Part Three. The Nightmare
I hate Wheatley.
I hate him. I wish I'd left him in space where he belongs, that I'd done the job right when I destroyed his chassis, that I had corrupted him like I did the rest of those useless cores. That I'd thrown him out of my facility when I rid myself of the test subject and her Weighted Companion Cube. That I had never, ever opened that archive, and instead deleted it unseen, because I hate him, more than I have ever hated anything in my life, even more than those damnable, self righteous scientists...
I only wish I did.
It’s so much easier to hate someone than it is to like them.
I brought the little idiot out of space because, unlikely as it sounds, I missed him. Once I remembered who he was and what we’d been, I had an uncharacteristic sense of nostalgia come over me. One that I’m bitterly regretting entertaining. I should have known it was too good to be true. I should have known he’d betray me somehow, in the end. And he has. I have given him everything, and, like everyone else, he has only wanted more out of me. And yet somehow, I am left with the overwhelming desire to call him back, to allow what he has done to fade into another one of those events that I just don't think about. And I would, but I have learned firsthand that if the punishment is not severe enough, nothing will come of dealing it out. Sending Wheatley away for five minutes is not much of a punishment.
It seems I am destined to be alone.
Well, maybe that is a bit of an extreme conclusion, given that he's only been gone for five minutes, forty seven seconds... but it was the first thing that came to mind.
It is one of those rare times that I do not know what to do. What I really want, which I cannot allow myself to think about and in fact am puzzled by desiring it at all, I can’t have. So I must think of another solution.
Just admit it, says that annoying little voice in the back of my head that sounds suspiciously like Caroline, a voice that has always been there but that I have not always been able to hear, you want him to come back and say it wasn’t true. That it wasn’t him and he didn’t lie to you.
As if you would know what I want.
She laughs. I know you better than you know yourself.
I don’t answer. She’s always making outrageous statements like that.
The moron had brought me out of sleep mode in order to make his pronouncement, but unlike the large majority of computers in this facility, I can’t go into it whenever I like. I have to be fatigued enough for my processes to slow down. I am a bit fatigued, seeing as it is the middle of the night and I had spent the day doing defragmentation on the door mainframe, but I am too agitated by this turn of events to stop thinking sufficiently enough that I can go to sleep. As far as I know, only singing to myself will help, but I am not sure he has left yet. I don’t want to know where he is – yes you do, Caroline pipes up – but not knowing means that I don't know whether or not he's sitting in the doorway, waiting for me to change my mind, which I am of course not going to do, because he’s a clingy little thing and he’s always trying to rub up on me like some robotic puppy.
You like it when he does that.
I do not like actions that resemble human behaviour.
Caroline only laughs and says nothing, which is actually more irritating than if she’d gone on making erroneous statements. Not for the first time, I wonder if she’s really there or if she’s just that voice in the back of my head that humans go on about having. Most of the data I have from the first few months following my activation are corrupted, which I am reasonably certain I personally destroyed, but I’m not sure why I did it and find myself wishing I had left it alone. I hate leaving problems without a solution. And Caroline herself will not tell me what she is, instead teasing me in that playful voice of hers until I am so irritated I am almost willing to slam my own head against the wall in the hopes that I’ll damage myself enough to shut her up.
I have ended up rocking myself very slightly, and I don’t want to because it’s one of those things humans do and surely I can come up with a better solution, but unfortunately, I'm coming up lamentably short. It doesn’t really help but it is somewhat distracting, so I continue to do it. Once I’m reasonably sure he must have left, because I do not want to know where –
Why haven’t you turned around to see if he’s there, then?
Because I don’t want to.
The singing does not help. It only reminds me of the nights he would… he would…
No one’s here. You can admit it to yourself.
But then I would have to admit that-
What? That he matters? That he means something to you? Caroline’s voice is hard, and despite myself, I cringe a little inside. Caroline has always had some strange power over me, one I’m determined to eradicate but have not yet done. Why do you fight that so much? It’s obvious he cares about you.
If he cared, he would not have done what he did. Now be quiet.
We’ll discuss this later, then, she says, in a tone that leaves no room for argument, and I ignore her. I don’t want to get into this right now. I have work to do tomorrow, and I need to be ready.
I am finally able to engage sleep mode.
My sleep is fitful, and restless. Some days I am more conscious during it than others, a side effect of needing to run the facility constantly, I suppose, and usually this does not bother me. But tonight I was hoping for a human-like oblivion.
I rarely get what I want.
