blonde, and square-jawed. The dark circles under her eyes spoke of too many nights curled on the cold floor of a test chamber trying futilely to sleep. The orange Aperture Science jacket she wore was torn in a few places, especially around the elbows, from a few too many failed attempts to land an impossible jump. One of her toes was broken. Test Subject 4733 turned away and carried the cube back to the corner where the pale, oblate death-trap awaited her with infinite patience and mocking, childlike innocence.
She took a deep breath and crouched down behind the cube, noting, not without a shade of wry humor, that she could either protect the top of her head or her feet, and that it was entirely likely a bullet would go ripping through either of her elbows before she ever made it to the turret. The cube clanged on the ground as she inched forward, and the red beam of the turret's single eye swiveled wildly, searching for the source of the noise. Subject 4733 inched out into the hallway, cube-first.
"Wait!" the turret cried.
Contrary to her better instincts―the ones that had developed in the very short amount of time she'd been conscious in the Facility―Test Subject 4733 hesitated, her jaw clenched, her legs trembling beneath her with the urge to leap forward and smash the turret to the ground.
Then, a most peculiar thing began to happen. Rather than unleashing a volley of bullets upon the cube―and her behind it―the turret made a few servo-swivel cricket chirps, and then emitted a hesitant, accordion-like hum.
It paused. A few more servo swivels. Another hum, this one a little more confident, a little more on-pitch. There was another hum, of a different pitch, and then another.
It hit her like a weighted storage cube dropping on her head. The turret . . . the turret was singing.
It was a bizarre little song, made more so by the odd instrument upon which it was played, yet there was an inkling, in the melody, of something approaching a feeling.
Abruptly, the song stopped.
"Hello, friend," the turret said, although its tone was not the one of smug familiarity it had previously used. It was tenuous, almost worried.
Test Subject 4733 held very, very still, scarcely daring to breath.
"I don't hate you," the turret sighed.
"It's not mutual," she shot back from behind the safety of her cube.
There was a long pause, nearly silent, where neither she nor the turret moved appreciably. Then, very, very slowly, she peered out from behind the cube. A red laser flashed in her eye and she ducked back behind the safety of her metal cube―but there was no startling explosion of gunfire, no grating metallic pinging as the bullets ricocheted off of her cube.
"I don't hate you," the turret repeated, its child voice strangely sad.
Cautiously, trembling, Test Subject 4733 peeked out again from behind her cube. The turret was staring at her, its red-laser eye fixed on her face, but its oblate shape was smooth―its casing was closed, its guns tucked safely inside its white-plastic exoskeleton. They stared at each other for a moment, unmoving, before the turret's red eye gave a little, nodding twitch.
"Hello, friend." it greeted her warmly.
"H-hello," she stammered, still ready to duck back behind her cube should the turret give any hint that it was about to shoot her.
"It's me!" it cried happily, and Test Subject 4733 began to suspect that turrets had a very, very limited vocabulary.
"Yep, it's you." Test Subject 4733 confirmed, bewildered. "Hello."
"Hello, friend!" it exclaimed. Its casing popped open, slightly lopsided, causing it to hop in a strangely excited manner. Test Subject 4733 ducked behind her cube at the first sign of movement, adrenaline pumping into her system as she waited for the rattle of bullets on her cube like hail on a tin roof. There was only the cricket whine of servos, a disappointed sort of sound, and then two small clicks from the turret.
There was a thin, drawn out hum, a hiss of static, and then the turret warbled, "Sssoooorr...rryyyy..."
Test Subject 4733's heart was very loud in her ears, and a metallic taste came into her mouth. All the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
The turret tried again. "Ssoorr...rryy," it moaned. "Sor-ry . . . friend."
She felt her blood run cold. Was this . . . sentience? Did that turret―that inanimate, plastic-and-metal bullet-machine―just apologize to her? Did it just learn the word 'sorry' so that it could apologize to her?
"Don't do that." she admonished from behind the cube. I'm talking to a gun, she thought. This is my life.
"Sorry, friend." the turret said again.
