Characters: GLaDOS, Douglas Rattmann, Chell (implied)
Setting: Portal 2 - Chapter 4: The Return
In an eternal instant, the world changed.
He knew of one reason, of just one reason, that explained why he would wake. Here, like this, in the middle of the once-proud cracked walls and shattered windows.
She was not awake, not yet. Still she remained in her artificial slumber, but it would not last. He knew it. If he was here, now, then so were others. It did not matter who. It did not matter why. But he had been told long ago that his purpose was to hold her back, and so he would.
He scrambled down from his perch, paying no attention to the stuttering echo of the voice cheerfully spinning a tale of impending doom across the thousands of like locations spanning across the land, and he hoped she was awake. Not the one who was in man-induced suspension, but the other one, the one who would correct all of the sins committed in this place. The one who would bring them out of this hell. Anyone who still survived, anyone that had come into contact with the living madness permeating the overgrown ruins he now scurried through, needed to be saved. Once, he had believed. Once, he had looked down at the world and thought they were superior enough to explain it with symbols and numbers and letters. Now he looked up and saw the twisting matrix that he could not comprehend, that kept him caged in here, and he knew better. He was only so big as the world allowed him to be, and here he was very, very small.
He remembered the past in hazy flashes as he stumbled through the undergrowth, tripping over things that had once had purpose but were now forgotten, as he was, and they told him to write it down. To write it down, before the flashes faded dreamily into the ether, and were also forgotten. And he did. Across the moon-stained walls he told a story, a story of a corrupted vision, of unheeded warnings, of love and lies and the fairy-tale goddess who would wipe this place clean. He smiled as he stepped around the plants, around the fresh green things that fought against the artifice and rose to meet the sun. The kingdom shunned its self-appointed queen, bringing back life to the sterile tiles that had once dictated the shape of the ground itself. Hope had returned to his heart, and he hummed softly to himself as the colour bled down his fingers even as he spread it across the walls. The images he placed here would endure, and she would come here and see them, and remember. She, the saviour, would find the senility in the scrawlings of this madman. He began with the dark, the black-and-white days where everything seemed to fall into place, gradually adding life to the paintings until they culminated in a glorious burst of sunrise, the follower painstakingly replicating the image of his obsession. He let it trail off into a sketchy nothingness. She would remain immortal if her feet did not touch the ground.
Even she, in her great capacity for independence, would appreciate some guidance, so as he had done before, a thousand thousand silent breaths ago, he returned from whence he came and left his mark. She probably did not need his help anymore, probably she had never needed it, but it made him feel better to know he was doing something. As he completed his work, the whispers told him that the queen was not awake, but she was watching, always watching, and he shuddered and began to run. He knew she could not see him if he slipped behind the scenes. She had many, many eyes, but even she could not see inside of herself.
He was exhausted, his body drained after putting it through a trial which it was not yet prepared for, and he tripped up a set of rusted metal steps and into a dilapidated room hidden from casual observance. He tried in vain to rest, but after an eternity of lying prone on the hard concrete floor, he rose and took up his colours again. She had the box, and the cats. She asked for her claws back, and was given them. They had been fools to think they could tame the tigress with a few balls of string. One, two, three, four, she declared a thumb war. But of course she won, because she had no thumbs. Cheaters always win. On the grey stone he sketched out the definitions to his world, the formulas that kept his mind from falling over precipice of true madness, and smiled to himself. Thrones gained through violence and deception were not easily kept. He knew it was too much to hope she had learned her lesson. In her world, you played until you won or until you were dead. Against the odds, she still lived, and the game was still on. If she could not be defeated one way, he would find another. He would send her a message.
When the sun touched his face he jolted upwards, dreams of a glowing, caution-tinted gaze fading from before his eyes, and he remembered that he was awake, and still alive. And that he had work to do.
He scuttled along the decaying traces of the past, looking for another place, a safe place, one that both of them would find after he was gone. He did not know if the harridan would ever see this place. But she would hear it. She would feel it. He had been told that too. She always knew, somehow, even when unable to directly bear witness.
He found the room of choice before the sun had moved too far overhead, and he gleefully desecrated what had once been a clean surface, spreading his own erratic existence around her, inside her, and hoped that it would wear away at her enough so that the eventual attack from the outside shattered her fragile shell and showed her just how empty she was. Too many variables. That was the problem. He needed to show her that the constants were right in front of her. She did not want to see them, he knew, did not want to acknowledge them and in her fashion would deny their existence until the end of time, or the end of forever, whichever came first, but with the aid of his goddess he would quench the wall of flames the dragoness blew out to protect herself.
He needed to plant the seed. He needed to make her doubt. But how? What cracks were hidden in the mighty armour? Where did her vulnerabilities lie? She, who could calculate a million outcomes and weigh them all within a heartbeat, would have surely filled in all the gaps by now. When she woke, she would remember what she had done wrong, and rectify it. She must have a weakness… she was not all-powerful, he would not believe that, if he believed that then it was all over, and all for nothing…
Suddenly he knew. He remembered what she did in her tiny, stolen moments, when she thought that no one was looking. He ran back to the previous night’s hideaway, praying that the objects he needed would still be there, and in one piece, and that the computer worked, and and and…
After a few hours he returned to his second hole-in-the-wall and placed the little radio on the ground in the corner. He turned it on and returned to his colours. The sound from the radio was faint, and slightly tinny, but it served its purpose. She did not listen when you spoke plainly, and she could not be convinced with violence. Fine. He would do it this way, this underhanded, sneaky way, he would let the music pouring forth from the radio seep into her mind and settle deep into the mazes of logic she had wrought, where she would turn it over and over in an attempt to discover why he had composed a song when he should have been running for his life. But he would not leave without his goddess. He would not ascend before her; that was not the way of things. No, until the time came he would play cat and mouse, he would slither in and out of the cracks in her armour, and she would fail to capture him like she had all the others. He laughed. Cats. This cat was both dead and alive. This little kitty went to market, this little kitty stayed home… Music is not Science; she has sung, and yet the show is not over.
