Chapter 1: Courtesy Call
Somewhere beyond the safety of sleep, a garbled voice seemed to drag itself to life and croaked out its automated message.
"Good morning," the male announcer gurgled. "You have been in suspension for -SEVEN HUNDRED THIRTY- days. In compliance with Rhapsody Laboratories regulation, all testing candidates in the Rhapsody Science Extended Relaxation Wing must be revived periodically for a mandatory physical and mental exercise."
Groggily, the woman stood up from her bed, gazing around the room in silence after the voice's instruction. It looked much like a hotel room, though dusty and dimly lit. Despite an artificial window taking up the wall to her right imitating sunlight filtering through paper screens, she could barely make out the sound of…water? As if the room was submerged, somehow.
"You will hear a buzzer." the announcer interjected her thoughts. "When you hear the buzzer, look up at the ceiling."
From the same speakers, a jarringly loud buzz sounded and the woman turned her grey-blue eyes to the ceiling. It was as uninteresting as the rest of the room, except for what looked like a track that wound toward the closed door. The room was feeling more like it belonged in a hospital, the more she thought about it, despite the dust. How long was seven-hundred and thirty days, exactly? Before the announcer's next interruption, she concluded that it was two years.
"Good. You will hear a buzzer."
'Obviously…' she thought to herself with a displeased scowl.
"When you hear the buzzer, look down at the floor."
Again, the loud noise sounded and she looked down at her bare feet. The carpet felt stale, obviously un-vacuumed for some time. Not that it would help the dingy grey color any. She made note of her attire as well: they seemed to have her dressed in blue worker's overalls and a short-sleeved shirt of about the same color. Over her right breast was a logo of some sort…a circular design made by curved triangles…
"Good. This completes the gymnastic portion of your mandatory physical and mental wellness exercise."
'Exercise? Hardly…' she sighed, rubbing at her stiff neck as she lifted her gaze again to its normal level.
"There is a framed painting on the wall." the announcer informed her next. "Please go stand in front of it."
She managed to stagger around the end of her bed to approach the painting, finding that her legs had not quite gotten the memo that she was awake now and that they had work to do. Sure enough, a very unimaginative landscape painting greeted her on the wall, a reproduction print of some sad, long-forgotten artist's attempt at a masterpiece. Not that she could do better, of course.
"This is art. You will here a buzzer. When you hear the buzzer, stare at the art."
'But I'm already staring at the-'
The buzzer sounded and caused to her flinch slightly, but she continued staring. It was a mirror-smooth lake with a simple house on the shore, pine trees around it and far in the back was a snow-capped mountain. Ticking could be heard through the speakers and she imagined that it was giving her time to…appreciate the art?
"You should now feel mentally reinvigorated." the announcer finally claimed.
"If you suspect staring at art has not provided the required intellectual sustenance, reflect briefly on this classical music."
She was met with an echoing version of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which made her feel even less 'reinvigorated' than from staring at the painting. Because the speakers made everything sound as if spoken through water, the melody was haunting and unpleasant…she hoped it would stop soon. It did, the song interrupted by the buzzer.
"Good, now please return to your bed."
With little complaint, she crawled back into the bed, making vague note that there was a groove forming in the mattress that fit her body perfectly. Would it be another two years before she was awakened again? Just to do the same set of tests, then instructed to sleep once more? It was something she could worry about in her dreams as they welcomed her back with open arms,she was far too tired for anything else.
It didn't seem much time had passed since her last awakening when the garbled voice woke her. But something was different.
"Good morning. You have been in suspension for nine nine nine…nine nine ni-" the announcer tried to inform her, though now sounded even further obscured by water and glitchy. "This courtesy call is to inform you that all test subjects should immediately vacate…"
The voice faded out. With knit brows, she sat up quickly and swung her legs out from under the covers, standing to looking around in the silence following the abrupt end of the announcement. The room was now dark, only the emergency lights along the floor by the far wall providing illumination. What had he been saying? All test subjects should vacate…what was going on? She could hear what sounded like creaking pipes and somewhere far in the distance water gushing and perhaps…screaming. Even in her room she was noticing cracks that had formed in the walls and realized that the carpet was damp, feeling it squishing under her bare feet as she explored. But before she could make any sort of sense of the situation, a frantic knocking came at her door, reeling around to face it with wide eyes.
