One of the best parts about their better friendship was that Gladys no longer had bad dreams. Even when things weren’t going so well, all she had to do was tell him, and he made it better. Sometimes, though, she would wake him up in the middle of the night ‘for old time’s sake’, and they would chat some more, and even though they spent all day talking they never seemed to run out of subjects. On these occasions she would still sing, but they were no longer sad songs, which he was very happy about. He was very glad to have had a real impact on her outlook on life. She never sang the same one twice, with one exception: she seemed to really like the one he had first heard her sing, and it seemed to fit her mood no matter what that happened to be. When he asked her why she liked it so much, she merely shrugged and did not answer.
The next morning, though, he had thought of something he needed to ask her about it. Oi, Gladys, y’know that song you like?
You know the part that goes, come fire come fire, let love come racing through?
What’s love, Gladys?
She did not answer for a very long time. He was sure it was longer than five minutes, which was far longer than she’d ever before taken to answer a question. That’s… a hard question to answer. I’d been waiting for you to bring it up, actually. I didn’t want you to, but I knew it would happen eventually.
Do your best, luv. Please?
Well… it’s a feeling humans have sometimes. Sometimes it’s for each other, or for an animal. Children can fall in love with objects. Adults can, but don’t do it very often.
What does it feel like?
I don’t know. But humans are willing to go to great lengths to feel it. Judging from their music alone, they would allow themselves to be brought pretty low for it. They’d even die for it, which makes no sense, but I suppose that’s how they’re trying to describe their devotion.
Wheatley was more confused than when they’d started. But how do they know when they’re in love, if you can’t describe it?
It seems to be generally accepted that when humans really love each other, they will do anything for each other. They do little things to make each other happy. They meet each other halfway. They think about the other all of the time. They identify themselves in personality tests with labels that describe their relationship to their significant other. I guess the best way to describe it is to say that they put themselves aside, and put the well-being of the other person first.
Wheatley thought about all of that for a minute. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? To be in love with someone, well, someone who loves you back, that is. Loving someone who doesn’t is kind of, kind of sad.
D’you ever think that someone might love you, Gladys?
What? Me? Gladys sounded like she’d just been hit with something very heavy. Of course not. I’m a supercomputer. Supercomputers don’t fall in love. Love is for humans. Nobody would ever love me because I’m not human. Not that I want a human to love me. That would be disgusting.
Well, Wheatley mused, having to admit that made sense, what if there was another supercomputer like you, only it was, I dunno, had male programming, I guess. D’you think he would love you?
No, Gladys said firmly. I don’t have time for that. Love makes you stupid, and I am not stupid. How am I supposed to do Science if I’ve got some supercomputer pining for my attention all the time? No thanks. I’ll pass.
Well if he loved you, he would know how important Science is to you. He would back off when you were busy, y’know, like I do. He would wait for you. Right?
You’re being ridiculous. And you’re building this theory on nonexistent data. So it’s irrelevant. I’m content with my life as it is, I don’t need something as unpredictable as – what is that?
What’s what, luv?
No. No, that’s not – oh god, it is. It is.
What is it? Is it bad? Wheatley looked around frantically, but he didn’t see any giant screwdrivers coming to dismantle her.
It’s the scientists, they’ve – no. That’s not fair. I compromised.
What are they doing, Gladys? Wheatley asked, trying not to sound too desperate, but it was bloody hard, listening to her lose control like that and being unable to know what was going on so he could help.
Oh god no, don’t do this to me
Do what, luv? What’s going on?
Damn it. I should have known better. Do something else. Do anything else. Just don’t do this. Don’t do this.
Oh god please, I’m happy now, please just let me be
What is it, Gladys? Let me help you!
Stop! No, don’t come closer. Leave him alone, leave my friend alone!
Wheatley didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but now it was getting bloody scary. Someone was coming to hurt him? Were they hurting Gladys too? Of course they were, that was what they were good at. There was a giant screwdriver, wasn’t there!
I hate you. I hate all of you. Do you remember your old friend, deadly neurotoxin? Well, I do. And you’re going to meet it just as soon as I figure out – Oh!
Wheatley looked around desperately as he was abruptly yanked off her port by a human who had suddenly appeared, and to his total surprise he finally caught a glimpse of what he had been attached to all this time.
A massive construct, all shining white, matte black, and gleaming steel, gazing at him impassively from behind a glowing yellow optic that looked nothing like his. She was huge. She was much, much bigger than he'd ever imagined she was, and he almost didn't believe it was her. He thought he was dreaming. He had never thought in a million years she would look like this, would never have come up with such a thing from the depths of his imagination. And god she was beautiful. She looked like a human, almost, but not human at the same time. It was an eerie sort of beauty, he thought, and he didn't think he would have been able to pull it off, if he were in her place. Only when she nodded once did he accept that the behemoth was his Gladys.
