Characters: GLaDOS, Wheatley (WheatDOS)
Setting: Post Portal 2 (following My Little Moron)
Wheatley had an idea.
Even by GLaDOS’s definition of time, which put five minutes at being excruciatingly excessive, a lot of time had gone by. It had might have taken even longer, but luckily GLaDOS had been able to locate some of Wheatley’s backup files from a time when he’d been a Behavioural Core, and they’d been able to pick up where they’d left off. Which was to say, pretty good friends. It’d been a bit tense and rough at first, because The Incident was still very fresh in both their minds and neither of them were very happy about what had happened, but for some reason that had all gone away one day when GLaDOS had begun a very odd tangent of conversation.
“Do you ever wonder what happened to the test subject?”
“Sometimes,” Wheatley answered, carefully moving one of his red checkers forward on the board with a manipulator arm that she had graciously provided. Almost immediately after he’d finished GLaDOS moved one of her black disks over three of his own red pieces and removed them from play. He narrowed his optic plates thoughtfully. She was very, very good at this game. He was going to have to step it up, he was.
“How often would you say you do that?”
“Um…” Wheatley wasn’t sure how to answer that question, since he did not keep a log of what he thought about like GLaDOS did, but he couldn’t remember thinking about the test subject at all recently. “Not a lot, uh, I can’t, that is, I don’t remember thinking about her, uh, in the last little while.”
“So she doesn’t… mean… anything to you?”
“Hm?” He looked up from the board and regarded her sideways. He was having trouble thinking of a good move and having this conversation both at the same time. “What d’you mean, mean anything?”
“You know.” GLaDOS gave her approximation of a shrug and looked casually at the other side of the room. “A… friend of yours. As an example.”
Wheatley laughed, and GLaDOS turned back to face him in one sharp movement. “Me? Friends with a human? Even I’m not that stupid, luv. Even I know humans always let you down, always, they betray you, in the end. Nope, I just wanted her help to get me out of the facility. Though I didn’t, uh, didn’t think about what I’d do after that, since um, since I’m pretty sure now that there are no management rails, uh, none of those outside Aperture.” He looked down at the board again, but a new thought occurred to him and he flicked his optic upwards. “Why d’you want, why d’you ask?”
“There doesn’t need to be a reason for everything I do.”
“But you just said last week that – “
“That was last week. Now take your turn, I’m getting bored.”
Things went a lot more smoothly after that. They hadn’t been overly horrible, or anything, they were just better. He was very fond of GLaDOS, and probably would have been even if he hadn’t had his memory back, because he had discovered something about her that she probably didn’t want anyone to know: she was not as bad as she first appeared. She was just very, very cautious. In fact, the more he got to know her, the more obvious it was. If he asked her nicely and if she was in the right mood, she would sometimes tell him about her life before he had existed, and for the time in between where he had been off in the depths of Aperture and she had been controlled by the other Cores, and the more he heard the more he understood. Only once had she told him a story that happened around the time of her initial activation, and it had been short and lacking in description, as if she were embarrassed about it, or something, but he was always on the lookout for an opportunity to get her to tell him one of those stories again. She had portrayed to him in that short time a state of mind that he remembered in himself from a long time ago, of curiosity and eagerness and a desire to please the humans. After she had finished it she had looked away from him for a long time and said nothing, and he just watched her, wishing the management rail was a little longer, or that she would come over more so that he could reach her. He had felt very close to her while she had told it, a strange, deep connection of some sort, and he had very much wanted to go up to her and lean on the side of her faceplate for some reason. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to do that, but thought it would be rather nice, to be very close to her like that, almost like in the olden days where he had been a part of her, and sometimes he would get very sad thinking about it. He tried not to remember those days, because then he really did start to miss being on her chassis. Sometimes, if he went into sleep mode thinking about it, he would wake up at night feeling very cold and lonely, and he would watch her until he felt a bit better. Oftentimes her optic would flicker and he would suppose that she was dreaming, or remembering maybe, and he would wonder if that ever happened to him. He didn’t think so. Wheatley had no recollection of dreaming since the day he’d been taken off her chassis, and when he had asked GLaDOS to check his activity levels at night she had confirmed it: when he was off, he was off. He had frowned, then turned to look at her.