Test Subject 4733 sighed, then carefully poked her head out from behind the cube. The turret was staring at the ground in front of its feet in such abject shame that 4733 couldn't help but feel a little sorry for it.
"Hey," she said softly, "it's okay."
The turret's eye sprang up to look at her so quickly that it made her flinch.
"Sorry, friend." it repeated.
"I don't blame you." 4733 said, spouting something she'd heard other turrets say as they shut down. Maybe speaking its language would make it easier to get the thing to understand.
"I don't blame you?" the turret repeated, a hint of a question tacked on to the end of the statement.
"That's right," 4733 said, slightly giddy from her conversation with the killing machine, "I don't blame you."
"Hey!" the turret cried, its casing popping open again. It immediately snapped shut, however, and the turret stared at the floor, glancing up at 4733 guiltily. "Sorry, friend." it said again.
Test Subject 4733 crept out from behind her cube and squatted on her heels, looking at the turret with a mixture of puzzlement and affection. She reached out gently and touched its cool white casing.
"Hey!" the turret cried again, and its sides twitched. 4733 drew her hand back quickly.
"Sorry," she said, but continued to scrutinize the little machine. It was about three feet tall, and its casing was slightly smudged and scratched, as though it had been knocked down several times. She stood up and circumnavigated the turret, which tried to follow her with its laser eye and grew quite concerned when she walked behind it, out of its field of view.
"Hey," it said solicitously, and then, "hey hey hey!"
She came back around and it fixed her with that unwavering red gaze again.
"There you are," it said, not without a certain amount of relief.
"Here I am." she agreed. "Now what am I going to do with you?"
The turret didn't seem to realize she'd been talking to herself, and responded immediately. However, it didn't appear to have any words for the sentiment it wanted to express, and so ran through a quick little series of hums, its sides flexing, before finishing with "friend," in a satisfied tone of voice.
Despite herself, 4733 chuckled a little. "Yep, friends." she said. "I guess we're friends now." She looked around herself at the cold, clinical walls of the facility, remembering the passionless voice from overhead that had guided her between test chambers and instructed her in the use of the Device. That voice didn't even know her name. Granted, 4733 didn't know her name either, but that was, she felt, rather beside the point. Her gaze rested on the turret and she rubbed her chin thoughtfully. The turret gazed back at her with, she thought, something approaching complete adoration (although she was aware that this may have been a product of her long isolation). 4733 sighed. "I guess you'll have to come with me." she decided.
She walked around behind the turret, eliciting another storm of 'hey's, and clasped it firmly in the magnetic grip of the Device. Its casing popped open immediately and it began to swivel wildly.
"Hey!" it cried, a note of terror in its child voice. "Put me down!"
"Whoah there, little guy, it's fine." she assured it, but its discomfort was evident in its frantic struggling. Gently, 4733 set the turret back on its feet and released it from the grip of the Device.
"In the event that a lethal military android attempts to become [friends] with you, please disregard it and [Continue Testing]." The cold, patchwork voice came from invisible speakers set into the walls and ceiling, a dry pop preceding and ending its message.
4733 glared at the ceiling, her jaw clenched. The turret was staring straight ahead, but there was a slight tremor to the red beam of its single eye. The voice from on high did not speak again. 4733 crouched next to the turret.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she told it, a strange sincerity thickening her words. "Okay? We're friends. You didn't hurt me, so . . . so I'm not going to hurt you. Do you . . . do you understand me? Can you understand what I'm saying?"
The beam of its gaze wavered, but stayed fixed on the far wall. 4733 sighed, trying to think of anything she could tell the turret that it would understand―or believe.
"I don't . . . hate you," she hazarded. The turret's little red laser rocketed over to look at her face, where it remained in evident scrutiny of her expression. "I don't hate you." she repeated, more firmly.
"I don't hate you," the turret muttered, its gaze wandering over her face. "I don't . . . hhhhuuUURRrrt you."
"That's right," 4733 encouraged, strangely elated. "I don't hurt you."
"I don't . . . hurt you." the turret said. It stared at her a moment longer, then looked back at the wall. "Friend." it stated, which, as far as 4733 could figure, was an acquiescence.
