Follow the Yellow Line
Characters: Cave Johnson, Caroline
Setting: Aperture Science Innovators, 1950s (Pre-Portal)
“Sir. There’s been an accident.”
Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Science Innovators, stopped admiring his own reflection in the mirror and turned his attention to the image of his assistant, Caroline. Mm. Beautiful and smart. Not bad, Cave, not bad, he mused to himself, turning to face her. “What is it, Caroline? It better be a good accident. Today’s opening day, you know.”
“Yes, sir, I know. Sir, the scientists assigned to the praying mantis DNA experiment misunderstood their instructions… it seems they stated they were supposed to inject themselves with it.”
Cave snorted. “For a bunch of eggheads, I can’t imagine a bigger group of idiots. Who wrote those instructions, anyway?”
“You did, sir.” She showed him a sheet of paper, and that sure looked like his handwriting, all right. Hm. Well, he couldn’t be blamed for the scientists not having common sense, could he?
“They should have known better. I’m not a scientist.”
“But sir,” Caroline protested, readjusting her armful of files and folders, “then why do you have a diploma on your wall saying you graduated with a dual PhD in nuclear physics and chaos theory?”
“Because having my name engraved on a fancy piece of paper makes me look good, of course.” He grinned and clapped an arm around her shoulders, guiding her towards the door and ignoring the confused look on her lovely young face. “I don’t know if there’s even a such thing as a dual PhD in whatever it is you said that paper says. I made it up. Caroline, you’ll have to explain nuclear chaos physics theory to me some day. Make a note of that.”
“Yes, sir,” Caroline answered, pulling out a notebook from her pile and doing so. “When would you like me to pencil that in for?”
“Tomorrow,” Cave told her. “We can skip the budget meeting and you can do it then.”
“But sir!” Caroline exclaimed, “I don’t know anything about… any of that.”
“What, between now and tomorrow at noon isn’t enough time to figure it out?”
“No, sir,” Caroline protested. “It would probably take me longer than that to find a book on it.”
“We’ll discuss it later.” Cave waved his left hand expansively. They’d figure it out some other time. “No one’s noticed, anyway. And if someone asks me about it, I’ll just call you in to explain it. That’s what you’re for. The details.”
“That’s… probably a bit too detailed for me, sir.”
“Oh Caroline,” Cave laughed, “always the modest one, aren’t you. Well. Let’s go see about this accident, shall we?”
“Sir,” Caroline asked tentatively, “why do you think that injecting people with praying mantis DNA will make them more religious, anyway?”
“The mantises are always praying, maybe this will scramble people’s brains up to think like them.”
“You do know they’re not actually praying, right, sir?”
“Of course they are!” Cave laughed, “Else they wouldn’t be called praying mantises! Keep up, Caroline!”
The two of them made their way down to the labs and met up with a man who was nervously standing at the end of the hallway, shifting his weight from one foot to the other anxiously. “Mr Johnson!” he exclaimed. “Ma’am,” he nodded to Caroline.
“What’s going on here? Caroline tells me the lab boys made a mistake. Again.”
“Yes, sir. We’re not quite sure what happened, only that all the lights in the lab are out now, and there are a lot of weird noises coming from inside… no one wants to go in there, sir.”
“Fine. I’ll deal with it myself. Where’s the lab?”
“Just follow the yellow line, sir,” the man said. “I’d advise you to take these with you.” He held out a pair of rifles. “Just in case. Like I said, we don’t know what’s going on in there.”
Cave took the rifles and waved at Caroline. “Let’s go, Caroline. We need to fix this and fix it now! Or sooner, whichever comes first.” He started down another hallway, noting that the lights were out at the other end. None of the lights in the other labs on either side of the hall were on either.
“I understand, sir,” Caroline nodded, readjusting her papers and quickly following after him. After a few minutes they reached the end of the yellow line, and Cave could barely see a thing. He peered into the darkness. Nothing. Hm. He turned around and extended one of the guns to Caroline. “Here, Caroline. You might need this.”
“But sir!” Caroline exclaimed, shocked, “I don’t know how to fire a rifle!”
“It’s a great time to learn. Now you can’t say I never taught you anything. Put those papers down, Caroline.”
Caroline looked at her armload of paperwork as if parting with it would give her a stroke. Come to think of it, it might. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her empty-handed. “I need these, sir… can’t you do the rifle firing and I just… observe?”
“Don’t be silly, Caroline,” Cave chided, putting the rifle down and holding a hand out. “No one ever learned anything through observation. Learn by doing, that’s my motto. Or is it, learn by watching someone else do it? Doesn’t matter. Gimme those.”
Caroline shook her head and backed away, clutching the papers to her breasts. “Sir, I must protest.”
“Protest away, but do it while you’re firing the rifle, will you? Those are technically my papers and by the power vested in me as the… as double nucleic chaotic physical theory doctor Cave Johnson, CEO and founder of Aperture Science Innovators, I demand you give them to me.”