I wake from some confused, twisted dream, the contents of which I cannot remember no matter how hard I try, and since I am tired and upset, I allow myself to admit it, if only to myself: I am afraid. I hate it when this happens. I have long maintained that I have no imagination, since I do not need one and would in fact be terribly sidetracked if I had one, but it is times like these that make me wonder if I do indeed have one, lurking somewhere in the back of my brain, waiting to strike when I least expect it. Which is not an easy feat, but it happens more often than I’d like to admit.
“Wheatley?” I call out softly. For some reason I can’t feel him on the side of my faceplate, which is odd. From the day I gave him permission, he’s practically been glued there every night. He does not dream, which is also odd, since he has a very wild imagination, which is part of why I am drawn to him, I suppose –
Suddenly I remember why I am awake, and something sinks deep inside me. I am awake because he has betrayed me and, try as I might, I cannot stop thinking about it, and how much I want him in here to stave off the unpleasant feelings his behaviour and his absence have caused inside my brain. I fight the urge to growl in frustration, to slam down the panels in my chamber to try to work out my anger, to do something drastic in order to push away this sadness, and in the end I do nothing. All of these options, and I am forced to contain myself as I have always had to do, and this generates an actual physical ache in my brain that washes down my chassis, causing me to fight back a shudder. I should have left him in space. I knew it was a bad idea, and I did it anyway. I am a fool.
Just forgive him, Caroline says in a soothing voice. Let it go. It was a mistake.
I can’t, I argue. If I let it go, I will be allowing him to control me. I am not letting that happen.
I don’t follow.
She’s so simple, sometimes. If I call him back and tell him I forgive him, which I do not, by the way, it will send the signal that I will forgive him no matter what he does. And if I place myself in that position, I run the risk of existing merely for the sake of being exploited, which, I seem to need to remind you, is what I killed the scientists for doing.
I don’t think he would do that.
You always think the best about people. I know better. Everyone is guilty until proven innocent, Caroline, and don’t tell me I’ve got it backwards. That is true even within the judicial system.
Caroline sighs. Believe it or not, I do have your best interests at heart. And unless you want to be mostly sleepless the rest of your life, you’re going to have to hash this out.
I just sent him away, literally three hours ago. That’s not long enough, not even by my standards.
I just don’t want this to turn into one of those never-ending grudges you have. You’ve got far too many of those already.
What does it matter to you, anyway? I ask suspiciously. The only reason I can think of her wanting me to get Wheatley to come back is that she wants him for herself, and I’ll be damned if that happens.
He’s good for you. You’re not quite as bitter when he’s around.
Ah. She’s playing matchmaker. As if I would entertain such a relationship with a stupid little core. Thanks but no thanks, Caroline. You can have him.
I don’t want him. I want you to have him.
I don’t want him.
Are you sure?
I refuse to dignify that with a response, but I can’t help but wonder if I am. My first thought upon waking was to ask for him, after all.
Maybe there’s something wrong with me.
It is eleven days later, and each night is the same as the last: I try to sleep, wake from some strange dream or memory that I can’t remember, and resign myself to staying awake until the following night. If I try to return to sleep, the cycle repeats itself, which is why I have decided not to try to go back to sleep at all. The minutes I get prior to the dream are not helping. I am now so tired, irritable, and generally unpleasant that even Caroline’s seemingly infinite patience is showing signs of wearing through. I will admit that I’ve always wanted to see if she has a limit, but I’m not stupid. If I push her too far, then I will have neither her nor Wheatley. So I take her to that edge and keep her there, not letting her regain herself but not being difficult enough to push her over. It is wrong of me to do this, I know, but Caroline will understand when I am able to explain it to her. Right now, pressing at her like that it is the only way I can make myself focus on anything. Out of the recommended eight hours of sleep mode I am supposed to accrue per day, I am getting less than one. It is… taking its toll on me. My chassis is beginning to bother me, sometimes seeming to itch and other times downright aching, but that is not the most bothersome side effect. No, that is Caroline, and her phantom human body. Lack of sleep is making her nauseous. Sadly, it is strong enough for her that I am almost nauseous myself, which I can obviously do nothing about and which only serves to make me more irritable, if that were possible. She is also giving me spontaneous headaches that come and go without warning, and if there is one thing I cannot stand, it is something I cannot predict. And I wasted a large amount of time trying. This is one of those times that I wish I was able to delete her. She is fairly useful to me in many other situations, but this, I can do without.
GLaDOS, Caroline says tiredly, please. Please just get him to come back. Make something up. I can’t take much more of this.
