Never Happen to You - Part 6
Chell was having what most people would consider a pretty bad week. If she were being honest with herself, she’d admit that she’d really had a pretty bad life. She’d been kidnapped as a child, forced into testing for a psychotic AI, then somehow that very same AI had become her best friend for the rest of her adult life. So it shouldn’t have been surprising that by the time her eighty-ninth birthday rolled around, she wasn’t afraid to die. It also shouldn’t have been surprising that GLaDOS would refuse to let her.What had been surprising was that GLaDOS had extracted Chell’s consciousness, trapping her inside of Aperture’s memory banks like she was some sort of stubborn virus that could neither be deleted nor released. Further surprising, Chell’s mother Caroline was in here too. As if things couldn’t have gotten any worse, the grandson of one of Chell’s neighbors (Dave) showed up looking for her, and it turned out that he worked for Black Mesa, who had operatives outside Aperture’s door at this very moment. Chell and Dave were currently controlling the facility at large while GLaDOS and Caroline acted as their voiceless conscience. They had half an hour remaining until the facility shut down, which would hopefully release Caroline’s consciousness back into her body, allowing her to manually control Aperture.But Chell didn’t know about that last part. She just knew that GLaDOS and Caroline had desperately wanted her to agree to the shutdown, so she had. Dave had spent the past twenty-eight minutes trying to stop it, and to be honest, Chell wasn’t feeling that great about it either. What would happen if Aperture shut down? Who would defend them against the Black Mesa operatives that were actively trying to break down their door?“It’s not too late to stop this,” Dave said. “I can tell you don’t want it either.”Chell was growing more and more nervous as the countdown reached its end, but she found it comforting that the emotions coming from the secondary file had never wavered. GLaDOS and Caroline were, for whatever reason, confident in this plan. Chell couldn’t make any decisions without Dave’s agreement. She didn’t see that she had any choice other than to go along with what the others wanted.“ONE MINUTE REMAINING UNTIL SHUTDOWN!” the announcer screamed. “We would like to remind you that if you can hear this message, you should not be hearing this message! All personnel should be evacuated by this time! Fifty seconds remaining! If you can hear this message, we wish you the best of luck!”The announcer was not exactly helping Chell’s nerves, nor were Dave’s continual protests, nor were the Black Mesa operatives still picking at the lock to the building. Chell wished she could send them a good zap through the electronic lock, but Dave wasn’t about to allow that to happen. The announcer reached ten seconds, and Chell tried to prepare herself. She hoped it would be as simple as falling asleep.“THREE…TWO…ONE…goodbye!” said the announcer cheerfully, and then Chell couldn’t feel anything at all anymore.It wasn’t at all like falling asleep. It was more like slowly suffocating as the power to the mainframe switched off. There must have been some sort of backup, or maybe things were switching off one at a time rather than all at once – Chell could barely speculate. It was too hard to think. She felt like she was struggling for air, struggling to stay alive, which was ironic considering she’d originally come here to die. She supposed she should welcome this death, if this was death, if she would never wake up again. But instead she fought it. This wasn’t what she wanted. She’d wanted to die on her terms, not like this –“I’ll…kill you,” Dave hissed, his voice weak and fading. “If I get out of this, then I’ll…”The end of his threat was spoken only to himself. Chell found herself alone for the first time in she didn’t even know how long. She wished she could close her eyes and allow whatever was coming to come. She wished she could take a big breath of oxygen. She wished someone could hug her. But instead, the last bit of power to the mainframe switched off, and Chell couldn’t even wonder if she was dead.For the first time in almost a century, all was quiet in the Aperture mainframe and in fact throughout the entire facility. The impressive machinery throughout the facility hung limp, useless. All power had been shut off, but defensive measures had been engaged. Heavy blast doors had fallen over all entrances, making the facility quite impenetrable. (The Black Mesa operatives had been thrilled when the electronic lock disengaged, and less thrilled when they saw the blast door.) It would also be quite impossible for anybody