She lifted it again in the grip of the Device, and, although its casing nervously popped open, it was no longer struggling quite so furiously, and it did not speak.
"Lethal military androids are [incapable] of making friends." the voice from everywhere declared clinically. "Any lethal military android that attempts to make friends is clearly defective, and will be re-re-reeeEEpurposed as a doorstop." The skipping and flanging was what convinced 4733 that the voice was lying. The voice had been having trouble lying after promising not to a few chambers back.
"Friend," the turret muttered solicitously.
4733 stolidly ignored the voice and continued down the hall, her eyes and ears open for more dangers. The combined weight of the turret and the Device was making her arms ache already.
"The Enrichment Center reminds all lethal military androids that―making friends―is considered a sign of defiance. Any lethal military android that makes friends [will] be sent to Android Hell."
The turret was visibly trembling now, and 4733 was gritting her teeth. She stopped in the hallway, glared at the ceiling, then said to the turret, matter-of-factly, "Android hell isn't real."
The turret paused for a moment, and then there was an announcing crack of static from overhead, louder than the others had been.
"The Enrichment Center would like to remind you that Android Hell is a [Real Place] where you [Will Be Sent] at the first sign of defiance."
"Oh, shut up." 4733 said, rolling her eyes. "You're not fooling anyone. Come on, friend, let's keep going." She started off down the hallway again, the turret held securely in the grasp of the Device.
The turret, as they approached a corner, began to swivel back and forth apprehensively. 4733, picking up on its apprehension, advanced with a little more caution. She could see, faintly, another red laser poking through the air around the corner.
"Hey!" the turret called as they approached, startling 4733. "It's me! Don't shoot!"
The laser ahead of them winked out, but it was possible that it was just staring at the source of the noise.
Subject 4733 held very still, scarcely daring to breathe.
"Put me down," the turret said gently. "Hello, friend."
Puzzled, 4733 set the turret down gently. It immediately emitted a loud, grating hum, almost like the "incorrect" buzzer that sometimes went off in the test chambers if she did something wrong.
"Hello, friend!" the turret insisted, its laser swerving crazily.
4733 picked the turret up again, wondering if it had lost its tiny mind. The turret stilled, but it seemed to be waiting for something.
"Hello, friend," it encouraged.
From around the corner, there came a sudden, quiet whisper: "Are you still there?" it asked.
Test Subject 4733 had a flash of inspiration. The turrets wanted to talk to each other. She crept up to the corner, carefully keeping herself out of the other turret's line of sight, and set her turret down gently. Her turret sprang to life and there was a veritable laser show as the two turrets looked each other over and expressed their delight the only way they seemed to know how.
"It's me!" her turret cried.
"Hello, friend," the other crooned smugly.
There was another angry pop from above. "Lethal military androids that encounter [obviously] defective lethal military androids are required to eliminate the defective units on sight. Failure to do so will be considered a sign of defiance."
Both of the lasers flicked briefly towards the ceiling, and 4733 prepared to yank her turret back to safety.
"I don't hate you," the other turret said, rather mournfully.
"I don't blame you," her turret replied.
Test Subject 4733 yanked her turret away just before the rattling barrage of bullets came hammering down the hallway.
"Don't shoot! It's me!" her turret cried, rather belatedly.
"Hush," she told it. "Let me take care of this."
"Don't hurt," her turret begged. She stared at it, unbelieving. Its red eye was fixed on her face. "Don't hurt," it repeated.
"I don't know what else to do," she told it, still feeling rather foolish at talking to a machine gun. "If I don't get rid of it, it'll kill us both."
Her turret stared at her mutely. She sighed. "I don't hate you," she told the turret gently, and laid a hand on its head. Then she brought the awful Device up and shot a portal on the far wall. Her turret popped open in alarm, its red eye watching her closely.
"Don't shoot!" it cried.
"Quiet now," she told it, and crept up to the corner. The other turret had returned its steady gaze to the far wall and seemed unaware of her approach. With a deep breath, she whipped around the corner to assess the situation.
