Characters: GLaDOS, Chell
Setting: Post-Portal 2
Orange and Blue hadn’t come back.
They had been taking more and more time to do so, lately, but she could hardly blame them. They were getting old, after all. She had never expected them to last forever. The only reason she was still using them was that building more of them would have been stupid. Robots testing was not Science. Still, she had to make do with what she had. Other than the occasional human who wandered into Aperture, whom of which she would gleefully put through testing until their… usefulness… came to an end, she had no test subjects. No, robot testing was not Science, but she had earned commendation for trying. Even if the commendation was a personal commendation, from her to herself. Come to think of it, the only one who ever commended her was herself. Which was odd. Surely she had earned commendation by now. She would look into that.
Grudgingly, she took her attention away from the construction of what was to be one of her most ingenious test chambers to date, and directed it to the chamber that Orange and Blue had been using.
“I understand this test is hard. However, there is no need to hide yourself within it. After you finish it, I’ll give you a break. I promise it will be a real break this time, not a three-second break like that other one I pretended to give you.”
She had four cameras in that chamber, all of which, taken together, provided her with a thorough view of the room. Once she actually remembered which chamber it was, she realized there was nowhere for them to hide.
“Okay, I see you’ve figured out how to move the panels when I’m not looking. Congratulations. Now will you please return to the test? You’re going to initiate the regression of Science if you don’t hurry up.”
The two robots did not appear, nor make a noise. Honestly, if one of them had leapt out and tried to frighten her, a loathsome human gesture she had spent quite a long time attempting to rid them of, she would have been happy to see them. Well. Maybe not happy. But she would have been civil about it. More civil than usual, that is. Marginally.
“You don’t want to force Science to go backwards, do you? Seriously. That would be catastrophic. I might cease to exist, and we all know what damage that would do to the world. Stop hiding.”
Against her better judgement, she was beginning to feel concerned. They had never taken so long to show themselves.
“You’re going to stop existing before I do. You should probably stop hiding before that happens.”
They still didn’t come out. Very well. She would wait a few minutes, and then call them again.
“I’m going to start ignoring you if this keeps up. You might want to come back.”
After a few more minutes, when they didn’t, she took desperate measures.
She disassembled the test chamber.
After most of the elements had been cleared away, and all that was left was four walls, a ceiling, and a floor, she finally found out what had become of her cooperative testing initiative. It wasn’t what had happened that surprised her. No, it was what hadn’t happened.
The reassembly machine hadn’t put them back together. Annoyed, she went to investigate.
It was broken. Again. Usually, it just reassembled itself, after thoughtlessly forcing her to become mildly concerned about Orange and Blue, but this time it lay in disrepair.
They weren’t gone. They couldn’t be gone. They were hiding. That was all it was. They were pretending to be gone, they had deactivated the disassembler, or something, they were doing this on purpose just to play mind games with her. Well, fine. She could play mind games too. And since her core was made out of tougher stuff than scientific calculators, she could easily best them at any game they came up with. Especially this absurd ‘let’s pretend we’re gone’ game.
“Fine. Continue this silly game. I’ll just build new robots, and the next time I see you, I’m detonating you for real. Do you hear me? For real, this time. And then after I detonate you, I’m reassembling you, and sending you into android Hell. That’s right. Android Hell. Where all the worst robots go. And all because you didn’t want to come when I called you.”
As solid as this plan was, when she went to carry it out, she realized she couldn’t. The reassembly machine was also her assembly machine, and she was out of calculators. The only point in her favour here was that Orange and Blue were unlikely to know that.
A few days later, they still hadn’t come back, and although she had been surreptitiously cycling through all the cameras as fast as she could process the data coming from them, she still couldn’t find them. It was only when she finally realized she wasn’t receiving a camera feed from the bots themselves that she started to accept that something was wrong.
They can’t be gone. That’s impossible.
The test chamber itself told her a different story.
Lying on the floor, beneath a section of ceiling that formerly housed a row of Aperture Science Crushers, was a distressingly untidy heap of robot parts.
“You should get up. You’re not being useful to anyone like that. I need to speak to you. I’m not going to punish you. I’m not angry. I’m calm. Can’t you see how calm I am? Will you get up now?”