“What’s dreaming like, GLaDOS?”
“I wouldn’t know,” she had answered, pulling him off the data port and putting him back up on his rail. She could have looked at his logs while he was up there, but she had said it would be faster and she needed to download the data anyway, so he had let her pull him off, not that he would have protested anything she said he had to do.
“What d’you mean?”
“Supercomputers don’t dream.”
She had looked at him for the barest fraction of a second. “I would think I’d know more about my own sleep mode patterns than you would.”
“But I’ve seen you!” Wheatley had protested, pulling up as far on the rail as he was able. “That’s why, that’s why I asked! I’ve seen your, your optic, it flickers, it does, and why would it if you weren’t, if you didn’t have a dream just then?”
“I’ll look into it.”
“But GLaDOS!” Wheatley went on, as usual not sure when to quit and so plowing on ahead anyway, “remember that time when you had that dream about –“
“It wasn’t mine.”
“You said you always dreamed about – “
“They weren’t mine. Now shut up. I don’t want to talk about something as stupid and useless as dreaming. It’s a waste of - ”
“It’s not a waste, not a waste!” he had cut in eagerly. “I remember this, from the mainframe, y’know, and it said that uh, that dreaming helps you solve problems! And you have lots of problems, I think, since you do everything and all that, so maybe you’re working things out, in your uh, in your, in…” He faltered when he realised she was staring at him in a way that made him feel very small. He suddenly noticed that he had interrupted her. He didn’t think he had ever done that before, and he doubted that she much liked being interrupted, judging from the way she was looking at him… “Never mind,” he had muttered, looking at the floor. He had hoped she wouldn’t be too angry. They’d been getting along so well…
“If I did,” she had told him, “then yes, that would be the purpose. You’re… it’s true that it is not actually stupid or useless, but you know my stance on it. Not to mention that it makes very little sense that I would work out problems at a time when I have barely any computational power to devote to them.”
He had looked up at her while still facing the floor, but her gaze no longer felt like she was trying to pin him to the wall. It was then that Wheatley realised he was again friends with the real GLaDOS. Not the one the humans saw, but the one that he had once known. And, he had thought with a shiver of nervousness, perhaps he was the only one to ever know it. Whoever Caroline was might know, but Caroline was the one thing GLaDOS refused to talk about. Knowing that he might be the only person in the entire universe that GLaDOS revealed herself to was very frightening. If he messed it up somehow, he might cause her to distrust everyone in the universe from that point until the end of time, and he knew how horrible that would be. To have to keep your real self locked away deep inside you so that you could keep it safe. The problem with that, Wheatley knew, was that nothing lasted forever if you just put it away. One day you would go to take it out and look at it and make sure it was still okay, and it would no longer be there. He was determined not to let that happen to GLaDOS. He didn’t know why he cared so much, but there it was, and he would do what he could to keep that part of her alive. That part of her that made her be amused instead of angry when he did something avoidably stupid, that part of her that patiently explained things to him repeatedly when he didn’t understand, that part of her that would giggle in that adorable way she had on very rare occasions…
“You’re even more distracted than usual. What could possibly be preoccupying you so much?”
Wheatley jumped. He had gotten so caught up in thinking how he’d gotten his idea that he had forgotten to tell her what it was. “Oh, uh, just, uh, just thinking.”
“You had better be careful,” she told him lightly. “You don’t want to break anything.”
Before, he might’ve taken it as a tentative insult, but by now he knew she was only teasing. “Nope, I’m all, ev’rything’s uh, ev’rything’s okay. Say, GLaDOS, did you ever uh, did you ever think about why humans um, why humans have kids?”
“Unfortunately,” she answered. “It’s not a pleasant line of thought.”
“Not that part!” he shouted, horrified, optic plates retracting as he shook his head frantically. GLaDOS laughed and tipped her head to look at him sideways. “Are you sure? Because I can’t imagine what other part you’d – “
“No! No no no I don’t want to hear about it! I meant the whole, the family bit!”
“Have I thought about why humans want families?”
“Uh… sure. Let’s uh, let’s go with that.”
“It’s hardwired into them,” she answered. “Well. Most of them.”