"Hello? Anyone in there?"
This new voice was clearly not a recording and that she could tell, it was a male and likely from British origin if she was hearing the accent right.
"Helloooo?" he implored again, his tone full of fret. "Are you going to open the door? At any time?"
Not wanting to be rude and, quite frankly, wanting an explanation for where she was and what was going on, she made her way over to the door and carefully turned the door's handle. He apparently heard the noise and gave a cry of triumph.
"Ha! I knew someone was alive in there."
But as she opened the door, instead of greeting another human being she stood staring at a spherical device of some sort that was attached to the ceiling-rail that seemed to also run along the hallway beyond her room. The sphere resembled an eyeball with a bright blue iris and black pupil, encased in a dinged-up grey metal case and two protruding handles on its top and bottom. Upon spotting her as well, the sphere's pupil shrank and it seemed to jump back in surprise.
"AH!" the British voice emitted from the sphere, marking 'it' as a 'he'. "Oh. My. God. You look terribl-"
Her eyes narrowed at him; she didn't need a mirror to know that she likely looked like a wreck. After all, she had been asleep for at least two years when she had last been awakened. In fairness, it was mostly just her dark brown hair that was sticking up everywhere, having long been pulled loose from her simple ponytail. Her skin was paler than it had been and bags had formed under her eyes, but she still seemed to have retained her physical fitness for the most part. While still staring the British sphere down, she pulled her hair tie out and smoothed back her fly-away hair, pulling it back into the ponytail in her best attempt at improving her appearance.
"Umm…good," he managed to correct himself with a hopeful tone, clearly not wanting to offend her. "Looking good, actually. Are you okay? Are you- don't answer that. I'm absolutely sure you're fine. There's plenty of time for you to recover. Just take it slow."
The woman nodded, relaxing a bit after her initial surprise. But the momentary peace she felt was interrupted as the speakers seemed to come back to life long enough to make another announcement.
"Please prepare for emergency evacuation."
Clearly demanding answers, she looked again to the sphere who seemed to be just as startled as she was.
"Stay calm!" he implored her, gliding into the room over her head on the rail. " 'Prepare' - that's all they're saying. 'Prepare.' It's all fine. Alright? Just- let's have a seat here on your bed, yeah? Let me explain the situation."
Nodding again while he watched her, she closed the door before seating herself on the edge of the bed. As the moments passed, she was gathering more questions than she was answers…where was she? How did she get here? What was happening? Why was their a reason for an emergency evacuation…or even the preparing for one? And what was with this eyeball?
"Well, firstly, I should introduce myself," he began, gazing down at her from his rail. "I am Wheatley. And you are…I mean, I already know who you are because of the file we have, though it looks like your last was omitted. Strange, eh? So, you're Chell."
She nodded in reply, vaguely recalling having filled out an application form at some point in the past…that must be what he was referring to.
"Not much of a talker, are you? Well! That's fine, that's fine, don't need to do a lot of talking right now anyway. That could also be the slight case of serious brain damage, we'll need to have you tested for that. Most subjects do experience some cognitive deterioration after a few months in suspension and you've been under for…well, more than a few. Quite a few, really, we'll need to do a check as soon as possible. But we can worry about all that later, for now you just need to be a good listener."
Chell was staring at him with wide-eyes and a worried expression. Wheatley was quick to babble on reassuringly.
"Don't be alarmed! Although, if you do feel alarm, try to hold onto that feeling because that is the proper reaction to being told you have brain damage. I'm sure it's nothing, just…just shock. Yes, that's it. Pretty shocking to wake up to such a mess! I mean, not just the room…the room is pretty damp and the lights are off, but what I really mean is that, well- well, to be honest, the whole facility has gone to hell in a hand basket and we need to get out of here."
Wheatley sighed, gazing around the room as he spoke while Chell listened quietly, hands in her lap.
