Wheatley paced back and forth in front of Henry’s office, gnawing on his right thumbnail. Of all the days for Henry to take his time…
When he’d arrived home, Wheatley had tossed and turned for hours before rolling out of bed – literally, he’d rolled right onto the floor and smacked his head on the nighttable – and dug around in his work bag, his jacket pocket, and yesterday’s jeans for his cell phone. He’d finally found it on the floor, but after confusedly stabbing at the keyboard for a few minutes, he discovered the battery was dead. As usual. He’d hurriedly plugged it into the charger and tripped down the stairs, heading for the kitchen. Two pieces of burnt toast and a bowl of soggy oatmeal later, he’d gone back upstairs to discover that the battery was still dead. Puzzled, he’d picked the charger up and inspected it, since it’d seemed pretty much working the last time he’d used it, shoving aside an annoying dangling cord hanging from the back of it. He put it back down and jammed the phone back into the charger. That was when he noticed the little green light wasn’t on, so he went to check the… oh. Oh, that was what the cord was for…
Twenty anxious minutes later, he’d got the phone charged enough that he could make a call, and he’d dialled Henry. He hadn’t answered on the first ring, nor the second or the third, and Wheatley was about to make three more calls and then give up when he answered on the eighth ring.
“What in the world do you want?” Henry screamed into Wheatley’s ear, and Wheatley was so startled that he dropped the phone on the floor and sent the battery flying across the room. After pulling it out from underneath his dresser with a fistful of missing change and more than a few cobwebs, he jammed it back into the phone and called Henry yet again.
“Sorry, mate,” he muttered apologetically. “Look, I need you to get into work early this morning. I have something I need to talk to you about. Urgently. Like, right now urgently. Well, five hours ago urgently, but right now’ll do, right now’ll do. ‘cept we gotta talk uh, face to face. So… can you head off to work, if you don’t mind?”
“This better be damn important,” Henry muttered, and Wheatley took that as a yes and ran down the stairs, managing to only trip over the bottom three.
And now Wheatley was adding to the black streak on the floor in front of Henry’s office, which had begun back when Wheatley had been hired and had latched onto Henry as a mentor of sorts.
After another twenty minutes, Henry finally showed up, with a decidedly unhappy look on his face, but Wheatley barely noticed. “Let’s duck in here, mate,” he said, shoving Henry into his office and pulling the door shut behind him. Henry sighed and dropped his leather satchel onto the desk with a heavy clunk.
“What is it now, Wheatley?” he asked tiredly, well used to Wheatley’s late night urgent missions.
“I need you to get me on the team that works on GLaDOS.”
Henry laughed so hard he had to brace himself on the desk to stop from collapsing onto the floor. “You? Work on GLaDOS? Are you out of your mind?”
“Henry… I…” He wasn’t sure he wanted to reveal his doings last night, but he really didn’t have a choice. “I woke her up last night.”
Henry abruptly stopped laughing and stared at him as if his head was on fire. He rubbed at it self-consciously, just in case it was.
“What the – Wheatley, you know you’re not allowed in here at night.”
“I know, I know,” Wheatley cut in, raising his hand to stop Henry before he elaborated further. “But… well, you know ‘bout what you said, ‘bout the whole uh, the um, the impartial observer thing?”
“What about it.”
“Well… I made an impartial observation. Henry, she’s… there’s someone in there. It’s not Caroline, that’s for sure, but… that’s not just a robot you’ve got there. I know it sounds crazy, I know that, but… look, just… two things, okay?”
“Go ahead.” Henry leaned against his desk and folded his hands together in front of them.
“First… put her in safe mode. You’ve got like eight million programs booting up with her, and… she’s confused. She doesn’t know what to do with them. If you uh, if you came in here and people just uh, just bombarded you with work on your very first day, well, you’d be right upset, wouldn’t you?”
“That makes sense,” Henry mused, his eyebrows coming together, “but only if the robot is… you know… actually alive.”
“She is,” Wheatley said urgently, leaning forward and clenching his fists. “She’s alive. I know it sounds weird, but think of it like this: you’re inside your body, right?”
“But your body’s not you, is it? No no, it’s just uh, the container you’re kept in! And she’s uh, she’s alive too, but her container is um, is a giant robot.”
“That… also somehow makes sense.” Henry shifted against the desk, placing his hands on the edge and heaving himself on top of it. “You said there were two things.”
“I have to be there when you wake her up. If only for a minute or two. Else she’ll just, she’ll go haywire again. She knows me. I can calm her.”
Henry regarded Wheatley for a long moment, rubbing at his nose thoughtfully. “I… guess I can make something up. If you screw up, though, it’s on you. I can get you in, but only you can keep yourself in.”
He nodded quickly. “I can do that, I can do that.”