Looking down at her papers as if they were her children, Caroline slowly opened her arms and, gathering them as best she could in both hands, extended them to Cave while closing her eyes very tightly and turning her head to face over her shoulder. Cave grabbed the papers and threw them in the corner. Caroline gasped in horror. “Sir!”
“They’re not important. Now, here’s the rifle. This is the… uh… the thing you press to shoot. And this is the… the reloading thingy. And you hold it like this.” He braced the rifle against her shoulder and positioned her arms. She looked very uncertain. “This is very heavy, sir.”
“You’ll get used to it.” He picked up his own rifle and moved forward. “Let’s get going. We should probably contain this problem before the test subjects get here.”
“Sir, why would you go ahead with the testing if you already know the result?” She followed him, struggling to hold the rifle in the position he had put it in. “Isn’t that redundant?”
“The lab boys followed the instructions wrong,” he told her dismissively.
“No, sir, they didn’t,” Caroline protested. “Remember? You wrote them that way?”
“Really? Prove it. Show me the instructions.”
“I can’t, sir, you took my files away and threw them in the corner.” She looked hopeful all of a sudden. “I could go back and get them, though – “
“Nah, we don’t need them.” Cave guided her forward with a hand on the small of her back. Now that he thought of it, he would have liked to put his hand a lot of other places too… but that could wait. “I know what the instructions said, and they did not say to inject themselves with – “
“Yes they did, sir.”
“Don’t interrupt me when I’m right, Caroline. Or when I’m wrong, either, because in the unlikely event that I’m wrong, you need to stick up for me, not argue.” The two of them soon reached the lab, Caroline holding the rifle in a decidedly not-so-useful fashion, and Cave noted with some irritation that the lights were off. Stupid lab boys, always showing off by doing their science in the dark. “Where’s the light switch in here, Caroline?”
“I don’t know sir, I’ve never been in this lab before.”
“Well, find it. I can’t see a thing.”
“Sir, I can’t even hold this rifle properly, I don’t think I can find the light switch too.”
“Tell me what you’re here for again?”
Caroline’s eyes gleamed in the dim light coming from outside the doorway. “I’m honestly not sure, sir.”
“It must be because you run slower than I do. Fine. I’ll find the light. You stay here.” Cave handed her his rifle and started feeling along the wall.
“Sir, what do you want me to do with this?”
“Fire it. What else do you think I want you to do with it?”
“You want me to fire two rifles at the same time?!”
“Why not? They do it in the movies, don’t they?”
“No, sir, those are revolvers!”
“Rifle, revolver, they both start with r, what’s the difference?” And where was the light switch? Damn lab boys, it was probably activated only if you recited the DNA sequence of a frog, backwards, in binary, or something like that.
“There are a lot of differences, sir.”
“If you know so much about guns, why don’t you know how to fire one?” He continued feeling along the wall and his hand made contact with something hard and fuzzy. Ew. What was that, some sort of weird cactus? He needed to figure out just what the lab boys did in here.
“I’ve never seen a gun in – sir! I found it!” With that, the room was flooded with light, and when Cave had finished blinking the spots out of his eyes he was able to see just what he was touching.
It was a gigantic praying mantis, and it did look kind of like a cactus, Cave noted. It was the green he’d imagine a cactus to be, never having seen one, and it was covered with tiny little white hairs. It was maybe six feet tall, with long, spindly limbs, sharp teeth-like things sticking out of its face, and beady little black eyes… which were staring right at him. Caroline started screaming.
“Oh my God, sir, it’s, and you’re, oh God, Mr Johnson, get away from, oh my God –“
“Throw me a rifle, Caroline!” Cave shouted, not knowing whether to back away or to keep hanging on and hoping it didn’t notice him. There was a loud clattering noise and Cave looked behind him to see the rifle lying on the floor about six feet away. He groaned. “Caroline!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s very heavy!”
Cave made for the gun, but the mantis man, as he’d decided to call it, hissed and tripped him somehow. Looking down, he saw that it had one of its pointed legs through his pants. Well, at least it had missed his leg. He ducked out of the way of a gob of saliva dripping out of the thing’s mouth. He stretched out for the gun but couldn’t reach. “Caroline!”
“I’m sorry, sir!”
The mantis man hissed again and brought its giant head to bear on him, teeth things snapping open and shut, and Cave almost thought he recognised the eyes of one of his lab boys. Maybe lab boys just shared eyes with praying mantises, though. He wouldn’t put it past them. Always doing sneaky things behind his back. He reached out to shove the head away, but the mantis was a lot stronger than he was and overpowered him. “Caroline!”
“Hang on, sir!”
There was a bang and all of a sudden the mantis’s head exploded. Trying not to think about what was now all over his face, Cave scrambled backwards along the floor, snatching up the gun as he went, until his back was to the wall. Then he looked up at Caroline, wiping his face off with the handkerchief in his breast pocket. She was shaking very badly, still holding the rifle in the direction of the mantis man who was now lying, headless, on the floor. “You’ve never fired a gun before?”