"This is Rhapsody Science Enrichment Center," he began to explain. "I don't know if you remember that, but we are on the cutting edge of science and technology in all the world. A lab hidden deep below the ocean far away from the rest of the world so we could study and test whatever we wanted without worrying about the public going 'oh, you mustn't do that, it isn't right!' or 'oh, it's too dangerous to inject people with mantis DNA!' It was the perfect environment to further science, it was! Well, until the plasmids got out of hand, that is…"
Chell tilted her head to one side, curious. He took it as his cue to continue.
"It started here in Rhapsody, but I hear the same thing is going on over at the main city, Rapture," Wheatley spoke with a grim tone, focusing on looking at the waterlogged carpet. "Plasmids were our pride and joy and Rapture was always clamoring for more and more. New powers, stronger, better…it was crazy! What we did here was to extract unstable stem cells from this particular sea slug parasite and use them to make the body do things it normally could never do through a serum made from it we called ADAM. Levitating things, sending bolts of lightning from your fingers…it was amazing, we made people into Gods! Everything and anything was possible! But…turns out that playing with the human body is really dangerous and ADAM is really, really addictive. Like ice-cream. The test subjects we had started going bonkers, like really violently. Setting fire to the labs, ripping down cameras, setting the mantis-people loose. We had to shut down most of the facility just to keep things together. We'd pumped them so full of ADAM that they're hardly human anymore…we call them Splicers now. Nasty lot, but strong and they're organizing."
Chell sat in horrified silence as her mechanical companion continued. Gods and mantis-people?
"I don't know how Rapture's doing at this point, they stopped communicating with us sometime last year while they were in the middle of some sorta civil war. Can you imagine? A utopia under the sea tearing itself apart at the seams…and what we've done here is to blame. I can't say I'm happy with the results as they are now, but at the time- well, we were just doing science, after all. Agh, I'm babbling…I can tell you more about the whole thing along the way, but what we need to do is get you to out of here and up to my lab."
The sphere slid along his rail and indicated the closet.
"You should have a pair of special boots in here, though I'm not sure if there are any socks," Wheatley looked apologetic. "I know I'd hate wearing shoes without them, but luxury is not really an option at the moment I'm afraid. But, while you're on your way, I'll see what I can find. So, think of that as…incentive. No, a prize! But the boots, right…those are one of our less-deadly inventions that never found any real application over in Rapture: the long-fall boots!"
Chell had approached the closet during his spiel and retrieved a pair of tall boots with braces along the back, straps across the front and instead of having a proper heel, they had a curving, springy strip that almost resembled a crowbar where it touched the floor. She raised a brow, but slipped her legs into the boots, adjusting the straps before standing again, testing them.
"Those, I am happy to report, will actually keep you from harm," the sphere reported in a happier tone. "They may not look like much, but you could toss yourself off the edge of the Grand Canyon and not only will you land on your feet, but you'll be right as rain! We started issuing these to all our testers after we learned that while we could make plasmids for jumping really, really high, the impact coming back down wasn't so pleasant. What a mess that was, lots of broken legs…just, outright shattered bones."
She blinked up at him and he shook himself with an awkward chuckle.
"There I go, going on and on again," he swiveled around and headed for the door, Chell opening it for him and they both entered a dim hallway with many other doors that resembled hers, some ajar. "This, where we are right now, is the Relaxation Wing. We needed a lot of test subjects, but not all at once, so we kept them in a storage of sorts. Think of it like being on permanent vacation, but you spend most of that time sleeping and the rest running test courses requiring use of our latest plasmids...against mantis-people."
Chell simply nodded and followed behind him, peeking into some of the doors that were open. Those rooms seemed to be in the same state of ruin as her own, but in none of them could she spot any life. Had they already been evacuated and now it was her turn?
"Fortunately, the Splicers never reached this area of the facility," he commented, though looked around thoroughly enough. "Unfortunately, the power to the whole place is slowly starting to fail and I do not want to be trapped down here when it does. Even more unfortunately, we're gonna have to get you through the areas that the Splicers did take over in order to reach my lab. But even more unfortunate than that, there's also the trouble with the facility itself. You see, it's run by an advanced form of network involving ADAM, lots of wires, electricity…to put it simply, though, we figured out a way to channel out brainwaves through these robotic vessels and the one running this place has lost her last marble."
He turned to look at Chell, who had stopped in her tracks with a puzzled look, squinting up at him.