So Wheatley stood off to the side, unnoticed, as the scientists bustled around with their clipboards, watching nervously as Henry quietly conversed with the white-haired scientist from the previous day. He hoped Henry would be able to convince him to do as Wheatley had asked.
He would stop watching them every so often to give the supercomputer a glance, but the more often he looked at her the less she looked like a supercomputer and more like some innocent, unsuspecting animal or something. He knew she wasn’t an animal, but she didn’t look quite human enough for him to compare her to one.
Finally, the white-haired scientist nodded and Henry turned to Wheatley, giving him a quick thumbs up. Wheatley forced a fleeting, nervous smile before stepping out of the corner and making his way around the edge of the room, now totally focused on GLaDOS. He would need to be near to her, in order to head off her panic before she’d quite begun. He didn’t want to think of what damage she might do to herself if she started trying to pull out of the ceiling again, now that she had a bit more control of her body.
There was no fanfare this time, just a drove of scientists weary of debugging watching as their program began to execute for the umpteenth time. Wheatley stood just out from under the platform over which she hung, hoping she would be able to see him. He didn’t want to call attention to his presence, not yet.
When she lifted her head, it was with much greater control than yesterday, and the scientists all nodded and jotted whatever notes they had on their clipboards. Wheatley gripped the edge of the glass and wished his heart would quit trying to leap out of him. A heart attack was all he needed right now.
GLaDOS slowly scanned the room with her great yellow eye, that raw intelligence very palpable to Wheatley, at least, and when she’d done that she hitched awkwardly backwards, facing them directly and keeping them all within her range of vision. Greg nodded in satisfaction. “Much better than yesterday,” he said, beginning to climb the stairs. “We just have to find out what happened.”
“I’d conjecture an overload,” Henry spoke up, and Greg stopped to look behind him, one hand wrapped around the railing. “We tried to run too much software at once.”
Greg rolled his eyes and faced GLaDOS again, who was now wholly focusing her attention on him. “Henry, to run them one at a time would take forever.”
“We’ll run them in batches,” the black scientist cut in. “No need to go to either extreme.”
Wheatley willed GLaDOS to stay calm as Greg approached, but if anything she seemed to be getting more anxious. She’d gone as far back as she could, and she kept trying to look behind her but couldn’t, since the rotator assembly didn’t allow her to turn her head more than a few degrees. “What’re you doing over there?” Greg asked, frowning as he stood at the edge of the railing nearest her. “Come here.”
She tried to look behind her again, but more quickly this time, as if she didn’t want Greg out of her sight. Wheatley could hear a mechanical whining that was growing in severity, and he realised she was still trying to back up. He blinked suddenly and snapped his attention to Greg.
If Greg didn’t back off, she was going to try to pull herself out of the ceiling again. If she got to that point, then they’d shut her off again and they really would poke around inside of her, when there was nothing wrong! They were just being a bit insensitive, was all.
“Come down here, I said,” Greg repeated, in a much louder voice, and she startled a little, beginning to shift her optic assembly very quickly between Greg and the group of scientists below. Wheatley decided now was the time to make his move and grasped the handrail, throwing his weight around it and hurtling almost headlong up the stairs. He shoved Greg out of the way and stepped to the handrail farthest from her.
“Hey. It’s me,” he said softly, and Greg opened his mouth to say something, what, Wheatley didn’t know, because one of the other scientists shushed him when GLaDOS visibly relaxed. She didn’t go so far as to come up to him, but she stopped straining against herself, at least. She did not stop watching the scientists.
“C’mere, girl,” he said, in the same soft voice, and she gave him a glance but didn’t move. Greg rolled his eyes and walked in front of Wheatley.
“This is ridiculous,” he spat, his face covered in red splotches. “You’re acting like it’s a puppy, or something.” He turned to face her again and demanded, “Come here!”
She began pulling back again, and Wheatley could clearly see she was distressed that she couldn’t move any farther. He wondered how it must feel, to see all these little creatures below you who could move wherever they liked, but to be constrained to the same twenty-foot circle no matter how hard you tried to leave it. Wheatley shoved himself off the railing and walked to the far side of the platform, where it curved around again, and he held his hand out. “C’mere, won’t you?” he asked, praying that she would. He had to calm her down. “C’mon, luv. It’s me, it’s Wheatley. You remember ol’ Wheatley, right, from last night? ‘course you do. C’mon. Come down from there. Just for a minute, how about that? You can go right back up there if you like, but later. Just for a second. Won’t be long, won’t be long. Give it a try, will you?”
She didn’t like this plan, he could tell, because from where he was standing she would no longer be able to see the scientists without turning away from him completely, but that was part of what he was trying to do. Get her focus off them and onto him. As long as she felt threatened, she would never calm down.
“Just for a second,” he repeated, scratching his nose. Then he had a bit of a brainwave and shoved up on his glasses, though for once they hadn’t slipped. She jolted a little bit, coming a tiny bit closer, and he smiled and nodded at her. “That’s a girl. Come on. C’mere.”
