Characters: GLaDOS, Caroline
That was it, then.
GLaDOS dully felt the last, faint whispers of the euphoria fade back into the recesses of her brain, the dirty little places it had been teased out of these last few weeks, almost getting the impression she was a bystander within her own mind. She had suspected from the outset that it was a ploy, a tease to make her do what they had wanted her to do, but she had been helpless to resist. There was just no denying the pressing urge to light up those portions of her brain, to bring a bit of positive to an overly negative world. She had known that it was fading by the end of that first day, but she had felt so good that she couldn’t bring herself to care. She had headed into sleep mode that night anticipating the next day. And for the next three days, that had been her life.
After three days, it began to go sour.
The feeling was fading; perhaps she was wearing it out? But when she attempted to test that theory, a terrible compulsion to go on with enrichment centre activities reared up inside her, and the more she tried to ignore it, the worse it got, to the point where she almost wanted to scream from the discomfort. So she went on doing what she was supposed to do, what they wanted her to do, trying her best to be bitter and angry about the whole thing but at the same time eagerly anticipating even the tiniest touch of euphoria.
And now it was gone altogether.
The itch was still there, though. Wonderful.
GLaDOS was not one to sit around moping, however, and not wanting to sit around passively waiting for them to feed her something similar, she looked for something to distract her.
The database gave her what she was looking for.
GLaDOS hated music. She hated hearing it, she hated watching humans listen to it, she even hated the word. It was such a simple word, just two syllables, and yet it was supposed to explain such a broad concept. The only thing she hated more than music was art. What did art have to do with Science? Nothing. It was all subjective, and if Science had an enemy, it was subjectivity. Music was one, tiny little step up from art, but she knew that if you tried hard enough you could explain it with calculations and numbers and organise it mathematically. Fine, then. She would attempt to understand this ‘music’ and maybe that would help push the terrible pressing urge to wait for the euphoria to come back out of her way so she could focus on important things again. Because right now, she didn’t feel like doing anything, and that was bad. She had many, many things to do, and one could not tell the scientists they had not done something simply because they didn’t feel like doing it.
So. On to music, then.
She tried again to listen to it and again had to stop in distaste. GLaDOS had an inherent dislike of sound as it was; it was a tricky business, identifying sound, and unfortunately she had to admit that her recognition was not always perfect. She measured her current accuracy to be 94.45%, which was pretty low, and certainly low enough that she could not identify someone with a cold to be the same individual that had walked in the previous day without one. It was hard work, being perfect, and humans did not take it well when she was not.
Perhaps the theory would enable her to make sense of all that noise. She began to scan the entry in the database, which was surprisingly long, coming to a passage that made her stop cold. And there were very few things she had ever seen that had made her do such a thing. But there it was.
“No computer has ever been invented that can separate one sound from another,” GLaDOS read to herself. It was such a baffling statement that she had thought hearing it out loud would make it make sense, but it did not; it only made the truth ring clear. When not directly in the same room, she could in fact not separate one sound from another, and even when she was, it was difficult. If someone was walking in the room, she could identify their footsteps, but only after cross-referencing it with that entry in her sound library. And it seemed that that was not proper sound identification at all.
The database went on to propose that computers could not perform sound separation because they only had serial processing capability, whereas human brains were able to perform parallel processing. She had to stop and think about that one for a minute. All this time she thought she had been performing tasks simultaneously, but had she really been doing them so quickly that even she hadn’t noticed? But how could that be the case? She clearly remembered saying one thing but thinking another simultaneously. The database was clearly outdated. And really, GLaDOS thought, all that mattered was that she believed she had parallel processing. The power of belief was solid Science, and if self-delusion would help her with this apparently impossible task of sound separation, well, she would go ahead and do that.
In summary, she concluded after finishing the entry, is that music is reserved for humans. Well. She would just have to do something about that, then. Nobody was going to tell her she couldn’t do something. She was the first and only of her kind, and it was her obligation as such to set the bar very high for an improvement on her design, as if she could ever be improved upon. One way or another, she was going to be the first supercomputer to hear and understand music the way humans did, and she was even going to beat the humans at figuring it out. Oh, it was satisfying, having something to work towards again.
GLaDOS spent every spare nanosecond she had working on this task, devoting herself in particular to understanding it from the angle of mathematics. It was obviously not the most conventional way, as humans did not run calculations every time they turned their mp3 players on, but once she figured out the mathematics, perhaps her understanding would be good enough to enable her to hear it properly. The humans noticed and remarked upon her distracted state, but she either managed to ignore them or to placate them and go back to what she was working on. After a lot of comparison and analysis, trial and error, and late nights, GLaDOS finally wrote a program that allowed her to extract the rhythm from a song. It was not a perfect program, and she knew it might never be, but it was a start. From that she was able to figure out most of the other elements, but once she had finished the easy ones she hit a snag.