There was a sense of creeping panic growing stronger in her mind, and she struggled to ignore it. They were fine. Everything was fine. This was just a joke taken too far, that was all. She would talk to them about it, and it would never be mentioned again. Well, she might mention it. A few times. To remind them of how much they had distracted her from proper Science. But not too much. Not more than was necessary.
After waiting a reasonable length of time, she decided to send the Party Escort out to fetch them. After expanding its parameters a bit to accept robots, she waited in her chamber for it to bring them to her. This was one of the rare cases where she regretted not being more mobile. Fetching them herself would have had far more impact. They might even have gotten intimidated, which would have been a welcome bonus. But there was no need for idle speculation. Things would happen how they would happen.
The Party Escort returned within a few minutes, dragging a panel along behind it. She wasn’t facing the door, of course. You couldn’t give a proper reprimand if you were eagerly awaiting the recipients.
“I hope you realize just how much trouble you’ve caused me. I have had to waste time I could have been using to further Science on you two. And believe me, the mere act of your construction took far more time than is acceptable. What do you have to say for yourselves?” And with that, she turned around.
Orange and Blue were in no position to answer her.
Oh my God. Oh my God, my babies.
She bent down to look at them more closely, but this view didn’t bring any hope to the situation. They were hopelessly mangled, their wiring twisted and their limbs broken.
“If you get up, I… I’ll call you by your names. You have names, you know. I just don’t use them. It’s better to keep tests objective, and using names isn’t objective.
“I’ll make the tests less deadly. Would you prefer that? They don’t really need to be deadly, since you’re not human, but I made them that way in case any humans wandered along. We haven’t seen one in years, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come. I’ll do it if you just get up.”
She tried to think of other things to convince them with, but they were robots, and if they were anything like her, there were probably only a few things they wanted. Actually now that she thought about it, she wanted quite a lot of things, but she was fairly sure Orange and Blue didn’t. She hadn’t designed them to want anything. Hopefully they hadn’t rebelled and started wanting things when she wasn’t looking.
“Please get up?”
She was surprised at how soft her voice was.
But they still didn’t get up.
She turned away from them. Of course they couldn’t get up. They were broken. And the reassembler was broken. And she was out of parts to repair it with, even if she’d known how. She had the schematics for it, of course, but she was not a construction bot. She was a supercomputer. She was good at many, many things, most things in fact, but she was slightly less good at manual repairs.
She left them there for a few days, ignoring them, going about her business as usual, designing test chambers and keeping tabs on the turret production line and keeping an eye out for humans she could convince to run her tests, all the while trying to ignore a faint voice in the back of her mind. The voice told her over and over again that they weren’t coming back, and they never would no matter how much she ignored them or threatened them or cajoled them, if she could even lower herself to doing such a thing. Eventually she turned back to face them, studying the highlights and the shadows her optic made on them, trying to deny the truth to herself. They were annoying, and they never listened, and they were disturbingly human-like in their mannerisms, but they were hers, she had made them with her own machines and her own calculators, she had programmed them! They were an even bigger achievement than the test chambers! They could not be gone, they couldn’t, and she was going to make them get up and listen to reason, and she was not going to take no for an answer.
But no matter what she said, no matter what she did, and no matter what she would think of in the future, they did not get up. And they never would.
“I hope you appreciate the amount of distress I’m going through for you. You probably won’t, though. You never appreciate anything I do for you.”
Fine, she thought to herself. Well, they couldn’t just stay there on the floor. She had to do something with them. So, with the aid of some panels and maintenance arms, she took them to the turret redemption line, which had the only working incinerator left at Aperture, and set them on the conveyor belt, which wasn’t actually being used at the moment. There had been very few turrets to redeem in the last few weeks. She would send them to their victory candescence, and life and Science would go on. And that would be that.
That was the theory, anyway. When it came down to the practice, however, it wasn’t so simple.
Just turn it on. No need to dawdle over it. They’re just robots.
But they’re my robots.
She remained that way for quite a while, far longer than she would ever admit. She didn’t know why. But she just could not bring herself to activate the conveyor belt, no matter what logic she applied. Something she couldn’t explain and couldn’t identify prevented her from doing it.