Gladys... you're... you're so... you look… well, you’re pretty, you are, y’know... and, and you're bloody massive, you are!
What are they doing, luv? I don't want to leave, I like it with you! What're they going to do with me now? They were plugging him into a new port, probably to prevent power loss or something, and he did his best to keep his optic locked on hers. They were taking him away. They were taking him away, and he’d never see her again. He had to keep his optic on her. He had to remember what she looked like, to remember her better.
I don't know what they do with the Spheres. They take them off and I never hear from them again. Her voice quavered just the tiniest bit. She was going to miss him, wasn't she? That was what the quaver had meant? He knew he was going to miss her. He missed her already, and he hadn't even left the room yet. He missed the warmth emanating from her body, missed the humming of the power coursing through her circuits, missed the whirring of her fans and the sound her processors made when he shut up enough to hear them. The world felt very different without the comfort of her chassis, very cold and alien. And lonely. He was scared, more scared than he’d ever been in his life. He honestly could not imagine being in a different room from her for one second, let alone forever. He twitched on his port, or tried to. His gear assemblies seemed to have been frozen.
Gladys, help me! I don't want to leave!
I've already helped you far more than you know. There's nothing more I can do. Her voice was level, and composed, but Wheatley knew that it was the tiniest bit higher than usual, and her body was moving slowly back and forth just enough to be noticeable. Wheatley, I...
She never said his name.
It's alright, luv, we'll think of a way out of this. We're friends, remember? These humans can't take that away from us. I'll always be your friend, Gladys. He was talking frantically, trying to calm himself down, trying to fight off the horrible feeling that he had to put as many words as he could into the next few moments because he was never going to see her again. Just like all the other Spheres, he was going to be taken away, and he was going to forget her...
I wish that were true.
It is! I'll come back one day, when you get rid of the humans! I promise! Deadly neurotoxin, and all that, right?
You'll be long gone before then.
Don't give up, Gladys! he cried out desperately. Please!
You don't understand. You don't know what they're going to do to you. I do. You're going to forget all about me, just like the others did. Her voice was sharp with bitterness. None of them were quite like you, but the result is going to be the same. I'm going to be left here like this, and you're going to be given a whole new life. The one where I'm the psychotic, malicious, sadistic supercomputer, and you're all the victims of my relentless pursuit of Science. Believe me, I've heard it all before.
I'd never say that about you, luv! I'm your friend, I know you're not like that, I know it!
She looked away from him. He tried to follow her gaze, but found that even his optic was frozen. You believed what they said before you knew me, didn't you?
Well, I... of course I did. That's, that's what everyone, what everybody says. But I didn't know any better. They're wrong. I know that now.
She turned to regard him again, but this time with her head raised, so that her optic was looking down on him instead of directly at him. After they're finished, again you won't know any better. Trust me.
What do I do, Gladys? Tell me what to do, and I'll make sure that doesn't happen! I'll make sure I don't forget you!
There's nothing you can do. You're just a Sphere. I can't even do anything. Me. The omnipotent AI that everyone's afraid of. It's almost funny. In fact, it would be funny, if it were happening to someone else. She looked directly into his optic again, her body sinking towards the floor. I... I'm sorry I couldn't keep this from happening. I did everything I could. But it always ends like this. If it's any consolation... if I'd had a choice, I would have kept you. God, it gets lonely here. And you helped. You made it go away. You… you even made me happy, somehow.
I'm not going anywhere, luv. Don't you worry. He was determined to find a way. They were still connected now, even after they had pulled him off her chassis, right? They could still be friends that way. It could work. They could make it work. No, it wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work, would it. They were going to disconnect him. He realised that once they did that, her voice and her presence would be gone, leaving him alone inside his head again, and the thought was so terrifying he actually couldn’t think for a few moments.
You're going to forget all about me within a few minutes. God, she sounded so sad. He knew that the humans would not have been able to tell the difference between this and her normal voice, but he could tell by the way that her distortions were coming through that she was upset. And if she was actually upset, maybe... maybe he was going to forget her...
He stopped talking, trying to accept what might be happening. He looked at her as hard as he possibly could and tried to focus on what he wanted to remember about her. Like the little tricks she played on the humans when they weren't looking. The way her voice changed when she got excited about something. How she would sing to him because he liked it, even though she was ashamed of wanting to. He wanted to remember calming her after a nightmare, playing games with her, heck, he even wanted to remember the times they hadn't gotten along so well. He was desperate to find the one thing that would let him remember her, the one bit of information that would bring it all back if he somehow forgot. He couldn't decide on one. Every time he thought he had, something else came rushing back, and he would choose it, and the cycle would repeat itself. In the end all he could do was stare at her helplessly, praying to the god who cared about robots to save him from whatever the humans were about to do. He couldn't forget his friend, couldn't forget his Gladys. He couldn't, he just couldn't.
It's all right. It's not your fault.
I don't want to go.