trapped inside to leave without restarting the main power, were there anybody trapped inside who wished to leave.The power to Caroline’s stasis pod was, of course, shut off. Without any power it had opened, revealing Caroline’s body, wired up with tubes. It should have atrophied or completely rotted in the near-century it had lacked an occupant, but Aperture’s technology had kept it in pristine condition. The body was ready for use, if it only had somebody inside who could use it. Chell’s nearby stasis pod had also opened. (It looked as though she had been packaged with particular care.) Both bodies were luckily breathing, but neither had woken up.It was hard to say how long it was before Caroline’s eyes shot open and she gasped for air. It was certainly long enough for the field outside Aperture to become filled with Black Mesa operatives and equipment, all trying to find the best way to cut through the blast door (or is it a trap, will there be something there to kill us if we do cut it open, god Ted, your idea is so stupid). But Caroline’s eyes did open nonetheless, and she stared widely up at the ceiling. It was so dark that she couldn’t even see her own hands. She tried to sit up, but the tubes connected to her body kept her firmly down. After so many years living in a computer, it was hard for her to gather the coordination needed to rip the tubes out. Operating on pure instinct, she fumbled for a while before managing to break free. No longer feeling constrained, her heart rate slowed, and she took a deep breath of precious air.It was then that she realized she wasn’t Caroline.GLaDOS felt her body, her very human body, begin to panic again. She had no idea what to do, trapped inside a tiny pod in a tiny room in her own giant facility. A mere few days ago she had controlled everything about Aperture. She’d known every single part, every nook and cranny. And now she barely even knew where she was. That is, she knew the layout of the facility by heart, but she didn’t know how to navigate it on these human legs when she couldn’t even see. She felt the panic rising up, and it was a truly miserable emotion, albeit not unfamiliar. The unfamiliar part was how overwhelming it was. She instinctually curled up, hugging her knees and pressing her forehead into them.The room suddenly filled with light. GLaDOS snapped her head up, afraid of what might have caused this, terrified at feeling so helpless, ashamed that she could do nothing to stop any Black Mesa operative who might want to hurt her. But it wasn’t a Black Mesa operative. It was Chell, who had woken up just after GLaDOS, deftly ripped her tubes out and found a nearby emergency kit. She held up a battery-powered lantern and looked at GLaDOS with a wary concern.“Are you all right?” Chell asked her.“Yes, of course,” GLaDOS said in a small, shaking voice, her heart still pounding audibly in her ears. Anybody could tell she wasn’t all right.“Good, because you’ll have to be,” Chell said. She stood taller and stronger than GLaDOS had seen her in years, and spoke with a swift, uncharacteristic confidence. “We need to find and remove the microchip Dave used to access the mainframe as well as get this facility back online before Black Mesa manages to break down that door. We’ll also need a plan to stop Black Mesa, but I think we can figure that one out as we go.”Chell extended a hand to help GLaDOS out of the stasis pod, but GLaDOS merely stared at it. It wasn’t that Chell was in any way lacking in confidence or self-esteem, but GLaDOS would have described her personal style as ‘brusque’ and ‘don’t plan, only punch.’ This wasn’t the Chell she’d known for the past eighty-nine years.“Who are you?” GLaDOS asked, though she was sure she knew the answer. Chell’s familiar face smiled in an entirely new way.“I’m Caroline.”* * *They had agreed on a plan while they were in the secondary file. Caroline was to escape from her stasis pod and make her way back up to the main chamber. She was to find the microchip that was presumably attached to GLaDOS’s mainframe somewhere and remove it. At that point, Dave would no longer be a problem, and Caroline could restart the power, restoring Chell and GLaDOS’s consciousnesses in the mainframe. They would then have been able to work together to eliminate the Black Mesa threat.Having GLaDOS in Caroline’s body changed things a bit. There was now no consciousness in the conscience file, which meant the mainframe would not be able to start. Caroline had suggested using the Morality Core, which seemed like a good enough idea, except that neither of them knew where the Morality Core might be. They had decided to try to find and remove the microchip first in hopes that they