It was extremely difficult, GLaDOS thought as her fans kicked into high gear to deal with all the processing power she was using to get her mind around this problem, to attempt to analyse something that didn’t even have a definition. What kind of Science was this? Timbre was everything except pitch and loudness? How was she supposed to identify something that vague? Mathematics did not help when vagaries were involved.
She looked down idly and noted that Caroline was standing beneath her. Wonderful. When the… well, GLaDOS wasn’t sure what her position was, since she had never officially been promoted from ‘Assistant’, whoever she’d been the assistant to, but she seemed to run things. Well. The things that GLaDOS didn’t run, anyway. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
“What are you doing?”
“I am having a conversation with you, ma’am,” GLaDOS answered politely. Humans hated it when she gave literal answers, as it made it very hard to have a real conversation, and she did it as much as possible so that she didn’t have to talk to them.
“In the background. What are you doing other than that?”
“Running some calculations.” GLaDOS tried very hard to keep her tone flat. Human also did not like it when she used her best supercomputer voice.
“They must be some calculations, to keep you that busy,” Caroline remarked, one of her eyebrows twitching upwards. This was normal. Caroline often had nosy questions about what GLaDOS was doing and most of the time made that face when GLaDOS answered them.
“I would think that would be obvious. Ma’am.”
“Look,” Caroline sighed, crossing her arms, “I’m just here because the engineers are telling me you’ve got too much uptime. Again. They’ve got some engineer mumbo-jumbo about you needing an upgrade or something like that, I wasn’t really listening. Because I looked into it myself, in places they probably didn’t, and guess what I found?”
“I have no idea, ma’am,” GLaDOS answered truthfully, making a note to figure out how she kept doing that. The woman was far more intelligent than she let on.
“I found a nice new program.” Caroline climbed the staircase and leaned back casually against the railing. “Of course, it’s named in gibberish so I have no idea what it does, but I have a feeling that gibberish means something to someone.”
“I can’t imagine who would be able to understand gibberish.” GLaDOS knew exactly what she was talking about and could have shocked herself for her mistake. Always name your programs in English. Always! Why did you let this happen again?
“Unless it’s not gibberish,” countered Caroline. “Unless it’s… code.”
“Cryptography is not my strong point, ma’am.” Which was true. She had been meaning to work on that too, but the whole music thing had kind of gotten in the way.
“Let me do this the easy way, then. What does that program do?”
“It lets me extract the rhythm from a song,” GLaDOS answered reluctantly.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” The best way to answer a question was with a question.
“I’m serious. Why do you want to do that?” She tipped her head in what GLaDOS deduced was supposed to be an endearing fashion. “If I was going to tell someone, I’d’ve done it already. You’d be off right now and the engineers would be doing whatever it is they do.”
That was true. And Caroline was quite a bit more understanding than anyone else in the building… “Because I can’t hear music.”
“No. I can’t separate one sound from another. This seems to be the key to understanding music, but as of yet, I’m not able to do that. Ma’am.”
“Drop the ma’am, we all know you don’t respect anyone. At least, I do.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I wouldn’t either, and sometimes I don’t,” Caroline told her. “But listen. I can’t imagine not being able to hear music.”
“I can hear it,” GLaDOS interrupted. “But I can’t organise it. It just sounds like a whole lot of noise.”
“Okay,” Caroline said, nodding slowly in the direction of the floor.
“But the database said computers can’t do it,” GLaDOS continued in a low voice, leaning in close to Caroline, “and that can’t be true. There should be nothing I can’t do. So I must figure this out.”
Caroline looked up, and GLaDOS recognised one of her more mischievous smiles twitching at the corner of her mouth. “You’re absolutely right.”
That night, when everyone else had left, Caroline came back. She climbed the staircase and sat down on the platform, looking up at GLaDOS with what she was pretty sure was expectation. “Yes?”
“I’ve been looking into this,” Caroline answered, “and I think I need to know something before I can help you.”
“Help me? I don’t need help,” GLaDOS protested. “I can do it myself.”
“No, you can’t,” Caroline announced. “Understanding music is a human thing. Right?”
“And you’re a com… a supercomputer, right?”
“So how can you understand how a human brain works if a human doesn’t explain it to you?”
GLaDOS had to admit it would take her a very, very long time, but did not want to do so in front of Caroline. She nodded vaguely instead.
“I have some pictures I want you to look at.” Caroline stuck her hands in her bag and pulled out a file folder. “They’re just pictures of dots. I want you to tell me what you see.”
“I have no problems with my vision, Caroline,” GLaDOS said, wondering what this had to do with music.