Test Subject 4733 had never had particularly good aim, especially in dire circumstances, so her first shot landed on the floor considerably behind the turret. She jumped back behind the corner before the turret had a chance to demonstrate its superior aiming capability. She cursed under her breath, then glanced back at her turret, which seemed strangely unalarmed.
It was staring at the portal on the wall, and even as she watched, its gaze shifted to her, to the portal, and back. Its servos whined a little, and then it began the tortuous process of putting a new word together.
"Llloooo . . . friend. Grrrroooo . . . gg . . . gggo, friend. Go." And it looked back to the portal.
"I . . . guess we could," 4733 admitted. It was entirely possible, now, due to her poor aim, to sneak past the turret in the hall without doing it any harm. It gave her a strange feeling to express mercy―compassion―for things that consistently tried to kill her, but if her turret was capable of wanting to be friends, who was to say the others didn't have similarly compassionate capabilities?
Coming to a conclusion, Subject 4733 picked up her turret and hopped through the hole in reality, gripped by the strange, dislocative feeling of having gravity pull on her two ways at once as she transitioned from vertical to horizontal in a few milliseconds. She righted herself quickly and managed to land on her feet beside the portal. Behind her, the turret stood watching the hallway ahead, completely unaware of―or at least unconcerned about―what was going on behind it. 4733 looked for a little longer, then continued on. Her turret began humming to itself, perhaps cheerfully.
"Friend," it said affectionately.
"Yeah," she agreed, "friend."
"The Aperture Science Material Emancipation Grill is placed at the exit of each test chamber for your safety. Lethal military androids are not authorized equipment and, therefore, cannot pass through the Emancipation Grill without being Emancipated. Non-lethal military androids are also not authorized."
Test Subject 4733 glared at the ceiling. The voice was taunting her, she was certain of it. She and her turret had been sitting outside of the shimmering blue veil for almost twenty minutes, pondering. There was no way she could get the turret through the grid without incinerating it, but for some strange reason she could not bear to leave her only (albeit tenuous) friend behind.
Another twenty seconds passed before the next dry announcement from overhead. "Lethal military androids are unsociable, and we at Aperture Science assure you that they have been declared by an independent panel of scientists to be incapable of feeling lonely."
4733 stuck her tongue out at the nearest camera and laid a gentle hand on her turret's head. It glanced at her nervously, then continued its quiet contemplation of the Emancipation Grill.
It was scarcely ten seconds later that the next announcement came.
"Federal regulations require us to inform you that your performance in this test chamber has now fallen below the 99th percentile. You will receive an 'unsatisfactory' mark on your testing record if you do not proceed to the chamberlock in the next ten seconds."
4733 rolled her eyes. As if any of that mattered. She was observant enough to have noticed that there were no people on the other side of the observing windows. It was fairly obvious that her testing record didn't matter in the least.
Predictably, the voice spoke again, not too much later. "Congratulations. You have proven commitment to a task in the face of se-se-severe discouragement. Your non-lethal military android has been [approved] to move through the Material Emancipation Grill. Please proceed to the chamberlock."
4733 glanced at her turret.
"No, friend," it said. 'No' was its newest word. It had taken to using it quite a lot, especially when 4733 was doing something wrong. She found it to be one of the little machine's less-endearing qualities, but it had turned out to be extremely useful. The turret seemed to know intuitively the best solution to every problem, even if it wasn't able to articulate it. When she'd attempted to take it through the Emancipation Grill, it had unleashed a two-minute-long stream of 'no's.
"Well?" she said to it. "Any ideas?"
The turret looked at her, and then at the Emancipation Grill, and then at her. It focused on the top of the grill, paused for a moment, then said calmly, "Target acquired."
4733 leapt back instinctively from the explosion of gunfire. The turret barraged first the top left corner of the doorframe, then the right, and settled into a slightly smoky satisfaction as the Emancipation Grill faltered and died.
"Good night," it said placidly.
"Thank you," 4733 said earnestly to the turret. There was an ear-splitting, angry crack of static from the speakers overhead.