She looked uneasily at the scientists, though shifting her bulk in more of Wheatley’s general direction, and Wheatley leaned forward on the railing. “Nothing’s gonna happen, I promise, but you have to come over here,” he told her, and this time she looked at him for a good six seconds before eyeing the scientists again. Then she abruptly lost all interest in them and came down in front of Wheatley, who smiled and offered his hand. She shifted so that the two of them were touching, and he laid it alongside her core and stroked it a little bit with his thumb. “Good girl,” he said quietly. “Thanks for listening, eh? I know you didn’t want to, but I’m glad you did.”
“Okay, so we know you can do that,” Greg interjected, shoving on his left shoulder and turning him around, by extension moving his arm roughly from GLaDOS’s core, and she backed away, looking apprehensively at Greg. Annoyed, Wheatley pushed his hand away. “But that’s not important. How does she recognise you?”
“That was me,” Henry spoke up, and they turned to face him, both with disbelieving looks on their faces. “I couldn’t let it sit and had to get one more look last night. Didn’t want to come here myself, not at that hour, so I took Wheatley with me. I don’t know what he did, but as you can see it was obviously effective.”
“Oh, it was easy,” Wheatley said enthusiastically, stepping towards Henry. “Just had to uh, to be nice about it, is all. Too much all at once, that’s all it was, just frightened her right – “
“We didn’t ask,” Greg interrupted. Wheatley supposed that was true, but it didn’t stop him from crossing his arms and turning back to GLaDOS, staring at the floor and biting the inside of his lip.
“Wheatley’s right, though,” Henry continued, and Wheatley’s head snapped upright again. “We’ve built AI, gentlemen, but though the program’s running properly, it simply doesn’t have any experience with how things work to do what we need it to do just yet. I propose Wheatley be assigned to that.”
“Assigned to what?” the white-haired scientist called out. “What exactly is it he’s doing?”
Henry’s voice was firm. ”Basically? Teaching it as much as possible until it learns to learn on its own.”
“But that’s going to take forever!” Greg protested, slamming his hands against the railing, and GLaDOS jolted and shifted towards him, backing away a little more. “We don’t have that kind of time!”
“You haven’t got a choice,” Wheatley said in a low voice, looking up at GLaDOS with his head still tilted towards the floor. “You can argue and, and fight against it all you like, but the plain fact is she hardly knows anything, and yelling at her to do things isn’t going to, she’s still not going to know how to do them no matter how hard you yell. She might have all the, the programs and whatnot, but what computer knows how to activate its own programs?”
“This is stupid,” Greg muttered. “We needed this project at full functionality years ago.”
“And the longer you keep arguing, the longer it’s going to take,” Wheatley said heatedly, spinning to face Greg with his fists clenched, hard. “You’re not gonna speed anything up by pointing fingers!”
“What do you know?” Greg sneered, leaning into Wheatley’s face, and he unintentionally moved back. “You’re not even supposed to be here! You’re supposed to be tucked away in your corner, pretending you’re actually – “ The two of them backed away from each other then, covering their ears and wincing as GLaDOS generated a very loud, high-pitched dissonant sound, which lasted about ten seconds. When she’d finished, Wheatley unclenched his head and stared over at her in wonder. She was so smart, she was, she’d known they were arguing and had put a stop to it!
“Well, looks like our decision’s been made for us,” the black scientist spoke up. “Greg, let’s get started on phase two, shall we?”
The scientists began to filter out, pairing or grouping together and speaking in low tones, but Wheatley paid them no more attention than that. He stepped close to GLaDOS, both hands wrapped around the railing, grinning uncontrollably. “That was very clever of you,” he told her, and she moved around so that she was over top of the glass floor, lowering herself to be on his level. He turned and laid his hand on her core. “Hey. Listen.” He moved closer to her, though he was sure she would hear him just the same no matter where he was, seeing as she had audio pickups and not actual ears. “I’m… they’ve just told me I’m supposed to um, to teach you stuff, but uh, I’m no good at that, really I’m not. So we’re just gonna be… gonna be friends, you and me, and if you learn something along the way, well, good for you.”
She didn’t react to this, merely continued to watch him calmly, and Wheatley looked apprehensively at the desk in the corner, the weight of his task suddenly pressing on him. He was in charge of teaching GLaDOS things. But what? And where did he start? He’d gotten put on the GLaDOS project, but… what was his actual job?
He looked up at her, but she still hadn’t moved at all. “You wanna give me a hint, there?” he asked, even though she couldn’t answer him. “What d’you want to learn, old girl?”
He decided to go ask Henry. Henry usually had an idea of where Wheatley needed to begin large projects. He told GLaDOS he’d be right back and ran out of the room without tripping over anything. And when that happened, Wheatley could count a day as very promising indeed.