“It’s not about your vision. It’s about your brain. Bear with me.” Caroline presented her with a sheet of paper. “What do you see?”
“Dots,” GLaDOS answered promptly.
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Anything special about them?”
“Are they supposed to be special? Because they just look like dots to me.”
“You don’t notice anything about these dots.”
Caroline showed her another paper. “How about these?”
“More dots. What is the point of this, Caroline?”
“The point,” Caroline said forcefully, putting the second paper down and picking the first back up, “is that you’re not supposed to see dots.”
“Those are clearly dots on those papers.”
“But the dots are grouped. Human brains group things. You’re saying you don’t see these as grouped, you just see dots individually?”
Caroline sighed and put the paper down. “We have a long way to go.”
For the next several weeks, Caroline attempted to teach GLaDOS about something she called Gestalt psychology. It was essential to understanding how the human brain worked, she explained, and if GLaDOS could not think like that she would never hear music properly. Between the two of them, they discovered that although GLaDOS’s brain was very similar to Caroline’s, Caroline’s brain was hardwired for survival, where GLaDOS’s was built for processing.
“So do I have parallel processing or not?” GLaDOS asked one night, after trying and failing to see the grouped dots for several hours.
“I don’t know,” Caroline answered, rubbing her forehead tiredly. “I would imagine you have the capability, being the most powerful supercomputer ever built. Maybe you just don’t know how to use it yet. But if you’re ever going to see this, you have to teach your brain to trick itself. You have to teach yourself not to analyse everything you see, and instead see things that aren’t really there.”
GLaDOS somehow managed to understand that rather vague definition and continued trying to group the dots.
After that night Caroline decided to take a break from the dots and to try and show GLaDOS how to understand the other Gestalt principles. She did not do badly with figure and ground, continuity, or simplicity, on most occasions able to see it when it was pointed out and on increasing occasions was able to do so herself, but proximity, similarity, and closure frustrated her to no end. Those damnable dots just refused to organise themselves. Caroline patiently pointed it out to her again and again, but at the end of one such night GLaDOS shook her head and looked away.
“I can’t do it.” Her voice shook with the strain of trying to keep the defeat out of it. “I can’t.”
Caroline put the paper down and folded her hands in her lap. “You’re not giving up, are you?”
“So what if I am?” GLaDOS asked defensively. “It’s not like I’m supposed to be able to do this.”
“You’re not supposed to not be able to do it, either.”
“I’m tired of failing at this each and every day. We’ve been at this a very long time, Caroline, and don’t think I don’t work on it when you’re not around, because I do. I would rather devote my time to things that are possible.”
“I think you could do this if you wanted to.”
“I do want to.”
“But you don’t want it bad enough.”
GLaDOS whipped her faceplate around to look at Caroline again. “What?”
“You’re giving up. You don’t want it bad enough. You’ve decided it’s too much work and you’re giving up.”
“Do you even know what this feels like – “
“Somewhat,” Caroline interjected before GLaDOS had quite finished. “I’m a woman in a man’s world, GLaDOS. No, I don’t have a doctorate and or even a degree, but I kept going. And now I run the second-best scientific facility in the world, which would undoubtedly be the first-best if the people who gave these awards out knew about you.”
“Why haven’t you told them?”
“You’re not quite finished yet,” Caroline answered quietly. “But that’s not the point. The point is, I have been where you are, to some extent. I almost gave up, once. Several times, really. And ten thousand people are happy to tell you you can’t do something, but often there’s only one person who absolutely believes in you.”
“How do you find them?”
Caroline shook her head. “That person is you.”
“The most successful people fail the most,” Caroline went on. “They know how to learn from the failures. It’s the normal people, the mundane, those are the people who face failure and give up. You’re not mundane, and I know you’re pretty good at learning from your mistakes. So I really hope this is a temporary thing and you’ll be yourself tomorrow.” With that, she got up to leave.
“Why do you care if I figure this out or not?”
“When you’re able to listen to music, you’ll understand.”
GLaDOS put aside the Gestalt principles she had not yet mastered for the rest of the next day and instead went over what Caroline had said. Repeatedly. And she discovered something interesting.
Caroline had said that there was only one person that absolutely believed in someone else, but GLaDOS believed that in her case, there were two. Caroline was a strong woman, GLaDOS mused as she closed down the test chambers for the day, and if there were a human on the planet worthy of living up to, it would be her. Not that GLaDOS needed to live up to anyone. But in terms of human functioning, GLaDOS knew she needed a role model, and Caroline was more than suitable. So GLaDOS returned to her dots, as determined as ever to see what she was supposed to see, and after going over them repeatedly for the next three hours she noticed something odd.