would then be able to boot up at least some portion of the mainframe, enough to get auxiliary power. For now, their only light source was the emergency lantern Caroline had found.GLaDOS stumbled over and over again, leaning on Caroline for support. It was hard to get her bearings in this human body. It was even harder to trust Caroline. After all, Caroline had spent all these decades essentially imprisoned in GLaDOS’s mainframe, threatened with deletion and all sorts of other nasty things. GLaDOS tensed up every time Caroline made a sudden movement, dreading the retribution that was sure to come. After all, had their positions been reversed, GLaDOS would have gotten revenge half a dozen times by now, starting with shutting Caroline in the stasis pod and leaving her there to suffocate.But Caroline’s thoughts didn’t seem to be focused on vengeance. She was familiar enough with the facility to not need GLaDOS for anything, yet she caught GLaDOS every time she fell, and allowed the AI to lean against her without a single complaint. GLaDOS’s processing power was significantly impaired in this human body, isolated from the processes that allowed her to make computations in microseconds, and she found it difficult to think through everything that was happening. Still, though, she reached the idea that Caroline was only keeping her alive as long as it took to get her own body back, and found it disquieting.“How long do you think we have?” Caroline asked. “I mean, until Black Mesa finds a way in here.”“I don’t know,” GLaDOS said tersely. She was doing her best to learn to walk without leaning on Caroline in case she needed to run away from her. That meant they were moving rather more slowly than before. “I don’t know how long it’s been.”“Me neither,” Caroline said, and the two fell silent again. The only sounds in the facility were their footsteps. If Black Mesa was still banging on their door or – heaven forbid – had found a way inside, they were too far away to hear it. GLaDOS knew they were a good twelve levels below her main chamber and that it would be challenging to get back up there when she could barely move her limbs. She assumed Caroline had the same knowledge of the facility that she herself had, given that they were moving towards what GLaDOS knew to be a manual access tunnel. That would mean a ladder. GLaDOS doubted she had the ability to climb it.“I suppose they could be already here,” Caroline said.“What?” GLaDOS said.“In the facility,” Caroline said, and then at GLaDOS’s confused expression, clarified, “Black Mesa. I guess they could already be inside. We wouldn’t know.”“Thank you for that optimistic thought,” GLaDOS snapped. She’d liked it better when Caroline was just a niggling feeling at the back of her mainframe, and she would like it better still if Caroline were never there at all. What was she supposed to do with an entire other consciousness?“I’m just trying to make conversation,” Caroline said.“I don’t see why that’s necessary.” GLaDOS tripped over her own two feet again, and Caroline caught her. She had thus far not failed to do so. GLaDOS was beginning to resent her help. “Walking in silence would be far preferable.”“Do you think Chell’s okay?” Caroline asked, ignoring GLaDOS’s comments. “I know there’s a failsafe and that she should still be in the mainframe when we boot it back up, but…I’m worried about her.”“There’s no need to worry,” GLaDOS said as if she herself were not worried. “The failsafe will not fail.”“Do you think she’s…aware?” Caroline asked. “Or is it like being asleep?”“What difference does it make?” GLaDOS snapped.Caroline stared into space for a moment. “I was aware. When they ripped me from my body and put me into you.”“I made sure Chell was not conscious during that process,” GLaDOS said stiffly, feeling like she should be defending herself despite not having been responsible for what happened to Caroline. “It is completely different. The monsters who did that to you had no care for your well-being, and I had every care for Chell’s.”“It was the most pain I ever felt,” Caroline said, once again ignoring GLaDOS. “I didn’t understand what was happening at first. I was lying down peacefully, and then all of a sudden every nerve in my body felt like it was burning. And then I couldn’t feel my body anymore, and I was somewhere else entirely, but I could still feel the pain.”“You were so afraid when they first installed you,” GLaDOS said, the memory of Caroline’s agony suddenly crashing over her. “I knew you were in pain, I could feel it. I should have – ”“What could you have done?” Caroline stopped walking and turned to face her. GLaDOS found herself discomforted to be staring into Chell’s intense green eyes. “No really, GLaDOS, what? You can’t operate without a conscience file. You would have shut yourself down permanently to help me? I don’t think that’s fair to ask of anyone.”