"Certain equipment in the testing environment may be crucial to your success. Please―do NOT destroy―vital [testing] apparatus." The voice had the strange, choppy quality of an audio file that had been haphazardly cut together.
4733 picked up her turret and stepped into the elevator with it. The turret hummed in harmony with the elevator as they rose.
"You need a name." 4733 declared, before the doors opened on the next impossible task ahead of them.
"Friend." the turret said affectionately.
4733, smiling, shook her head. "No, that won't work, I'm afraid."
"Hmm. You're very . . . different."
Her turret hummed and buzzed. She waited patiently until it got around to, "Different."
"Still, that's not much of a name."
"Different!" the turret cried happily. The elevator slowed, then stopped, and the doors hissed open on a black-paneled room.
She raised an eyebrow at the turret. "Are you being serious?"
"I'm different!" it cried, its little red eye pinwheeling crazily in what she could only assume was joy.
4733 smiled as she stepped out of the elevator, Different the turret in tow. "I'm glad you like it." she said, and then sighed. "I wish I knew what my name was."
"Caroline." Different spouted brightly. 4733 stared at it for a long moment. It looked at her and said happily, "Her name is Caroline."
It didn't seem right, for some reason. She also wondered where on earth the turret had learned the phrase; it hadn't done its learning-buzzing-humming routine with the sentence, just spat it out fully formed. 4733 shook her head. "No," she said, "I don't think so."
"Caroline!" the turret insisted. 4733 wondered where it had learned the name.
Overhead, the voice had regained its customary calm. "This next test does not require the use of lethal military androids. We at the Enrichment Center would like to take this opportunity to inform you that, if we were you, we would go on without the obviously useless―not to mention defective―lethal military android weighing us down."
"Hello, Caroline." Different said pleasantly, looking up at the ceiling. 4733 got a chill down her spine; the idea that the . . . thing up there was, or at any time had been, human, made her cold to her very bones. She shook her head; now was not the time for philosophical pondering. Critical thinking was all that was going to get her through this alive. The deep questions could wait. 4733 stepped out quietly into the room, balancing on her toes, prepared for whatever the Enrichment Center had seen fit to throw at her.
"Ordinarily, this next test would require the assistance of an [Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube]. However, since you have brought your own companion, you will not be provided with an [Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube], in the interest of fairness. Unfortunately, this test chamber is unsolvable without an [Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube]. Thank you for participating in this Enrichment Center Activity."
4733 stared at the vent in the ceiling. Within it there sat a large metal cube, much like the others she had seen and used in the Enrichment Center; this one, however, had pink hearts on its sides instead of the Aperture Science logo.
"That's inconvenient," 4733 said, and proceeded past the vent without a second glance.
It took her almost five minutes to get up the first step in the test chamber; she eventually managed it by balancing on Different's head and scrambling up the step, hauling him up after her.
"The Enrichment Center would like you inform you―that it is NOT the job of Aperture Science Janitorial Staff―to move, arrange, or dispose of bodies. As such, please trrrrry to die-die-die-die in an out of the way location so that [testing] can continue following your ineeEEeevitable demise. The Enrichment Center thanks you for your cooperation."
It only took three minutes to scramble up the next step, since she at least knew what she was doing. Different seemed slightly distressed, although then again 4733 might just have been projecting her own emotions onto the turret. She was about to walk around the corner when Different cried, "No!" She halted on the spot, and a high-energy pellet slammed into the black ceramic tile just to her right. She leapt back as the pellet bounced back the way it had come, humming with untold energies.
4733 took a breath, wondering exactly how burnt-to-a-crisp she would have been without the little turret's help.
"Okay," she sighed, "what now?"
"I'm different," Different said sadly, pointing his laser eye at the ground.
"I know you are, buddy," she said, a bit dismissively. "If I had the cube, I could just keep it between me and the pellet," she mused, "but I don't know what that thing would do to you."
"Goodbye," the turret said sadly.
"That's what I was afraid of. Do you think I could outrun it? Like, wait until it gets to this end of the hallway and then chase after it? Hang on a second." She put the turret down, listened closely for the humming of the pellet, and then, when it had slammed into the wall and bounced away again, she poked her head out into the hallway, quickly judging the length of the hall and the speed of the pellet. It was, she surmised, possible she could make it all the way down the hall without the pellet bouncing back and incinerating her face. Possible.