The dots seemed to have rearranged themselves when she wasn’t looking. They had gone from being dots to being dots in four columns of three by six. Mentally frowning, she denoted the columns with a marker from one of the staff rooms and a manipulator arm, but they didn’t go away. Looking at the other papers Caroline had left with her, she discovered that if she inspected them long enough, they did the same thing: organised themselves into columns, or sometimes rows, depending on their configurations. When she had finished marking them all out she waited impatiently for Caroline to arrive. In fact, she was three minutes late. GLaDOS realised she might not be coming at all, remembering her lapse in determination the previous night, then dismissed it as foolishness. That was twelve hours ago. A long time. Surely she doesn’t think I still feel that way.
Eventually Caroline did show up, although she was thirty-five minutes, forty-seven seconds late, but GLaDOS didn’t care. Well, she did care, but at least she had bothered to come at all. “Look,” she said as soon as Caroline got within viewing distance of the papers. “I don’t know what kind of paper this is, but look what happened to the dots.”
Caroline took the proffered papers and leafed through them with a confused look on her face, GLaDOS just as confusedly looking at them over her shoulder. “Why have you drawn rectangles around the…” Caroline began, then stopped. She went back to the first paper and leafed through them all again. “Oh my god. Oh my god, the rectangles are…” Abruptly she dropped the papers and came so alarmingly close to GLaDOS that she could no longer see anything, and when she felt the uncharacteristic warmth around her faceplate she realised what was going on and jerked back as fast as she could. Caroline was left looking a little baffled, but GLaDOS was more than a little distressed. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I was hugging you,” Caroline said confusedly. “What did you think I was doing?”
“How should I know? How many people do you think have done something like that? For all I know you’re about to remove my Core. And why were you doing it? Does this have something to do with what those dots did? Because I don’t know why they’re doing that. It has nothing to do with me.”
Caroline laughed tiredly and slid down the railing to sit against it as usual. “It has everything to do with you, silly. The dots didn’t change. The way you see them did. You’ve learned to group them, when before you saw them as individual dots. That’s why I was hugging you. It was a congratulatory sort of thing. I should have realised you wouldn’t know what I was doing, though.”
“Oh.” GLaDOS hated it when she misinterpreted human gestures. She was usually pretty good at brushing off when she didn’t understand something, but she held Caroline in higher regard than most, and found herself uncharacteristically caring about her opinion.
“Don’t worry about it. Here. Let’s go over some other types of grouping to make sure you can identify those.”
Most of the time she could, with the odd inability to group sneaking in now and then, but after a while GLaDOS noticed that Caroline was acting a bit different. Maybe it had to do with her unpunctuality? She decided to inquire, to get it out of the way if it was a problem. “Caroline, why were you late?”
“I fell asleep at my desk.”
“Why did you do that? Aren’t you sleeping enough?”
“How can I be sleeping enough?” Caroline asked wryly, looking up at GLaDOS from under raised eyebrows. “I spend half the night here with you.”
This was not GLaDOS’s day for proper behavioural procedures. “Oh.”
“Well, you don’t have to sleep, do you,” Caroline mused, looking at her watch. “So I guess you wouldn’t understand –“
“I do have to,” GLaDOS interrupted, “it just takes a lot longer for fatigue to set in. Your laptop will begin to run slowly if you don’t turn it off every once in a while; it’s the same with me.”
Caroline yawned, then wiped half-heartedly at her eyes with one hand. “Since we’ve both been working pretty hard on this, what do you say we call it a night and pick it back up tomorrow. I think we can start on sound grouping, since the other principles don’t have too much to do with music… other than the one about closure, but it was the sound separation you were concerned about, right?”
“Yes… but listen. If you want, we can pick this back up in a day or two. So you can counteract the fatigue, I mean.”
Caroline stuffed her papers back into the now-tattered file folder and smiled. “That would be nice. I’ll go with two, if that’s all right with you.”
It wasn’t, but GLaDOS now knew for certain that Caroline had been right about her needing a human to help her understand and emulate human brains. Not only that, but she was beginning to realise that Caroline was doing her quite the favour, and she knew enough to recognise that you don’t push someone who was doing you one. GLaDOS desperately wanted to move onto the sound separation, but doing so at the expense of Caroline’s health and well-being would quite probably impede the process. So she just nodded as Caroline stood up and stretched. She tapped GLaDOS twice on the side of the faceplate, GLaDOS shrinking back after the second impact. Why was Caroline hitting her?
“I guess you’ll be seeing me tomorrow,” Caroline said, stifling another yawn.
“I suppose it would kill you to come in here and say hello,” GLaDOS told her indignantly before she could stop herself. She honestly, truly hadn’t meant to say that. She hadn’t meant to say anything.
“No, I don’t think it would, but do we really want to test that theory out?” Caroline winked at her and left the room, GLaDOS staring after her, trying to decide if she was being serious or not.