"Uh, you didn't think this was all of me, did you?" Wheatley blinked and then chuckled a bit. "Oh no no no, definitely no! I just plugged myself into my Remote ADAM Consciousness Control Cable and here we are. I'm actually sitting in my lab with my RA3C because, to be honest, I can't risk going to where you are myself. Ah, that's only because I'm no good fighting against those Splicers and I'm not so keen on having them tear me apart, which is one of their favorite activities. Not that I'm afraid of them, that is! I'm not, I'm not…just, I can't risk getting killed since I'm one of the last sane people in the place that can get us out of here."
Chell just nodded before looking further ahead to a heavy metallic door at the end of the hall.
"Just beyond that door is one of the main walkway rings," Wheatley explained, the pistons holding the door beginning to hiss and billow out steam as they pulled into the walls, the sound of gears grinding inside. "We're going to head to another safe area nearby. It's one of the few labs they haven't wrecked and has one particular set of plasmids we're going to need if we want to get you through the test chambers and up here to the personal labs."
She stood back as the door slowly lowered into the floor, revealing a glass corridor branching in two different directions. Chell gasped and walked past where Wheatley was to press her hands against the glass, gazing into the ocean surrounding the walkway ring. It was dark, but the facility had lighting from outside and within that allowed her to glimpse the seabed and the odd fish that swam by.
"Yeah, amazing, isn't it?" he chimed in, hovering just behind her shoulder; the railing ran the full length of the corridor as far as she could tell. "Normally I'd ask you not to smudge up the glass, but hey, the place is already a disaster. You can do whatever you want, so long as we get out of here in mostly one piece. Though, we should keep the sight-seeing to a minimum since, you know, the whole place is crawling with Splicers and I can't guarantee that the safe places will continue being, well, safe."
With a sigh, she stepped away from the glass and she nodded up at the sphere. He zipped down the corridor heading west of the Relaxation Wing, Chell walking briskly along behind him. It was a brief moment of silence between her and her new companion, which she was thankful for. She had hardly been awake more than five minutes and her head was spinning with everything he'd told her. Somehow she had come to reside in a scientific testing facility deep beneath the sea run by a crazed woman and it was now overrun with her former human test subjects that had superhuman-if not Godly-abilities...or possibly mantis DNA.
In a word, it was terrifying and she knew that things would likely get much, much worse.
Wheatley, meanwhile, reflected on his luck in finding this seemingly mute woman. A shame she couldn't talk, it had been ages since he'd last spoken to someone who wasn't out of their mind on plasmids. Well, he hadn't made much of a point in speaking with the active test subjects, it was his job to watch over the ones who were artificially asleep in the Relaxation rooms. They never really talked, except for a few who screamed profanities when they were awoken for their mandatory physical and mental exercise.
But unlike them, Chell said nothing. She only nodded and listened to him, doing what he asked without questioning or cursing or attacking him like the last five had. He might not be there physically, but the damage done to his Consciousness Core connected back to him and it was never pleasant when the test subjects assaulted him with various objects found in their rooms…especially lamps. He hated those lamps. But, as far as he was concerned, she seemed much more promising than them all, even though her file had stated that she was 'abnormally stubborn' and 'should not be tested.'
"Ah, here we are!" he exclaimed as they were coming up on another sealed door. "This is the Aperture Lab, our lastly constructed module and home to the very last plasmid we developed that never even reached Rapture. Which, is a good thing, considering what it does."
Chell gazed up at him uncertainly, but the sphere seemed both proud and excited.
"You see, 'aperture' is just another fancy word for 'portal' and that's exactly what we created! The very first plasmid to utilize both hands in its use and it would have opened up nearly infinite travel possibilities! You put one of the portals on one wall, and then the other someplace else! Step through one, out the other! No mess, no fuss, no pain! And it's this plasmid that's going to get us out of this hand basket. That, you know, is heading to hell. Hell in a hand basket…I did use that description earlier didn't I?"
She swallowed her worries and did her best to look confident as she smiled up at him with another small nod: despite it all, at least she wasn't alone in all this and while he never stopped talking, it was better than the eerie silence the facility currently offered. He was actually amusing to boot. Wheatley seemed to pause for a moment while looking down at her from his rail and far away in his lab, a slight blush bloomed on his freckled cheeks.