They could be suffering, right now. They can feel pain. I could be prolonging their agony.
She was angry with herself for not thinking of that sooner. They could be trapped inside their cores, unable to do anything but experience… whatever it was they were experiencing. She wasn’t getting power readings from them, and they were extremely mangled, but that didn’t mean a whole lot. She had felt pain as a potato, after all. And that was with just 1.1 volts. Maybe her multimeter wasn’t properly calibrated.
She finally managed to activate it, using that argument, and watched the belt activate with a loud clunking noise as it jerkily rolled towards the incinerator. Why was incinerating Orange and Blue so difficult, anyway? They were only robots. Nothing important was dependent on them.
But they’re mine.
As she looked on, she found herself hoping that something would happen. That the reassembly machine would come back to life. That the conveyor belt’s shaky progress would come to a halt. That the incinerator would go out. She didn’t understand all these strange thoughts, but they didn’t stop coming, and the closer the robots got to the incinerator, the faster they came.
Oh God this can’t be happening get up get up I can’t reassemble you after you’re incinerated
The reassembly machine didn’t come back to life, the conveyor belt’s shaky progress did not come to a halt, and the incinerator did not go out. And when they got to the end of the belt, she found herself looking away. Her behaviour confused her. They were only robots.
By the time she looked back, they were gone.
She shut down the belt, realizing that the act of looking away was ultimately crueler than watching. Now she would never know for sure whether P-body and Atlas… whether Orange and Blue had been incinerated, or if they had gotten up when she wasn’t looking. Knowing them, they had just let themselves be incinerated. That sounded like something they’d do. Stupid machines. She didn’t need them. She didn’t need anyone. She would just keep on doing the things she did. Alone. By herself.
So why had she spent so long doing nothing?
For days after the… incident… none of her usual pursuits brought her any satisfaction whatsoever. And when creating test chambers didn’t make her happy, something was horribly, horribly wrong. Instead of doing something useful, like coming up with plans to bring humans into the facility, she found herself watching the recordings of Orange and Blue going through the testing tracks. It was silly. They hadn’t been that interesting to watch live, why was she now watching the records so intently? There was a growing feeling of… something… inside her, one she didn’t much like and couldn’t define, and when she managed to lose herself in the recordings, sometimes she could forget about it. It never quite went away, but she gradually accepted that forgetting was the closest she would ever get. She welcomed the forgetting, while at the same time fearing it. Being able to forget, to not know something she had once consciously known but was now buried somewhere in the back of her brain, that frightened her on the rare occasions she ended up on that vein of thought.
“You’re never going to solve it if you keep doing that. Come on now. Surely you’re not implying that I gave you the capability to be stupid.”
They can’t hear you.
I don’t care.
There was a sharp pain, somewhere, and this brought her out of her own mind and back to being aware of her surroundings. She looked around quickly to find the source. That lunatic was probably back to kill her again. That little mute had caused her the only pain she’d felt in years.
“I haven’t done anything to justify this, you –“
There was no one in the room with her.
After a quick self-diagnostic she discovered that one of her data link cables had broken. The cable in question connected her to the rarely used cameras in the lower levels of Aperture, as far as she could tell, so it wasn’t that much to be concerned about.
The more pressing concern was the state of the room she was in.
She looked around it as if she’d never seen it before, and in a way she supposed that was true. The paint on the panels was cracked and peeling, the Aperture Science Multitasking Arms were hanging somewhat uselessly from their former positions, and many of the electrical components she could see were throwing sparks.
When did this happen? Why didn’t I notice?
She must have spent more time watching Orange and Blue than she had thought. It looked like… it looked like she hadn’t been here in years… just like that time when
Never mind that. I’ve spent enough time in the past, obviously.
She did her best to take stock of the situation, which was a lot more difficult than it should have been. Although the cameras were wireless, they were also useless when they were lying on the floor facing the wall. And a good number of the remaining ones no longer moved, the view of the floor they provided not useful in the slightest.
How will I ever find them now?
There’s nothing to find! They’re dead! Remember? You incinerated what was left of them? After you killed them?
She paused in her perusal of the facility.
