Portal: GLaDOS and Me
Characters: Wheatley, GLaDOS
Synopsis: Wheatley, hacker under the employ of Aperture Laboratories, somehow ends up on the GLaDOS Project. His job: To teach her until she’s able to learn on her own. But as happens with the best students, Wheatley ends up being the one learning the lessons… Core!GLaDOS, Human!Wheatley.
“There it is.”
“Why’ve you brought me here, anyway? I thought… I don’t have clearance for this project, Henry. We could both be in, well, things could go um, very badly for both of us.”
Henry slapped an arm around his shoulders and led him into the room. “You’ve got clearance today, Wheatley. Let’s go.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Wheatley noticed droves of scientists rushing back and forth, connecting and disconnecting long spools of wire, marking down notes on what seemed to be far too many clipboards, but what drew most of his attention was the… the… well, he wasn’t sure what to call it, but it was huge, upwards of forty feet long. It reminded him of a sleeping giant. Just hanging there, upside-down, waiting for… Wheatley swallowed hard, remembering the story about giants and Englishmen. That story ended well for the boy, he was pretty sure, but seeing as he was actually from South Wales, well, he’d best keep out of the way.
“Why’s it so big? Wouldn’t a computer’ve done?”
“Oh, there’s a computer in there,” Henry answered, scribbling across a clipboard he’d procured from someplace, “but we figured… well, Caroline’s used to having a body, and all.”
“So… she made it?” Wheatley whispered, having nowhere near the clearance to even know about that part of the experiment, but Henry had been happy to oblige Wheatley’s interrogation after one too many free drinks.
“We don’t know yet.”
“You didn’t do it while the computer was on?”
Henry shook his head. “It’s like surgery. You don’t add a new organ while the body’s awake, right?”
“But… where’re you going to put a new organ?” Wheatley asked, confused. “There’s no place in us to add more of them.”
“That’s not what the guys down in Human Physio tell me,” Henry said, winking, and Wheatley blanched. He did not need to hear that. He had never done well with the nastier side of things, and even the thought of someone cramming an extra organ into him made his stomach turn.
“So uh,” he said hurriedly, “so you decided to let me see the um, the whole, uh…”
“Yes, you get to see if the experiment worked,” Henry droned, chewing on the end of his pen. He was well used to guessing the ends of Wheatley’s sentences. “You’re the impartial observer.”
“We’re all going to be noting what happens, right?” Henry answered, waving in the general direction of the clipboard-wielding scientists. “But we’ve all got a stake in this. We’re going to say whatever makes us look good. But you have nothing to do with this. This has got nothing to do with hacking into Black Mesa’s mainframe. You’re the control group for the experiment, really. Just note down what you see,” and here he shoved a clipboard into Wheatley’s chest, “and turn it into us after you’ve written it up nicely.”
Wheatley grimaced and grasped the clipboard reluctantly, rubbing at his chest. His handwriting was so bad not even his mother could decipher it, let alone Wheatley. He hated it when he had to take notes.
“You done spelling things out to Wheatley, Hank?” Greg called, and Wheatley had to refrain from rolling his eyes. Just because he got a bit confused every now and then didn’t mean he was stupid.
“We’re good,” Henry called back, giving him a thumbs up. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Wheatley stood on the outside of the ring of scientists, which had been reduced to eight or so when he wasn’t looking, and again found his eye drawn to the construct hanging from the ceiling. He wondered how much it weighed. It looked dreadfully heavy. Didn’t really make sense why it was so huge, either. Surely a much smaller robot would’ve done the trick. He shrugged to himself and folded his arms, trapping his clipboard against his chest. Not like anyone cared what he had to say, anyway.
“Start ‘er up,” Greg shouted to someone behind Wheatley, and he turned, startled, to see a white-haired scientist tapping away at a computer in the corner. The scientist stood up straight, holding one arm horizontally across his chest and the other bent towards the keyboard, one finger touching some key or other.
“May God have mercy on us,” he intoned gravely, and everyone around Wheatley laughed as the finger dipped out of sight.
He turned back to the construct, heart picking up speed, and the room went silent. Then the primary hard disks began to turn, at first so slowly that it looked as if they were too heavy to move at all, then rotating at a higher frequency. The scientist in front of Wheatley elbowed the man next to him, turning to face him with a frown across his face.
“I thought we agreed to boot the fans first?”
The other man shrugged. “First, second, doesn’t matter.”
It was terribly strange, Wheatley thought, that they could actually hear the construct powering up; he imagined he could almost see the electricity rushing through the wires, spreading out into the various components, and starting them up. With a noise not unlike that of industrial fluorescent lights, the optic flared to life. It dimmed after a few seconds, and the construct twitched, but that was all.
“That’s… unexpected,” Henry muttered into Wheatley’s ear, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. He stared at Henry, eyes wide and heart in his throat, but Henry merely frowned down at his clipboard and then up at the construct.
“Doesn’t look like it worked,” Greg whispered to Henry. “She should’ve raised the chassis by now.”
Henry nodded. “Just a giant robot, then.”
“Well, we’ve got the DOS too.”