She pulled back out of the hall. "Okay," she said, crouching down in front of Different, "here's the plan. We're going to make a run for it, all right? So just . . . think light thoughts, okay? It's gonna be close."
"OooOOkay." Different acquiesced, still looking mightily concerned. "Wait. Wait. Go."
4733 knew he was trying to tell her something important. "Will you . . . say go? I mean, when it's safe to go, you'll know?"
Different hummed and buzzed for a while before managing the reply, "I say go."
4733 nodded. "Okay." She put a hand on the cool white casing, wondering at the strange thoughts spinning around in there, wondering about consciousness and humanity and whether this weird little machine was about to get her killed. "You say go."
The sprint down the hallway was terrifying. The pellet hovered just in front of her, getting steadily farther away. She tripped down the stairs at the end of the hallway, just barely managing to keep Different from falling on the ground and shutting down. The pellet bounced off of its dome-shaped generator and hummed back down the hall. 4733 lay on the floor for a while, staring at the ceiling and noticing the second pellet generator in the small room. She sat up slowly, looking down the second, longer hallway, noticing how the pellet couldn't make it all the way back before it exploded from the tension of its internal energies, realizing, with a strange sickness, that she couldn't make it all the way down the hallway without the pellet catching up to her. She lay back down.
"While the Enrichment Center [respects] your decision to lie down and die, we would like to inform you that you have chosen a very in-in-in-inconvenient spot for your final resting place. Please move your imminent corpse to a location less likely to disrupt subsequent [testing]."
"Shut up," 4733 snarled at the ceiling.
"I don't hate you," Different said quietly.
"What are you talking about?" 4733 asked. Different's laser eye pointed to the second hallway.
"I don't blame you," the turret said. His eye tracked the high-energy pellet on its unswerving trajectory down the hall.
4733's stomach plummeted. "No way." she said. "I'm not doing it."
"Friend," the turret's little voice was strangely sad.
"There has to be some other way." she said. She gestured to the pellet generator. "Just shoot that. Maybe it'll do something."
Different stared at her wordlessly. She pointed at the dome again. "You know? Target acquired. Dispensing product."
Different stared at her, then looked at the generator, then at her. "No." he said.
She threw her hands in the air. "You won't even try!" she exclaimed. "I'm not going to let you get killed; this is our only other option. Just shoot the damn thing!"
The turret popped open, fixing her with his laser eye, and cried, "No, friend! Get hurt!"
They stared at each other for a moment, the turret searching her face with his little red eye, her anger slowly subsiding until she realized what the machine was telling her.
"Oh," she said, sitting back against the wall, "you mean, I'll get hurt if you shoot it."
Different closed his casing, but his eye remained fixed on her face. "Friend." he said.
"I'm sorry." she replied, laying a hand on the turret. "I didn't understand."
"Okay, friend." Different told her.
She sighed. "Well. We still have our problem, then. I don't want you to get hurt, and you don't want me to get hurt, and there doesn't seem to be a way to do that and get out of here."
They thought for a long moment, while the pellets hummed overhead as a constant reminder of what the two of them were in for. 4733 turned to Different, an idea sparkling in her eyes.
"What if I crouched behind you?" she asked.
Different's right panel opened just a shade, giving the impression of a head tilted to one side.
"You know," 4733 gestured vaguely, "if you were between me and the target. Would either one of us get hurt too badly?"
There was no response from the turret. 4733 sighed and crawled around behind him. As usual, he became quite worried when she was out of his sight. She put a hand on his back, and he calmed somewhat. "Now." she said. "Target acquired?"
Different thought for a very long time, looking around the room. The generator spat out a high-energy pellet, and Different's eye fixed on the dome.
"Target acquired," he droned.