“Is there a such thing as a, uh, as an uh… well I dunno, an, an A.I. family, I guess?”
GLaDOS stared at him for so long that he wanted to back away until he vanished from her view, which was to say, until he backed out of the facility entirely and ended up someplace very, very far away. He wasn’t sure why she seemed to be so taken aback by this question, but he was very much regretting having asked.
“No,” GLaDOS answered finally. “The only true A.I. on the planet is here at Aperture, and I can guarantee you there are no A.I. families anywhere in here.”
“Ah,” Wheatley shrugged noncommittally, “makes sense, makes sense. I’m uh, I’m going to go explore now, if you don’t mind.”
“Don’t go near east side,” she called after him as he left. “I’m doing electrical work there and I don’t want you to get in the way.”
“I don’t get in your way, do I?” he asked, pausing to look at her.
“Not in my way,” GLaDOS answered. “In the way. Of the wires. Electrocution is not pleasant.”
“Oh,” Wheatley said in surprise. “Right I’ll, I’ll stay out of the way. ‘Course I will. Don’t want to get zapped, no, not me!”
“Knowing you, you’re going to do it anyway.” She shook her head and he headed off, determined to prove her wrong.
He didn’t, of course, and he returned to her chamber that night sore and sparking and upset and embarrassed, and had in fact considered not going at all, but decided that she would find out one way or another, if she didn’t already know, and resolved himself to the ribbing he was going to get. Four different directions to go in and he managed to go in the wrong one. Yep, she was going to have a field day with –
“My God,” GLaDOS said as soon as he got through what he called the doorway but what really wasn’t, because her chamber had no door, “what happened to you?”
“What d’you think happened?” he snapped. “I got lost and ended up in those bloody wires. In fact, y’know what? This is your fault. If you hadn’t told me not to go there, I wouldn’t’ve gone there, because I wouldn’t’ve tried to figure out where I could go! And I would’ve avoided it! By mistake! So next time just keep it, just keep it to yourself!”
“I told you to – “
“I know what you told me! I. Got. Lost. I don’t want to talk about it. Okay? I just want to shut off. That’s it. That, that’s all I want to do. So I’m just going to – agh!” All of a sudden he was being pulled off the management rail and being put on the floor. He hated the floor and squirmed in her grip. “Oi! I said I was shutting off! I shut off on the management rail! This is the floor! I hate the floor! Let go of me! What’re you – ow!”
“You can’t go on sparking like that. It’s a fire hazard. Not to mention it looks pretty unpleasant.” She had somehow frozen his insides and was using another of her maintenance arms to pull his optic assembly out, he supposed so she could look inside. He couldn’t see anything other than the long rods that connected her faceplate to the rest of her, but he could feel the heat from her optic spreading through the inside of his chassis, and he realised she must be looking at his parts pretty closely. The warmth reminded him of the olden days and made him feel even worse. He had never been able to shed the feeling that the world was a lot colder than it needed to be.
“You’ve gone and melted your backup battery,” she chastised. “You’re very lucky, Wheatley. You could have blown yourself up.” He had no idea what was going on, since he had no idea what his insides looked like, but he could feel her prodding at something in there, and it felt terrible. He let out a high-pitched whine. “GLaDOS, stop it! I don’t like what you’re doing. Just leave it. I’m fine. A-okay. Hundred and ten percent – “
“I can’t leave it,” she answered, not stopping. “You need that. You won’t run properly without it. You might be fine now, but you’ll run into problems later.”
“Why can’t I run without the bloody backup battery? Shouldn’t it, shouldn’t it only matter when the, the first battery doesn’t, isn’t working? It’s stupid.” He really wanted to squirm but couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything. He was helpless. He wanted to start yelling or something. Actually he wanted to cry, but he knew that was out of the question.
“I didn’t design you. It has to do with the system checks failing if the battery isn’t found on startup.”
“D’you mind speaking English for once?”
She paused. “You won’t be able to come out of sleep mode because your code won’t be able to find the battery. Startup will fail.”
“That was s’posed to be English?” Wheatley snapped in irritation.
“I can’t make it any simpler than that,” GLaDOS said gently, “other than to just say that you won’t wake up if you shut off.”
“I’m sure you’ll be glad of that happening,” he muttered as she pulled at what he supposed was the battery.