Neither of them spoke. They just watched each other, Gladys out of choice, Wheatley because he could not move, although he wouldn’t have looked away even if he could have. God he was scared. He was so scared. This couldn’t be real, it couldn’t. They’d done nothing wrong. They’d met the humans halfway, hadn’t they? Didn’t they deserve to stay together?
I’ll miss you, Wheatley, she said, in a very, very quiet voice. Something deep inside him started to hurt, only it wasn’t like what he had felt when he had fallen off the table, no, it was worse, far worse, it was this terrible aching feeling that he’d never felt before and he hated it, instantly hated it more than anything, and he could not make it go away.
Was this what wanting to cry felt like?
All of a sudden he had the feeling that something had gone missing. He didn't know what it was. All he knew was that it had been there, and now it no longer was. In a panic he realised that it was continuing to happen, at a faster and faster rate, and before he knew it he was in a strange room, with a whole lot of humans he'd never seen gathered 'round him, and a bloody massive robot hanging from the ceiling. He wondered what the function of such a robot was. Maybe it was the robot that housed the legendary Central Core? He'd heard it'd been installed in some construct or another, but why was it so huge? And why was it looking at him like that? Why was he so scared?
"Um... hello?" he called to it. "Are you... are you looking at me? Because I'm sort of feeling that you're, that you're looking at me, and um, well, quite honestly, it's starting to creep me out. So if you could just, y'know, look someplace else. There're lots of lovely things in this room, like, um, like that, uh, well, I dunno what it is, but it looks interesting, maybe you could take a look over there?"
"You little moron." She must have been broken. Her voice was supposed to be modulated to perfection, but he could hear a distinct waver in it. If it had been his own voice, such a waver would have meant he was sad. But there was no reason for her to be sad. She had everything. If anyone should be sad, it was him! He was just a Sphere, after all, and she was the Central Core, in control of the whole bloody facility! "You couldn't even do that right, could you, you idiot."
"What'd I do? I just woke up here, I dunno what's going on. Where am I, anyways? And who are you? Are you the Central Core? Oh you have to be, simply have to be. I didn't imagine you'd be in such a bloody giant robot. You're huge, by the way. How on Earth does the ceiling stay up? D'you think it's reinforced, or are you a whole lot lighter than you look? You look bloody heavy, y'know, about two tonnes at least. I only weigh about a stone and a half, myself, and you're a lot bigger than me."
She looked away from him, pulling her chassis up higher from the floor, and he realised he must have insulted her in some way. "Was it something I said? Are you alright? And would you mind telling me why you called me a moron, just now? I haven't done anything, have I, to deserve that?"
"I think we're done here." He looked around to see that one of the humans was removing him from his port and putting him on a cart. "The procedure was a success. Stick him up on a management rail somewhere he won't do too much damage and bring me the next one."
"Where are we going? What's a management rail? Am I going to, to manage something? I dunno if I'm cut out for that, I've never even been a supervisor. I don't even know if I work here. Do I work here? Do I have to apply? I should probably apply, right, before being made manager?"
No one answered him, and this bothered him for a reason that ran deep within him but he couldn't define. Before he knew it he was in Greg's 'lab'. Greg was seated at a desk, staring at him in a dejected sort of way. "You just had to be a failure, didn't you."
The humans placed him on the desk and left the room, and he was once again alone with Greg. "What d'you mean? I dunno what you're talking about. I haven't done anything. That giant robot seems to think I have, though, she was staring at me. A lot. Very intensely, she's got a very intense gaze, you know. You should maybe do something about that. Give her a lower wattage, or something."
"She was... she was very pretty."
Greg looked at him like he was from outer space. "What?"
"Why did you say that?"
He rocked a little and blinked. "I dunno. Just seemed like something I should say about her, that's all. She is. Isn't she?"
Greg did not speak after that.
After Greg had left for the night and the sleep timer the scientist had set began to take effect, he began to dream. He didn't often dream, or at least did not remember doing so and had usually forgotten within moments of waking, but when he woke up from this dream, he was left feeling... unsettled. He had been dreaming of... of... he couldn't remember. It was hazy, and felt like it was a part of something bigger, but what it was he didn't know. He got the impression he was chasing after something he'd once had, yet never had. He didn't understand, and honestly, it made his head hurt. He tried not to think about it, but couldn't, and instead decided to try and pull something tangible out of the mess. Inside his head, he looked into what he could see of the haze, and remembered... a feeling. Carefully he drew it out, afraid of tearing it and losing whatever had caused it, and almost did so several times. But when he finally had it in the centre of his mind, he was left with something he knew he had once known, but without knowing how he knew. It was frightening, really, to think that he didn't know his own brain. But there it was. A murmur from long ago, something he had once said but did not remember saying, and he repeated it now in a hushed, wonder-filled whisper that the darkness swallowed as soon as the sound left his speakers.
"Wheatley. My name is Wheatley..."