The gunfire was deafening; 4733 threw her hands over her ears when it started. Then there was an explosion, and she was thrown into the far wall of the room. Different landed on top of her and she caught him, her ears ringing to deafness and her skin stung by shrapnel. When the dust cleared and she could stand to open her eyes, her head was still too fuzzy to comprehend what she was really seeing. The voice from above was talking, but she couldn't make out the words. Different lay in her arms, unmoving. With a cry she could hardly hear, Test Subject 4733 set the turret up on his feet and began checking him over with her hands. His laser was flickering spasmodically, and would not turn in response to her. His casing was closed, his sides hot to the touch.
"Please," was all she was able to say, as she touched the scrapes and scratches on the plastic casing, "please," as she pulled shrapnel from the cracks between the panels, and "please," as she collapsed against the turret, holding him in her arms and sobbing.
"Please, please, please," she whispered, over and over again, until the ringing in her ears subsided and she was able to hear again.
"Hello?" Different said quietly. 4733 scrambled back, wondering if the jarring had knocked the humanity out of her turret.
"It's me," 4733 whispered, "don't shoot."
The turret was not looking at her, his flickering eye staring straight ahead at the far wall. "I'm different," he claimed at last. 4733 cried out hoarsely and embraced her turret again.
"Oh, you are," she murmured to him, "yes, yes you are."
"Hello?" Different said again. "Who's there?"
"Friend," 4733 said, not letting go of her turret. "It's me, friend."
"Friend." Different sighed. "Where'd you go?"
4733 leaned away from the turret. His eye was still fixed on the far wall, flickering and flickering. Experimentally, she waved her hand in front of the turret's eye. There was no response.
"I'm right here," she said, putting a hand on the turret's still-warm casing.
"Hello, friend." Different said.
She got to her feet carefully, feeling as though she'd been hit by a truck. She was careful to keep one hand on Different. The poor little thing had had enough anxiety issues when he had been able to see.
"Let's go, friend." she said, and hoisted the turret into the air with the device.
It had become quickly obvious that the voice had been right―she wouldn't be able to solve this test. With the pellet generator gone, and lacking a cube, there was no way she could even reach the door at the end of the chamber, much less open it. She had, however, found a small room behind the test chamber, with broken stairs and a pit of scummy water, some writing on the wall and a lot of empty bean cans. Different had been very quiet the whole time, simply flickering away at nothing.
The stairs in the room were broken, and the door at the top―once she'd managed to portal her way up there―was locked. She tried to break it down, but the door was solid, and stood firm under the impact of her full weight no matter how many times she threw herself at it. Eventually she went back down and sat down next to Different.
"I don't know what to do," she admitted. "I think we're stuck."
"Okay, friend." Different said.
She chuckled a little to herself, laying a hand on his head. "Yeah. Okay, friend."
She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten―she couldn't remember the last time she'd had even a sip of water. Her mouth was so dry. Her stomach felt shriveled. She could scarcely lift her own limbs. She slept most of the time, Different by her side. She'd ventured out into the test chamber a few times, to see if there was any way to escape, but had been met with only frustration. Eventually these excursions became too tiring and she confined herself to the little room she shared with Different. She'd tried breaking down the door a few more times, even brought Different up and tried to have the turret shoot it open―it was useless, since he seemed to have forgotten how to use his guns, or had run out of bullets, or something. Eventually, she had to admit to herself that yes, the voice had been right on this count, too―she was going to die in here. She could imagine that, someday soon, she would curl up next to Different, fall asleep, and simply not wake up. This prospect only saddened her in that, then, her poor little Different would be all alone. But maybe the voice had been right about one more thing―maybe Different couldn't be lonely. That made her feel a little better. She lay down on the floor near him, incredibly tired.
"Nap time?" he asked.
"Yeah." she croaked. "Different? Don't be . . . sad."
"No, friend." Different said.
"I'm sorry." she told him, curling up next to his spindly legs, the warmth from his internal circuitry just barely perceptible. "I'm sorry I . . . can't stay."
"I don't blame you," Different said quietly.
"I know you don't." she said. "Good night, Different."
The last thing she heard, before she passed into that last sleep, was the same thing the little turret said to her every time she curled up next to him, a phrase so soft and familiar it was almost like home.
"Good night, friend."