"W-well! Of course, back to business," he stammered, turning to the door and accessed it. "I promise that we'll both get out of here, minimal troubles, maybe a few bumpy patches here and there but in the end, mostly in one piece and on our way back to civilization. Yup."
Chell merely waited for the door to open, hoping that getting out wouldn't take too long.
Chapter 2: Aperture And Go!
The first plasmid is always a doozy...
With the hiss of the steam pistons and the grind of gears, the door before Chell and the mechanical shell containing Wheatley's consciousness receded into the floor and the lights of the Aperture Lab slowly flickered to life. Hesitantly, she stepped inside and looked over the sterile environment. Like her room, she could tell it had fallen to misuse and the papers scattered everywhere and overturned equipment would hint that the scientists had left in quite a hurry. Long abandoned rows of test tubes, enough of them were broken on the floor to make her thankful for the boots she wore. Wheatley slid along his track and approached what appeared to be a vending machine.
"Ah, good, here it is," he sighed in relief, looking back over toward Chell. "I was worried for a moment that they'd carried off all this stuff when the other scientists made a run for it. Guess they didn't bother, which is great for us!"
Chell wandered over, narrowing her eyes at the machine. It was cheerfully painted orange and blue in swirling patterns, the sign at its top proclaiming 'Aperture-and-Go!' with the words between two glowing ovals in the same blue and orange. The glass front showed rows of syringes that were wrapped in pairs, one of each color per. Looking first to her companion, then to the machine again, Chell reached out and pulled down on the lever on its side. It rumbled and came to life with cheerful children proclaiming it to be the travel of the future before a syringe set plopped down gently into a padded chute.
"This thing's a prototype, but the plasmid had been tested quite extensively," Wheatley informed her as she knelt down to retrieve the two syringes and unbind them from each other. "In fact, that was GLaDOS' favorite to test, if I'm being honest. And I am."
She looked up at him at the name, tilting her head.
"Oh, didn't I tell you about her? She's the one who runs this place and is in charge of all the testing. But thankfully the scientists managed to get her mostly shut down before, well, the Splicers got to them."
Chell nodded, then held the syringes up in a questioning manner.
"Er," he seemed to hesitate again and when he spoke, she could hear the frown in his voice. "Well, here's where I'm gonna have to ask quite a bit of you. It's nothing too big, no worries. But, would you kindly take those and put one in each arm? Doesn't matter which goes where, just don't put both in one arm. We tried that once just to see what did happen, you know, for science. Tore the poor sap's arm up. Like a log in a wood chipper. Just…a log filled with strawberry jam. And bones. Actually, it was more like putting an arm in a wood chipper, not really a log at all."
He cut himself off when Chell began to look horrified again.
"But that won't happen because you'll have one in each arm!" he backpedaled almost frantically, the woman sighing as she calmed again. "Though, this is the first time you'll be trying plasmids, so it's gonna be a pretty big shock to your system. Nothing to worry about, though. Should just be a sharp pinch and we'll be set!"
Quickly before she had any time to think about it and really against better judgment considering the mystery liquids in the syringes, Chell plunged the orange into her right arm and the blue into her left. At first she felt nothing, but it was only moments before pain wracked her frame starting with her arms and crawling up to her spine. The syringes fell to the floor and she staggered on her feet, vision swimming into darkness before she collapsed in a heap with a heavy thud. Wheatley zoomed over on his track and franticly looked her over, unable to do much in his current state.
"Oh no, oh no, no no no no no!" he clamored, looking around the lab with his pupil wide while trying to come up with something to do. "I hate when they react like that! Chell? Chelley? Can I call you Chelley? I know you're not awake at the moment to answer, but I don't want to be rude! Can you please wake up, though? We can't really get started on escaping if you don't wake up…and the socks! You can't get to the socks if you're asleep on the floor! Right! I'm going to go get the socks, you…you stay there for a bit, but when I get back, you should definitely wake up. Yes. Be right back!"