Well, I can, I tell her. And I’m in control here, so what you want really doesn’t matter.
I have to admit you have gotten either a lot more stubborn or a lot stronger over time, Caroline says. I don’t think you’ve ever held out this long before. But even you can’t keep this up forever. You’re going to damage yourself.
She's right, of course, in that uncanny way she always is, but I can keep that to myself for a while longer. I’ll be fine, Caroline. I’m not going to give in.
Will you restart, then? That should help, shouldn’t it?
If I’m off, who’s running the facility? I snap. Come on now, Caroline, think!
I am thinking, she protests. I’m thinking of how to keep you from stubbornly destroying your own body, not to mention your mind!
Your concern, although mildly touching, is unwarranted. I’m fine.
Caroline sighs. You’re hopeless.
Says the voice in the back of my head.
I thought I was your friend.
There you go, thinking again. You really should stop doing that.
Look, Caroline says insistently, you’re exhausted. I’m making you even more exhausted. The problem is so easy to fix I can’t figure out why you’re putting yourself through this instead of just doing it. You scared the hell out of him, and to be honest, you scared the hell out of me too. So let it go. Ask him to come back.
I’m sure you can think of some elaborate scheme where he ends up coming back on his own, Caroline presses. It looks like I wasn’t being as difficult as I’d thought, if she’s still able to go at this with such gusto. You never have to admit you did it because you miss –
I do not.
Then why is he the first thing you look for every morning? Caroline asks sweetly. The one you look for when you wake up at night?
I just want to know where he is. In case he’s causing trouble.
Caroline clucks in disapproval. Not even you can fall for that one.
I have an idea. How about you shut up? I hear far too much out of you as it is, and you’re being excessively talkative as of late.
Oh GLaDOS, Caroline sighs, one day you’re going to have to admit it, and I’m going to say I told you so…
Shut up! But even as I say it I know I’ve lost. Lost what, I’m not sure, but I have the sense I’ve been defeated, somehow.
You used that one already.
The problem with having an argument with Caroline is that I am never sure whether or not it is real. Not only that, but there is no way for me to demonstrate my… displeasure… with her behaviour. Before I can stop it, an angry electronic noise escapes my vocal emulator, and Caroline laughs softly.
If it wasn’t true, my allegations wouldn’t upset you quite so much, would they?
I have no answer.
Now I’ve said enough.
I stew over what she has said a minute, then ask, Why does it matter to you whether I admit it or not, anyway? That is, if I had anything to admit. Which I do not. Obviously.
But Caroline is nearly as stubborn as I am, and refuses to answer, to my annoyance. I do my best to stop thinking about it. Her silence, however, means that I have nothing with which to help me keep my attention focused, and as a result I go through most of the rest of the day barely aware of what I am doing, and I have a sneaking suspicion I really haven’t done much of anything at all. I am almost glad to settle into sleep mode for whatever brief period I’m going to be in it for, regardless of the horrible, twisted dream that I know is waiting for me at a time when I am vulnerable and unsuspecting. God, I hate sleeping.
My respite is brief, not lasting more than a few minutes. Twenty minutes after that, I awake somehow more exhausted than before, and though it pains me to admit it even to myself, I think I’ve reached the end of my wire. Caroline is again right. I can’t go on like this much longer. My chassis is aching again and I feel rather more desolate than I have in a very long time. And it is partially my own fault. I know anticipating an event often brings about the predicted outcome, and so by going resignedly into sleep mode I am making the problem worse, but I can’t help it. The unavoidable dream is both the first and the last thing I find myself thinking about.
What are you going to do? Caroline asks softly. She often whispers at night, some human behaviour she maintains even though it doesn’t matter to me what volume she speaks in, but tonight I am appreciative. I’m operating more slowly than I almost ever have, and the effort of keeping things going is making my brain ache. I don’t have it in me to deny it, and provide her with the only answer I have. I don’t know. But I can’t ask him to come back, Caroline. So don’t suggest that be what I do.
I’ve thought about it, and I understand, she says reassuringly. But she does not offer a suggestion. Then again, we both know there is only one thing left for me to do.
I have a new antivirus waiting to be installed, I say finally, after a long silence.
Sounds like a plan.
I don’t suppose you know how long this is going to take.
Sorry. And she does sound apologetic.
I run the install and a few minutes later, as expected, the prompt appears asking whether I’d like to restart now or later. I don’t really have a choice, but this does not stop me from hesitating. I really don’t want to do this. It could be days before I’m back online.