“They’re a dime a dozen. This was supposed to be the moon shot!”
“Shut it down, then?” called the scientist in the corner.
“Yeah. It didn’t work.”
Wheatley let the scientists flurry around him, muttering about how things never went the way they were supposed to, staring up at the robot and trying to breathe. He was getting an idea.
Wheatley was well known for his… misguided… insights, but surely they would listen to him this time. They had nothing to lose, right?
“Why don’t you help her along a bit?” he shouted to the scientist, who was already tapping away at the keyboard. “Maybe she doesn’t know how to uh… to lift it.”
“If she’d connected with the AI properly, she would,” the scientist said, rolling his eyes.
“Well… maybe the AI doesn’t know how to do it either,” Wheatley suggested. “Maybe they’re all confused and they don’t know what’s what, y’know?”
The scientist sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll do it if you shut up. Deal?”
“Sure,” Wheatley answered, turning around again.
With the grinding of gears and the whining of pistons, the lower half of the chassis lifted until it was almost parallel with the ground, and the scientist raised his hand in a ‘you see?’ position. “It doesn’t work. It – “
The chassis had shuddered once, halting the entire room as if they’d been flash-frozen, and there was a collective intake of breath.
“Send it another one,” Greg yelled. The scientist must have obliged, because the giant… head? Wheatley didn’t know what they were calling it - tilted thirty degrees, so that it was now hanging over them and staring down like some sort of disabled god.
“Come on,” Henry muttered, knuckles white around his clipboard. “We’re so close…”
All of a sudden the chassis fell to the floor as if it had suddenly broken, and they gasped and stepped backward. The construct started shaking its head violently, swinging back and forth, and Henry whispered, “Yes!” just as Greg squinted at it, saying, “What is it doing?”
“Caroline?” one of the scientists closest to the construct yelled, and it swung up until it was directly in line with the scientist and stared at him, unmoving. The scientist frowned. “What are you doing?”
Wheatley watched nervously as the great yellow light on the thing twitched unevenly over them, and he honestly got the impression the robot didn’t have any clue what it was doing. As if it was only doing these things because of the commands the scientist in the corner had sent it. As if all it knew how to do was what it had been told how to do.
“I’m getting independent movement outputs in the log!” the scientist in question called out. “It works!”
The scientists started cheering, putting their fists in the air and throwing their clipboards and congratulating one another, but Wheatley jumped, surprised at the sudden change in demeanour. He watched with growing trepidation as the construct first turned to one side of the room, then the other, then looked up at the ceiling and repeated the whole cycle over again. Then all of a sudden it started… well, he wasn’t actually sure what it was doing, but it almost seemed to be throwing itself out as far as it could…
“What in the hell – “ Henry said, baffled, not seeming to notice as a wayward clipboard bounced off the back of his head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
It swung back down to what Henry called the default position, slack towards the floor, and stayed like that for a few moments. Then it again resumed the throwing motion, and to Wheatley it seemed to be almost… desperate.
“What’s going on?” one of the scientists asked, a black man with a spray of curly black hair, and the scientist in the corner shrugged.
“I’m just getting movement outputs. Nothing else.”
That was when the noise started.
Wheatley had heard that one of the most grating sounds ever to cross human ears was fingernails on a chalkboard. Never actually having heard it, he nonetheless imagined that this noise was just like that, only ten times worse. It was eight or ten computer tones all at once, threaded heavily with static and wavering painfully from extremely high to extremely loud, all of them staggeringly dissonant. The scientists cried out and covered their ears, ducking away from it, and Wheatley’s heart revved up again as he watched, horrified, as the construct strained against itself, pulling outward as far as it could go. It writhed and jerked, the tones so loud it almost felt as though they were pressing down on them, and some of the scientists looked as though they might’ve been yelling. Wheatley couldn’t tell for sure because his hands were clenched around his own ears. It didn’t help, but it was a bit reassuring, at least. He squinted up at the straining construct, for the life of him unable to figure out what it was doing.
“Shut it off! Shut it off!” Henry screamed, and after a few more moments the noise cut off, the chassis dropping towards the floor, and Wheatley stood up straight and uncovered his ears as it gradually swung to a stop.
“Well, we made AI,” Greg said bitterly, picking up his clipboard and brushing it off, “but it looked like it was completely nuts! What the hell was that?”
Henry shook his head. “We’ll go over it. There’s gotta be something in the logs we can use to figure out what went wrong.”
Wheatley stood staring up at the construct, his throat very dry, until Henry came up behind him and smacked him on the back of the head with one of the clipboards. Wheatley winced, his face screwing up in pain, and he turned, raising a hand to the back of his head.
“Time to get going,” Henry said tiredly. “God, we’ve been working on this thing for so long. I just want to get it done. Why did this have to happen? You’d think something would go right, for once.”
Wheatley didn’t answer, following him out of the room as best he could, seeing as he was half-turned around so that he could keep his gaze on the still and silent machine in the centre of the room. Something wasn’t sitting quite right. He didn’t know what, or why, but he just had this feeling that they were missing something. Something important.