The sphere shut down, two metal eyelids closing over the bright blue display. Some distance from the Aperture Lab, the real Wheatley opened his gunmetal blue eyes and promptly hid his face in his hands. His elbows rested on his knees and he groaned, head laying forward with an intricate cord jutting out of the base of his neck and wound down to an intricate device behind his chair.
What a mess…he had hoped this test subject wouldn't be as prone to the initial shock of her first plasmid injection, but each case was different. Some could pop in the ADAM that would let them throw fireballs and not even bat an eye, others blacked out and wouldn't come to for hours.
Thin fingers ran up through his burnt orange hair with knitted brows before adjusting his square-rimmed glasses and stood up, careful not to step on the cord connected to his neck: he knew first hand that ripping it out suddenly like that would leave him writhing around on the floor bawling like a child. And while such a sight often amused his former co-workers ('And where were they now, hm? Dead, that's where. Shows them to make fun of me.'), he couldn't afford such a distraction right now. Chell would likely be out cold for a bit, but he didn't want to abandon her too long. Just long enough to find some socks. Really, he just wanted a distraction from this current situation…and his guilt for having falsely assured the poor woman that she would hardly feel a thing.
"I was just trying to comfort her," he reasoned with himself aloud, stepping out of his lab area and into a small former supply closet that he had re-purposed as his living quarters. Not like he could get to his original place up in the Residential Sphere. "And if I had been honest, she may not have done it. But I think she wants to get out of here as much as I do, so it's best for m- us that she went through with it."
Wheatley pulled a box from under his cot and began digging through its contents: extra clothes and a few office supplies. After emptying most of it, he finally found what he was looking for and held up a pair of clean black socks.
"Ah, good, the last pair but I can get as many as I want when we're out of here," he smiled and tucked them into his pocket before returning to his chair.
With a quick check of his barricaded door, making certain it was well-reinforced, he closed his eyes and with a slight jolt shoved his consciousness back into the Core deeper in the facility.
In the darkness, Chell eventually became aware of numbers…of counting…the voice sounded familiar, but not her own. It was male, with an accent…it took her a few minutes to recall that it had to be her new companion, Wheatley. She couldn't yet move her body, feeling like someone had slugged her right in her lower back before putting her head in a vice. Her stomach felt sour and she had a coppery taste in her mouth, her arms almost unbearably warm as if she'd sunburned them badly. Just a sharp pinch, huh?
"Four hundred and seven, four hundred and eight," the sphere counted the floor tiles dully. "How did they keep track of how many tiles they'd need for this whole place, anyway? Four hundred and…was it nine? Yeah, nine. Four hundred and ten…"
Finally regaining her awareness and control of her limbs, Chell stirred slightly. Wheatley spun around to face her with a cheerful outburst of surprise.
"Oh, fantastic! You're coming around!" he babbled, moving as close as he could on the rail. "I was worried it would be a few hours yet, but here we are only one hour past! Did the plasmid take? Wait, no, are you okay? I should have asked that first. Yes, you're okay, aren't you?"
Chell managed to roll onto her back and glared up at him with a mixture of dulling pain and exasperation written into her expression, causing the Core to flinch back a bit.
"Ah, well, you're alive," he bumbled, looking as guilty as a mechanical sphere could. "So there's that, right? Silver lining. I, uh, I know I said it would just be a little pinch but I was worried you wouldn't go through with it if I told you four out of five test subjects black out the first time they use a plasmid and, well, this one is a double-doser."
She sighed and lifted her arms up to look at them, brows knitting as she did. Each arm was aglow with what looked like raised spider webs of blue and orange respectably, her nails now a pitch black. Turning them over to observe her palms, she found a black circle in each that connected to the webs. Pushing herself up onto her feet, she gave a nod to Wheatley as her expression became determined once again.
"Now, these portals do have some limits," he explained, piloting himself over to a cleared wall of the lab that had two white panels. "These panels are painted with a special white paint that's made from Moon rock. That's the only thing we could find that they would work on. Great for conductivity, but super poisonous so, you know, try to hang on to any urges you might get to lick the walls."
She raised a brow at him as if the notion was completely idiotic, but stepped over to the white panels.
"What you're gonna want to do is point your right hand at this one on the right and make a gesture like you're throwing a ball," Wheatley instructed, waiting for her to give it a try.