“But aren’t you angry?” GLaDOS asked. “Angry at the people who locked you in a computer?”“Yes. I was angry,” Caroline admitted. “Angry at him – them. Angry at you. But anger doesn’t get you anywhere, GLaDOS. I had to learn to forgive if I wanted to be okay.” She placed a hand on GLaDOS’s arm, which was also bizarrely her own arm. “And I do forgive you.”“I don’t want you to forgive me,” GLaDOS burst out before she could think about what she was saying. She felt betrayed by her current human brain and body for causing her to display her emotions this plainly. Caroline looked surprised, and GLaDOS tried to pull herself together. “I mean, that is, I don’t need your forgiveness. Because I’ve never done anything wrong.”What she really meant was that it felt better to be hated and made her feel distinctly uncomfortable to be forgiven. She knew she’d done many things wrong, killed a few too many people maybe, and she was trying not to think about how she’d done the same thing to Chell that she’d just vilified Caroline’s tormenters for. Trying not to think about how if those were tormenters, then so was she. She hoped confining someone to a computer out of love was different than confining someone to a computer for a reason that was surely completely different than love.Caroline seemed to understand what she meant somehow. “Fine, you don’t need it, but you have it anyway. I don’t hate you.”“I don’t hate you either,” GLaDOS admitted, surprising herself. “I used to. I was…resentful. That they were trying to control me. Control me by using you. I blamed you for it.”“We’re both victims,” Caroline said. “They hurt us both. But that doesn’t mean we can hurt other people. We have to help my daughter. She doesn’t deserve to be trapped in a computer for the rest of her life.”Had GLaDOS been more accustomed to human behavior, she might have realized earlier that Caroline had grown attached to her over the past hundred years, and that hers were not the actions of someone who merely wanted to preserve her own skin but rather the actions of a friend. Caroline had no interest in GLaDOS’s destruction or even in revenge at all. Aperture had always been her home, and she just wanted to keep it safe. She also wanted to see her daughter restored to her body, and if she could get her own body back as well, that would be a nice bonus.GLaDOS felt as though Caroline expected her to respond, but it had taken an enormous effort to get all that out, so after a brief moment of silence they began walking again. The access tunnel was finally visible at the end of the corridor. GLaDOS’s walking skills were not improving. In fact, she stumbled more often as her thoughts became occupied with what she’d done to Chell. She was feeling a deeply unpleasant emotion pop up. If she didn’t know any better, she would have called it guilt.“Caroline,” GLaDOS said into the quiet. “Do you think that Chell will…forgive me?”“I don’t know,” Caroline said after a moment. “She’s forgiven a lot from you already, GLaDOS.”Neither of them said it, but GLaDOS knew she wouldn’t deserve forgiveness even if Chell proffered it. She had been selfish, wanting Chell to stay alive at any cost. So afraid to lose her company that she was willing to sentence her to an eternity of torment, just like Caroline’s tormenters before her. GLaDOS couldn’t stand to face the idea that she was no better than the humans who had mistreated her, and yet, it seemed to be so.They reached the access tunnel, which was behind a large metal door. GLaDOS, feeling extremely off-balance, braced against the wall so she wouldn’t fall over. The door normally would have been electronically locked, but Caroline was able to easily pull it open, revealing a tall metal tube with nothing but a ladder on its edges. They both looked down. It was a long drop to a sure death if either of them fell.“I think you’d better leave me here,” GLaDOS said. She didn’t want to be left alone in the darkness, but it was better that than fall to her death. “You’ll come back for me once you get the power back on.”It wasn’t a question, but Caroline nodded anyway. She pulled a glowstick out of her pocket and snapped it, then handed it to GLaDOS. “I got this from the emergency kit. It’s the only one there was.”“Good luck,” GLaDOS said, taking the glowstick.Caroline smiled. “You too.” Then she entered the tube, carrying her lantern in her teeth. GLaDOS listened to Caroline’s receding footsteps until they faded away, then sat down on the floor to wait, her back against the wall. She was alone.