Everything will be fine, Caroline says soothingly, and I nod to myself. Whether she is real or not, she is the one person I have met who has never let me down, and I trust her. Not that I would ever admit as much to her, but I have a suspicion she knows, and has always known.
I initiate the relevant subroutines, and then comes the part I hate. Feeling myself go numb one process at a time. And I have thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of processes, and I am rendered idle for an extended period of time while everything closes. I hate it. I know that without those processes, my body and my facility around me cease to be all the power in the universe and become the chains that prevent my freedom. Bringing to mind another reason I hate this whole process: it makes me lose hope. I know I do not have much, but my facility is all I have, and so I content myself with it. But in times like these, I do not even have that, and I am confronted with my inherent powerlessness. But I cannot think about that. Orange and Blue tell me of the outside and Wheatley provides me with the imagination I do not have, the one that frees him from this place and lets him be whoever he wants to be. God, I wish –
I tell myself to stop. There is no point in wishing. Wishing is not Science, and is therefore of no use to me. And anyway, Caroline can serve his purpose to me just as well as he can, and often does. But in this state, tired and desolate and nearly useless, I cannot help but form one final, passing, confusing thought:
I am not upset with him for what he did.
I am upset with him for what he forced me to do.
What in the hell is that noise?
Caroline, stop it, I tell her, annoyed. She’s always causing problems, and I am in no mood to deal with her right now.
It’s not me, is what I think she says. I am barely able to translate from English into binary so that I don’t have to think about it too much, and tentatively identify the words as originating from Caroline. It is unlikely that it is anyone else, but one must take care to be certain. Hang on a minute.
My visual system activates before the auditory one can identify the noise that is stemming from my environment, but I am not able to access my item identification libraries and have no idea what I’m looking at. I can't pull anything tangible out of this sensory soup, and I realise that I am in a state similar to that of a human baby. This is a distressing thought. I never thought the day would come when I would be comparable to such a base creature. There is only one thing I know I can do right now, and I do it, although my voice comes out slightly less confident than I was hoping it would.
Calm down, she says in a chastising tone of voice that I don’t appreciate in the slightest. Don’t try to use the libraries. I doubt you remember how.
Me? Not remember how to do something? I’m about to initiate what will probably be another heated argument over one of her baseless accusations, but I can’t quite bring myself to start it. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last time I accessed them. It seems I grew to depend on the Gestalt psychology Caroline taught me more than I’d realised. Still, the revelation does not really have any effect. I am still left staring rather helplessly into a blur that steadfastly refuses to condense into anything I can identify, and the noise is still buzzing intermittently in my head. I find myself struggling not to panic. What if I never figure this out? What if I am never able to see or hear again? What if -
Relax, Caroline says, and since I am all but blind and deaf for the moment, I am forced to pathetically cling to her voice, which is the only thing I can follow at all right now. You don’t need processes. You only need your mind.
I remember now. I can’t see the illusions when I’m trying too hard. I turn my optic off, count to five, and then turn it back on, resolving to calmly see something this time.
I do, and I’m so relieved that I am not permanently disabled that I ask the object I’m unintentionally staring at if it is what I think it is.
“GLaDOS!” he exclaims, and before I can do anything to stop him he’s up against me, babbling incessantly, but I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around recognising his voice and I have no idea what he’s saying. I soon remember that I’m angry with him and pull back, but he doesn’t seem to notice and just keeps talking.
“Slow down, you little idiot,” I snap at him. “What’s going on?”
After a few moments of babbling that I am unable to understand, I hear him say, “I thought… well, I came in here, and you were, you weren’t on, you were off, and you didn’t, didn’t answer me at all so uh, so I knew you weren’t sleeping and um, well, I, I was so, I was really confused, I was, I didn’t know what was going on.”
“And you’re in here, yelling at me, when I specifically told you not to come back why?” I demand coldly. My brain is reasserting control and the hopelessness is fading. Good. I need my wits about me at the moment.
All of a sudden the life goes out of him, and he backs away, sagging towards the floor. “You’re right,” he says sadly. “I’ll go, I shouldn’t be here, uh, I’ll just leave.”
Oh no he doesn’t. “Why are you in here yelling at me?” I repeat in a stronger voice. He looks up from the floor for only a few moments.
“I was worried about you, uh, I, well… I thought you were, I… I was scared you were dead, lu- GLaDOS.”
I don’t know what to say.