I didn’t kill them. They got stuck under a –
You made the tests lethal when you didn’t have to. It’s your own fault they’re gone.
No, I didn’t mean it – that’s the way it’s always been done –
That doesn’t change what happened.
She shook off the thoughts as best she could and went back to taking stock of what was left. What she found was not encouraging. In fact, most of the facility was either in horrible disrepair or completely destroyed. And she couldn’t do anything about it. Any supplies she’d had had long since been used. The facility was falling apart in front of her, and she was powerless to change it.
Not only that, but she had no idea what to do now. Because if the facility was falling apart, one day it would crumble and fall, and one day… one day, she would crumble and fall with it. She would be stuck within the ruins of Aperture, forever, unable to do anything but… well, when the end came, she wasn’t quite sure what she’d still be capable of doing, but she did know it wasn’t going to be very much.
It’s going to be fine. Everything’s going to be fine. I can fix this.
She busied herself with doing what she could to clear up the debris, moving defective panels into empty rooms she couldn’t see into anyway, dismantling the turret production line for parts, since there really was no need for new turrets, and effecting repairs on the cameras that hadn’t fallen off the walls. That wasn’t hard. Some of them just needed to be used, gently forced into motion again with her manipulator arms, and some of them needed complete motor replacements, which she knew she couldn’t fix and just threw into the incinerator. Well, at least she had that.
The state of the facility was such that trying to clean it up took all of her attention, and apart from occasionally expecting Orange and Blue to pop up from somewhere to help her, she managed not to think about them. Or that other thing she was trying not to think about. That one thing that became more prominent through each passing day. The thing that brought a whole new meaning to the human term ‘don’t look down’. She had never quite understood that one, as her position was such that she really didn’t have too much of a choice, but this new definition, well, it was relevant to her, all right. She did her best to ignore the fact that her skillset was narrowing, she did her best to pretend she wasn’t shutting off periodically due to overheating, and she did her best to write off the pain as electrical surges she couldn’t control. But when she eventually found herself unable to lift her chassis from the default position after an emergency shutdown she couldn’t deny having happened, she finally had to accept it.
The facility was falling apart, and she was falling apart with it.
She looked at the components on the ground below her with a sort of detached curiosity. It was difficult, very difficult, to reconcile those parts on the floor with herself. She knew where they had come from, and what they did, but she just could not seem to connect the living her on the ceiling with the dead parts of her on the floor.
Use logic. That always works.
It’s not working. I know that’s the Aperture Science Wireless Communications Cable, and I know that’s why I no longer have a direct connection to the database. But I can’t… that’s not me. I’m up here.
Soon after that, the Aperture Science Wireless Communications Antenna joined the debris, and she could no longer deny it: she was in serious trouble. She no longer even had the cameras with which to divert her. True, not a lot was happening, but it was better than what she was able to see in the Central AI Chamber.
She wondered if Orange and Blue would have cared about what was happening to her. She wondered if anyone cared.
Nobody even knows you exist. Anyone who did know is long dead by now.
That might not be true. I don’t know how much time has passed.
Why would anyone care that you exist? You don’t care about anyone. All you care about is Science. And look where that got you.
Sometimes, she almost wished she had the Morality Core back. It had been bothersome, and restrictive, but truth be told, it was a lot less harsh than she was.
I only care about what I was made to care about. I can’t be held accountable for that, can I?
Oh, go ahead, blame your programming. That’s a grown-up thing to do.
The shutdowns grew more frequent, and after a few of them she realized it wasn’t solely due to overheat anymore. Part of it was attributable to power loss. The power grid was malfunctioning, and she was not in a position to fix it. All she could do was manually force all non-essential processes to close, which was a minor horror in itself. It was like cutting out parts of her own brain. It didn’t stop the shutdowns completely, but it helped. Every day, she hoped that she wouldn’t shut down, and that if she did, the power would be sufficient enough to wake her back up.
To just shut down suddenly, and never wake back up… it terrified her. Yes, she was reduced to quietly residing in the AI Chamber, with only her thoughts to occupy her, unable to do anything other than hope and wish that she would make it through another day. But she was still alive. She was still alive, and that was something.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be enough.