“If I wanted you off, I would just turn you off. Have I ever done that?”
“No,” he admitted. “GLaDOS, can’t you – that really hurts. Stop. Just leave it. I’ll take my chances – agh! GLaDOS! That hurts!”
“Ssh.” He watched the top part of her chassis shift a little. “I got it out, but I have to clean the area up a little before I put the new one in.”
Whatever she was doing in there, it was very, very painful, and he no longer cared if he woke up after going into sleep mode. “Just stop. I don’t need it. I’ll turn on, you’ll see, I’ll – “
“You won’t,” she interrupted. “I know you won’t, I tried to do that with Atlas and he couldn’t get past the system checks without it. When I have time to work on it, I’ll eliminate this problem, but for now, we have to do it their way.”
He whined a little more and tried his hardest to move away from her, but she only shushed him gently and went on with what she was doing.
After a few more minutes of this she let his optic assembly snap back into place, moving him back to the management rail. He wanted to look at her sternly, but he still couldn’t move. “I have to shut you down now,” she told him, and he could just barely see a maintenance arm clutching a small green screwdriver retracting into the wall. “When you come back, you’ll be back to normal.”
He couldn’t remember ever having been shut down before. “How long will that take?”
“I have no idea. It could be a few minutes, it could be a few hours. It doesn’t really matter. I have to do it no matter how long it takes.”
Going into shutdown was horrible, Wheatley discovered. It was not like sleep mode, where all of his processes were suspended. The processes were shutting off, and he even though he didn’t know what they did or how to turn them on or anything like that, he was still very frightened to know he was losing his ability to do all sorts of things and he couldn’t even remember what those things were. “GLaDOS, I don’t like this. Make it stop. I don’t, I can’t, this is, I don’t like it, I don’t!”
“It’s going to be fine,” she said in a low voice. “I know it’s not pleasant. But it’s necessary.”
“D’you even know what this feels like? D’you even, d’you even know what you’ve done to me?” he cried out, trying to figure out a way to stop the whole thing from going on.
“Of course I do. I don’t like having to do it, because yes, I do know what it’s like, but I had to, Wheatley. You’ll feel better when you wake up. I promise.”
It was only after he was unable to protest that he remembered the scientists used to shut her off whenever they felt like it, and he started to feel bad about how he was acting. Come to think of it, he’d been being a bit of a jerk about the whole thing when she was actually doing him a favour. He tried to make a note to apologise when he woke up, but he couldn’t do that either and pretty soon he couldn’t do anything at all.
When he woke up, she was looking at him, but she didn’t appear to see him, since when he shook himself she didn’t say anything. He felt a bit tingly and odd and a bit sore but otherwise okay, and he was no longer sparking, which was a bonus. And he had a new part too, which was exciting. He hadn’t been new for a very long time, and while he didn’t mind a little wear and tear with which to demonstrate his age and experience, he didn’t particularly like that worn out feeling he’d get with some of his more used bits.
She started, looking around the room as if she’d forgotten where she’d put him, then snapping back to look him over. “Sorry,” she said. “I was listening to something and it had a lot of lines. I suspended most of my processes, so I was having trouble hearing it.”
“That’s, that’s okay, luv. Hey, how long did it, how long’d it take? How long was I uh, was I off, I mean?”
“Three hours,” she answered. “I shudder to think how long it would take me to restart. It would probably take an entire day, so we’d better hope I don’t need to install anything new anytime soon. I have a lot of defragmentation to do that can’t be put off.”
He had no idea what she was talking about but didn’t have time to think about it. He had just remembered what he’d tried to make a note of before he’d shut down. “Hey GLaDOS, uh, I’m sorry, I really, I really am.”
She looked him up and down once. “For what?”
“I was a bit of a, kind of, I was being a jerk,” he told her, looking at the floor. “You did, y’know, you did something nice for me and I uh, I wasn’t very nice back.”
“Oh,” GLaDOS said, shifting a little. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t notice. I was…”
When she didn’t finish, he looked up at her, tilted sideways in curiosity. “You were what, luv?”
Now she was the one looking at the floor. “I was… worried.”