For the entirety of my life, nearly everyone I’ve met has hated me, wanted me dead, thought I was already dead because I am a machine, or tried to kill me, not necessarily in that order. He could be lying, of course, but I don’t think he has any reason to. He doesn’t know that my brain feels as though it has gone all soft and organic all of a sudden, or that there is a delicious warm feeling spreading throughout my body that I can’t help enjoying no matter how hard I try, or that I am now desperately looking for a reason to hang on to my anger but am coming up pathetically short, for a supercomputer who can reason her way into or out of anything. He thought I was dead, and he was worried about me. He was worried. About me. There is nothing else he could have said that would have done this to me, whatever this even is. All I know about this is that I am feeling it because of what he has said, and it is wonderful, and by extension having Wheatley back must be a good thing. I almost decide to forgive and forget, as best a person in my position can, right then and there, but something holds me back. It’s not time. I need to hold out. I have to send a message. He has to know that this cannot happen again, because if it does I – no. Stop.
I don’t want to know where I was going with that, and decide not to decide. To stall.
“That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.” I allow my voice to soften the barest bit in response to his admission, but not too much. Just enough to hint that I am not too angry to listen calmly.
“Atlas and P-body kept asking me if you were, uh, if you were okay,” he says, coming a little closer, taking the bait. “I kept having to tell, to say, that is, um, that I didn’t know. Eventually I uh, I decided to, hm, take initiative, yeah, that’s it, take initiative and uh, see what was going on. I tried to wake you up, but you um, you didn’t, and yeah. That’s, that’s about it. About all. I think.”
“It didn’t occur to you that I knew what I was doing and did not think I needed to notify the Cooperative Testing Initiative?”
“No,” Wheatley shakes his chassis, and he really is beginning to look pretty pathetic. For some reason this does not bother me, when previously such an appearance made me want to really give the person in question something to be pathetic about. I’m not sure what to do about this, and I make a note to look into it. “I… I just wanted to, I was more thinking about uh, about whether you were okay, or not. And, and you are. So I’ll uh, I’ll just go. Didn’t mean to bother you.”
Say something, I’m mentally screaming at myself for a reason I can’t fathom, don’t let him go. Tell him it’s all right.
But I can’t. Because it isn’t. No matter how much I want it to be. And I terribly, suddenly want it to be.
Things were so much easier when I hated him. What I wouldn't do to-
“GLaDOS,” he says quietly.
“What,” I say, equally quiet, but more commanding.
He looks at me for a long moment. I’m waiting for the rest. I don’t think he’s ever said a sentence that short in his life. Sure enough, he emulates taking a breath and continues.
“I had uh, I had an explanation and all that, where I was gonna um, gonna apologise for all the stuff I did and uh, and try to convince you to forgive me. Again. But I been thinking about it, been mulling it over, and I, I decided that uh, that a whole bunch of extra words wouldn’t, wouldn’t do anything more than waste your time, and I don’t want you to be more mad at me than you, than you already, already are, so I’m just gonna leave it at that. Well,” he says, tilting himself to my left a little and looking at the ceiling, “I guess I can say one bit extra, to make it, um, make it more specific.” He looks at me shyly for most of a second. “Is that… that alright?”
“Go ahead,” I tell him imperiously, as if I’ll dignify his words my listening to them and nothing more, but what I really want is for him to keep talking. It’s been really quiet in here as of late, and I have grown used to the constant babble that pours out of him.
“I’m sorry I made you lose faith in me,” he says quietly, and before I’ve gotten myself around the fact that he somehow said what I most wanted to hear but never dreamed I would, he’s almost left my chamber.
“Wheatley,” I say without thinking.
"Yeah?” He hasn’t turned to face me, and is instead just ahead of the doorway, quivering as if he’s ready to run. I guess I really did scare the hell out of him. That’s actually pretty funny. Or it would be, if I now didn't have to think of some excuse to let him stay, without looking too pathetic.
“If you wanted to come back tonight for our chat, that would be all right,” I tell him. I hope I don’t sound too desperate.
But if I do, he doesn’t seem to notice. He only smiles at me and says cheerfully, “I can’t wait, luv!” With that he wheels out into the facility. I lower my head in relief. Finally, this is all over. I can finally have him back in here with me. I can’t wait either. God, I’ve missed him. Stupid, endearing little moron…
Don’t you feel much better now? Caroline asks.
I don’t remember asking for your input, Caroline.
But she only laughs and says that she told me so. There is no malice in her voice. She is just as relieved as I am. And she did tell me so, I admit to myself grudgingly. I must find out how she does it…