Chell lies on her back, feeling the burnt and bent stalks against her neck and arms. It's warm and comfortable, if a little scratchy. She doesn't mind the itch. It's the first natural thing she's seen, nothing like the damp moss and slimy leaves from those first chambers.
The sun beats down on her, so brightly that she has to close her eyes. She sees only red. Sometimes it meanders behind clouds, but only a few moments at a time, as though it doesn't want her to be alone right now. It never flickers.
She stays there a long time.
The first night is cold. The test chambers were never cold, just chilly enough to keep you moving. Chell shrugs into the sleeves of her jumpsuit for the first time and huddles with her back against the door that doesn't open. She tucks her feet under her. The boots are slightly uncomfortable, but her feet are warmer, at least.
She thinks about fire, wondering how to start one with the raw materials she has. She looks out over the plain and sees nothing. The shack is everything. She feels very exposed.
She keeps the Cube near her at all times.
Chell doesn't sleep the first night. She aches with tiredness, her eyes bleary, her eyelids heavy. But every time she thinks she's close, she hallucinates the ground shaking, dirt flying, GLaDOS emerging with her unblinking golden eye and her cool-voiced threats.
Chell doesn't trust this freedom. She doesn't trust the silence of wherever she is, which is so different from the mechanical silence of the labs, and thus harder to predict. This freedom was given to her, rather than taken, but it doesn't make it seem any more real.
Around dawn, she collapses. She dreams, oddly, of the turrets' song.
When Chell has caught up on sleep, the rest of her body protests neglect. Before she was kept alive at GLaDOS's cruel whim, but now she has to fend for herself. She picks a direction, taking the Weighted Companion Cube with her. It's not as heavy as she thought it would be, given the name, but still heavier than she's used to, since she doesn't have the Portal device. She adjusts to the heft quickly, because the only alternative is to leave the Cube out here, and she won't do that to either of them. They're both battered, both survivors.
There is day and night here.
Time passes here. Noticeably.
One night, before the cold sets in, Chell takes her time looking at the sky, taking in the enormous eternity that is space, and infinite emptiness that was briefly hers. It was terrifying, but even in that moment where she faced a true death, she'd thought, At last. She thinks of that irritating little yellow-eyed core, screaming about fulfilled dreams and freedom. If Chell could, she'd scream along with him.
She spots a distant winking light up there. She wonders if it's Wheatley.
It's probably just a falling star.
Chell finds civilization eventually. Where she is, she doesn't know. How long it's been, she doesn't know. SHe finds a house, lit within, and can barely trust it's real. Chell approaches with caution. All the doors she's opened recently have had something terrible behind them.
She's grubby and smelly, stained and starved, clutching a spit-scrubbed Cube. Neither of them can speak. Her hair, she imagines, is lank and tangled. She looks and feels as though she's been through a war. Her story is completely unbelievable, even if she could figure out how to tell it.
She knocks on the door.