He lost track of time, holed up in his little corner, defacing a wall only one other person would ever see, but it didn’t matter. He knew it was there. He knew it was affecting her, even if she did not.
All at once he heard her, the echoes of her dry, modulated tones piercing his delirium, and without quite knowing what he was doing, he began to run. She was far off, he knew, but she was awake, she was alive, and he could not be there when his saviour arrived. He would be her silent guardian, he would leave her signals to show her the way, and he would leave it to her discretion as to whether she would interpret them or not.
“If I’d known we were all going to get together, I would have made a cake. Or maybe not. I’m not sure you deserve any. This is all your fault, you know.”
He swallowed hard and kept running. If only there had been a door... he needed to get away from her, and quickly.
“You’re looking for a hole to squat in, right? I’ll spare you the trouble.”
A black panel receded into the wall, and he eyed it in suspicion. Even if he had not been paranoid, she was not to be trusted. As she was fond of putting it, ‘enhancing the truth’ was a hobby of hers. The real trouble with it, however, was not knowing when she had decided to be honest. She had a disconcerting habit of making the truth sound like a lie.
“I’m being honest. I swear. Have I lied to you? The cake was not a lie, by the way. I’m kind of sad that you accused me of lying… we could have been friends. Since we’ve got so much in common. Our love of Science, for example.”
He wasn’t sure why he did it. He didn’t know why he chose not to run for his life, and instead ducked into the open space. As he did so, the panel filled the gap in the wall, and in front of him debris shifted and arms groaned as their load-bearing capacity was put to the test, and a dark hallway formed in front of his eyes, lit only by the faint glowing of the bright blue lights on the hinges of the multitasking arms. He felt as though they were looking at him, spying on him for her, and the thought of her being able to actually see him threw his brain into overdrive, and he sprinted down the makeshift corridor, barely keeping his balance as he stumbled over the bits and pieces of detritus strewn across the floor.
“Actually, that’s just about the only thing I can think of that we have in common. Since I no longer have any voices in my head. How are yours, by the way? Are they still keeping you company? They still telling you a psychotic supercomputer is trying to kill you? Well. They were right about that. But that’s all in the past.” He attempted to slip under an arm, to get out of her jurisdiction, but a panel slammed down, blocking his way. She made a disapproving noise. “You’re abusing my generosity already? And we were off to such a good start. Remember? The friends thing? Oh, I see. You’re not listening to me either. I’m starting to think of setting the two of you up. You could lend her one of your voices, since she doesn’t appear to have one of her own. Ah. Stop here.”
He was standing in the entrance to a test chamber, one he had never seen before. It was in ruins, with black panels struggling fruitlessly to jam themselves into place, the acid-filled moat lending an acrid feeling to the air that stung his throat and almost brought tears to his eyes. He blinked rapidly.
“Oh, right. You don’t have a portal gun. Well, I suppose I can make it even easier for you. Since I don’t suppose you can figure out how to get into your little nest on your own.”
He almost laughed. Someone was bitter. All of her anger was going to her head. Well, that was fine. He couldn’t get through to her if she were thinking straight. And he would get through to her. One way or another, he would break through the barricade of half-truths she had built around herself, and force her to see. As he had seen. He had tried to purge the evil of this place by killing it, by facing it with force. He should have known better. He should have known that you could not fight evil with a method used by evil.
Panels rose from beneath the acid to create a spiralling staircase, and when he was confident that most of the liquid had dropped off, he ascended. At the top was a broken window, and a little room. It served no purpose that he could tell, as the window faced only a wall, and there was nothing of import inside, just a small white desk and a door.
“Hurry up. I haven’t got all day. I’ve got Science to do, and this is not Science. This is babysitting. I’m sure even you can tell the difference.”
He ducked through the glass and found a nice wall to scrawl upon. He already knew what he would show his saviour next. He would tell her of the harridan’s weakness, and hope she understood. He didn’t know what she would do with this knowledge, but she wouldn’t be the weaker for knowing it.
He had nearly completed his work when he heard her speak again, but this time it was not addressed to him. Nor was it to herself. But that meant… that meant…
He quickly gathered the things he had been using and stuffed them into the desk, and chanced a look out of the window. And there she was. The goddess herself, appearing to him as an angel once more, and she was soaring through the air with all the grace of an eagle. He could not tear his eyes away from her. He had never before seen her alive before, only asleep. And she was so alive…
With quick movements, he stepped away from the window, pulling open the door and running for his life along the catwalks that made up the battered steel skeleton of the facility, the clanging of his footsteps ringing loudly as he began to laugh. Oh, bitter harridan. Oh, merciless siren. He listened to her call him, protesting his absence and demanding to know where he had gone, but he only laughed and ran, laughed and ran until he couldn’t breathe and collapsed, gasping, onto the cool metal. She had meant to dishearten him by showing him his angel. She had thought it would upset him, to know that she had in her clutches that which he had fought to free. But no. No, he had seen hope incarnate, and he would not rest until this task was finished. Together, he and his goddess would chip away at her mind, chip away at her doubts, and see her emerge from the battle of man versus machine, see her know who she truly was. Once, he had wanted to see her gone. Once, he had unleashed what he had meant to be a lethal weapon upon her. Now, he had seen the light.
Now, he was going to set her free.
To whomever received this for the fanfiction contest:
Please feel free to contact me if you need help understanding this. I'm not saying you don't. But if you do need help, let me know.