“Well, you seem to have the hang of it. Let’s take the rest of these guys out.” He stood up, stuffing the handkerchief back into his pocket, and aimed the rifle into the darker recesses of the lab. “Come on, Caroline.”
The two of them inched their way into the room, and when it got too dark to see they spread out, searching for another light. This time Cave found it, and when they were able to see again, what they saw made them freeze in shock.
The back of the lab was filled with hissing, snarling, gigantic mantis men, even bigger than the one that Caroline had taken out.
“Oh… my… God…” Caroline whispered. “Sir, I… is there a plan B? Please say there’s a plan B.”
“Of course there is, Caroline! I’ve always got a plan B! And a plan CDEFG to be safe. Come on!” He threw the gun aside and made for the door.
“Coming, sir!” Caroline dropped her own rifle and ran after him, but after a few seconds he realised she probably wouldn’t make it. He stopped, waited for her to catch up, and grabbed her arm. He twisted it behind her back.
“Sir, ow, what are you – “
“Trust me, Caroline,” he yelled heroically, and he threw her out the nearest window. Hoping the drop wasn’t too far, since he had yet to make his prerecorded message for when the test subjects came in, he jumped out himself.
And landed on top of Caroline. Not a bad position, all things considered.
“Sir, get off me!” she yelled, pushing at him with both hands. Disappointed, Cave hoisted himself off of her. She struggled into a sitting position, brushing her hair out of her face. “Sir, I’m – did you just throw me out a window without knowing what would happen?”
“It was either that or let you get eaten by those mantis men. Pick your battles, Caroline,” Cave told her, annoyed. He had just saved her life, for God’s sake, you’d think she’d be a bit more grateful.
“That’s true,” Caroline nodded slowly, looking up at the shattered window. It seemed they had fallen into one of the unfinished testing tracks. “Thank you, sir.”
Not quite what he’d been looking for, but it was a start. “Let’s get going, Caroline.” He stood up, waited for her to do so, and eventually stuck out a hand to help her. For someone so efficient, she was taking a really long time.
Caroline, however, was frozen. “Sir, look!” She pointed up at the window. Following her finger, Cave saw the beady little eyes of a mantis man staring right at them, and all of a sudden their departure was a little more urgent than it had been previously. He grabbed her arm, yanked her to her feet, and pulled her along behind him. “Let’s get going, Caroline,” he repeated more loudly, and the two of them ran to the elevator. After they reached administration, the two of them ran all the way to Cave’s office, everyone in the hallways looking at them like they were completely bananas, and when they got to his office, Cave threw himself behind his desk and began searching madly in a drawer for his tape recorder. “Caroline, for God’s sake close that door!” he yelled.
“I’ve already closed it, sir,” she panted, and he looked up to see that she had plastered her back to the door as if it were about to fall down. “What are you looking for?”
“My tape recorder! Help me find it, Caroline, I need to record this message, now!”
“The tape recorder was with my files!” Caroline shrieked. “Sir, you’re going to have to borrow one from someone else!”
“Why were you carrying my tape recorder?”
“You told me to, sir! You told me to take it so you could record messages on the fly!”
“Don’t let me do that again. Go and get one from somewhere else.”
Caroline eyed the door uneasily. “But sir…”
“No mantis man would want to eat you, you’re far too skinny. Go get one.”
Caroline blinked. “I suppose that’s true…” She opened the door and left, returning after a few more minutes. When she got back Cave was regarding the diploma on his wall. Just what was chaos theory, anyway? “You got one?”
“Yes, sir.” She handed it to him, rubbing absently at her leg. Maybe she bruised it when she fell out the window? That was kind of inconsiderate of her.
“Alright. Here goes.” He cleared his throat and pressed the record button. Remembering where he left off, he continued, “Those of you who volunteered to be injected with praying mantis DNA, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Bad news is, we’re postponing those tests indefinitely. Good news is, we’ve got a much better test for you! Fighting an army of mantis men. Pick up a rifle and follow the yellow line… you’ll know when the test starts.”
“Oh sir,” Caroline smiled when he’d shut the recorder off and given her the tape to put in the system, “that is a much better solution to the problem.”
“Of course it is. I thought of it. Go tell whoever’s in charge of that test to gather the rifles. We’ll have the experts clear these things out for us. I’m pretty sure my diploma doesn’t cover mutants. Or idiotic lab boys.”
“I understand, sir.” Caroline turned to leave, clutching the tape in her left hand.
“Yes, sir?” She really was pretty as a postcard, too, he thought. He wondered if she actually was as married to science as she claimed.
“Good job out there.”
“Thank you, sir,” she beamed. “You did very well yourself.”
He wanted to tell her he was also pretty good at a lot of other things, but decided it could wait and waved her off. He stood up, stuffed his hands into his pockets, and looked out his office window at the many, many test subjects being escorted onto his property.
It was time to make some science.