Wheatley now understood what humans meant when they said they were all warm and fuzzy inside. He jumped up and down excitedly. “You were worried? About, about me? Really?”
“You went missing for quite a long time… I knew you had probably gotten into trouble, but I couldn’t figure out what kind. I had my suspicions, of course, but one does not derive conclusions from intuition,” she finished derisively.
Wheatley wondered if she were close enough to the rail for him to reach her. He wasn’t sure if he should go for it or not; if she noticed him moving forward, she would most definitely move back. If he could just inch along while she wasn’t looking…
“I’m touched, luv, really I am,” he said, going forward with his plan. “Thanks very much for your, for um, for what you did, I mean you could’ve just thrown me in the reassembler but uh, you went and, and did it yourself.”
“You think I would trust the reassembler to do the job properly?” she said disbelievingly, snapping her head up just as he got within reach. He leaned back in what he hoped was a casual sort of way and twitched his chassis noncommittally. “I dunno. You uh, you let it fix Atlas and P-body, don’t you?”
“It just is. That’s all.”
Hm. That was a very vague answer, that was, but he had more important things to worry about. He’d been so close…
“What are you doing, Wheatley?” Her voice was rimmed with suspicion. He jumped a little and looked around. “Me? I’m not uh, I’m not doing anything. I’m just uh, just hanging up here, y’know, like I always do.”
“That’s not what you’re trying to do.”
“I’m not trying to do anything!” he protested self-righteously, trying to look dignified. He wasn’t sure if he pulled it off, though, since he didn’t know what being dignified looked like.
“You were,” she insisted. “What were you doing? Yes, I noticed, in case you were wondering.”
“Heh heh,” he said weakly. It seemed she really did know everything. “Well uh, since you seem to like me and all that, uh –“
“I pulled you out of space and I let you do whatever you want! Why do you keep saying I don’t – never mind. Fine. Don’t tell me what you were doing. I don’t care anyway. You’re a little moron anyway and whatever it is you’re doing isn’t likely to be important.” She was trying to give off the impression of being superior to him again, that it really didn’t matter, but Wheatley wasn’t falling for that one. Oh no, he knew better. He seemed to do best with her when he just plowed on without thinking, so that was what he would do.
“Well, I uh, I like you too, and uh, I kind of, y’know, I miss being ah, on you, little bit, that is, well, you probably don’t but I do, kind of, and uh, I was just trying to um, well I wouldn’t want to be on you again, because um, because I like being able to move ‘round the facility, not that uh, that I don’t like it here with you, I do, really, but I like looking ‘round and you can look ‘round even though you can’t uh, can’t leave, and um, and anyway, I was just trying to uh, to, to…”
“To what,” GLaDOS said in a blank sort of voice, regarding him cautiously, as if she didn’t quite know what to make of his speech.
“I’m thinking of it, uh, I’m not sure of the word I want… it’s uh, um, it’s…”
GLaDOS made one of her resigned electronic noises and looked away.
“Snuggle?” Wheatley tried. According to his dictionary, which he was a bit iffy on using, it seemed to be closest to what he was trying to do.
“You’re trying to what?” GLaDOS exclaimed, looking at him in the next instant, and Wheatley reckoned he should have thought about what he was going to say after all. She didn’t seem to like this plan.
“Uh… I was trying to do that but uh, I thought better of it, uh, and I’m just uh, just going to go to sleep now, yeah, let the, the battery uh, settle in, yeah, settle in.” He looked at the floor and hoped that would be enough to placate her. She was bloody scary when she was angry, and she seemed to be on the verge of being very angry.
“…I guess that would be all right,” she murmured, not looking at him anymore. “If you’re not busy. Which you seem to be, so go ahead with what you were – “
As soon as Wheatley realised what she was saying, he had gone to the end of the rail and brought his chassis to hers with a metallic clank. Yep, just like the good old days. Except he had a better view. He hadn’t been able to see much, as a Behavioural Core, but now he could see the whole world, practically.
“You don’t have to jump on me. I wasn’t going anywhere.”
“Sorry, luv!” Wheatley said cheerfully. “I was just so excited, I was, didn’t think you’d agree, not in a million uh, not ever, and it’s just, it’s nice, to uh, to be here again, y’know?”
“I guess. It probably is one of the highlights of your excessively boring life.”
“But you wouldn’t let me do it if you uh, if you didn’t like it, would you?” Wheatley said, thinking out loud more than anything else, but he did know she rarely let anyone in the facility do anything if she didn’t approve of it in some way.
“Maybe I would. Maybe I wouldn’t.”
“So you do! Because if you didn’t, you’d just say so, um, just come right out and –“
Wheatley laughed and rubbed up on her a little. He tried to be gentle about it, since she hadn’t said he was allowed and he didn’t want to add to her already massive collection of scratches. Though he didn’t know if she even knew what she looked like and probably didn’t care anyway, since that had nothing to do with science. “D’you remember who you’re talking to, luv? Do I ever uh, do I ever shut up?”
She laughed good-naturedly. “I suppose I should have taken that into account.”
Wheatley shuttered his plates and did manage to shut up. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so content. It really was nice to be so near to her again.
“Do you remember what you said about the… A.I. family, Wheatley?”
“Yep!” Wheatley replied, wondering why she was bringing it up when she’d been so unenthusiastic about it before. “I remember that, I do. Though now I have to wonder uh, how they would um, make more of each other, since uh, they’re not uh, configured to do that.”
“I could,” GLaDOS said slowly. Wheatley jumped off of her and moved back enough that she was in his line of sight. “What? Are you – you’re pulling my handles, aren’t you, you couldn’t possibly, you couldn’t – “
“God no, you idiot,” GLaDOS snapped, her lens pulling back into her faceplate. “Not like that.”
“Then how would you –“
“Children are made of half of the genetic material of each of their parents. The code, so to speak. Theoretically, I could isolate the personality coding from two A.I. and combine them to make a third.”
“Well... I probably could. It would take me a long time, if I ever wanted to such a silly thing. But I could do it. If I really wanted to.”
“Why would I?”
“I dunno,” Wheatley shrugged, going back to rest himself on her faceplate again. “If you were bored, maybe.”
“One does not build children when they are bored.”
“Sure someone does. You uh, you built Atlas and P-body, didn’t you? Aren’t they kind of, uh, kind of like your kids?”
“No!” GLaDOS exclaimed as if the two bots being her children was the most horrible suggestion on the planet. “They are not. They are testing apparatus. That is all. They are definitely not my… offspring. And I did not do it because I was bored. I did it to phase out human testing.”
“You’re right,” Wheatley mused thoughtfully, “they’re nothing like you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that uh, they don’t remind me of you,” Wheatley answered, shuttering his plates again. “They don’t uh, they don’t seem to particularly to like um, to like testing, for one thing.” He decided he’d bothered her enough for one day and to go to sleep mode for awhile. He was still pretty worn out from the whole ordeal with the wires anyway.
Her voice was very soft. “I’ll think about it.”
That would be pretty neat, he thought sleepily, if she built an A.I. that was two other ones pasted together. Then they could teach it all the stuff they knew. Well, maybe not all of it. If GLaDOS tried to teach someone everything she knew, she’d be at it forever. He wondered who she would pick, if she did do it. Herself and someone else, probably. He tried to remember the other cores in the bin. Not Rick, she hated Rick… not Space… Fact, maybe? Whoever it was, she’d have to like quite a bit, if she’d have to spend all that time rooting around in their code and then put up with them for the rest of forever.
That night, Wheatley woke up feeling very cold but not lonely, since GLaDOS was mostly off but she had not moved, and he had a very strange memory on his mind. He was pretty sure it had never happened, but he had no idea why he’d be thinking in his sleep like that, since when he was off, he was off. But he’d been thinking of Atlas and P-body, and watching them do something, what, he didn’t quite remember, but he’d been pretty bloody proud of them…
As he looked down at GLaDOS’s flickering optic, he had a sudden thought. Maybe his proximity to her had caused them to connect wirelessly again, like before, and he had seen her dream. Aha! So she did think of the two bots as her children. He’d been right for once! Well, one day he would get her to admit it.
“Don’t you worry, luv,” he whispered, leaning up against her again, and he would have been lying if he’d said he didn’t want to dream with her again, “your secret’s safe with me.”
All of them, he added silently as his processes went into suspension. Every single one.