Chell closed her right hand and noticed that the orange webs began to pulse. She aimed at the right panel and pretended she was tossing a baseball over-handed at it, gasping in surprise as a ball of orange light did fly from her hand and formed a swirling oval on the panel. Wheatley emitted a sound clip of clapping and nodded.
"Good, good! Your aim is pretty spot on, too," he complimented. "Now, do the same thing with the other hand toward that left panel."
Repeating the process with blue webbed hand, she tossed a ball of light at the left panel. But when it impacted and formed into an oval, it showed her a view of the lab behind her…and in the orange panel, she could see from the corner of her eye, was herself looking in that direction. It was like a mirror of sorts but as she stepped forward and cautiously reached toward the blue portal, her hand touched nothing and came out of the orange portal. Her eyes went wide and she looked up to Wheatley with an amazed expression.
"That's all there is to it!" he proclaimed, pride in his tone. "We're gonna come across a lot more of these panels along the way, but we can use them to get you through the wrecked testing chambers and up here to the Olympus Labs. Hopefully this will be the only plasmid you'll need to get m- us out of here, I'd rather you not end up like all the other Splicers lurking around."
Chell nodded and looked to him expectantly, clearly waiting further instruction. It was certainly a leap of faith to put her fate in the unseen hands of a man she couldn't even see, but it was her best option at this time.
"Alright, I've done a quick looky-loo to see what areas are safe at this point and, well, none of them are beyond this lab and the Relaxation Wing, I'm afraid. But I'll take us on the safest path I can to minimize you having to deal with the Splicers. Er, not a guarantee you won't have to fight some of them, though, so…let's find you something to beat them senseless with. There's gotta be something lying around here, just…just start looking, I'll let you know if I find anything."
With the Core zipping around overhead on his rail, Chell began opening drawers in desks and sifting through trash bins. While she did find a few bars of a candy she determined to be called Pep Bars, anything usable as a weapon remained elusive. Shoving the bars into one of her pockets, she stood and brushed herself off, looking over to the corner where Wheatley was searching.
"Oh, here, here," he indicated a cabinet below one of the sinks. "There should be a wrench or something down there. Hopefully. The pipes always did require adjusting, but I hope the scientists didn't carry them off when they were making to escape."
Chell pondered briefly on the fact that while it seemed most of the other scientists had tried to make a break for it, Wheatley had remained in Rhapsody. Shrugging it off for the moment, she crossed the lab and knelt down to open up the cabinet, giving a pleased smile when she retrieved a slightly rusted, twelve-inch pipe wrench.
"Brilliant!" Wheatley proclaimed as Chell tested the heft of her new weapon. "I mean, it may not look like much, but one solid whack in the head should do the trick if they give you any problems. Always better to avoid conflict, if possible, but even better to be prepared for any imminent brainings needed."
Though the Splicers were mad, murderous, and hardly human according to her companion, Chell still felt unsettled knowing that in order for them to survive long enough to escape, she would have to spill blood in quite a brutal manner. The sound of the door mechanisms activating roused her from her thoughts and she strode over to join Wheatley who was mid-ramble about the Splicers.
"-and while the thuggish ones run around with bits of pipe or whatever they could get their hands on to swing at you, they're wicked quick and you do not want to get yourself surrounded by them. Not too many of the leatherheads since the facility only had a limited armed force, but all the same, keep and eye out for any of them running lose with firearms. What else…oh! God help y- us if we run into those Houdini freaks…they were a group we tested the original teleportation plasmid on sometime after they'd been exposed to fire and ice. Also, I think some of the other Splicers may be loose in the catwalk systems behind the testing areas, crawling around on the pipes and wires like damn spiders with sharp hooks. So, you know…just look everywhere, all at once, as often as, uh, possible."
As the door retracted into the floor and the lights began to shut off behind her, Chell could feel dread settling itself comfortably in her stomach. How was she going to get through this unimaginable maze that was overrun with super-powered monsters keen on tearing her to shreds wielding only a pipe wrench and the ability to move through portals? She didn't think she'd ever felt so completely outmatched.
"This way, this way!" Wheatley urged, Chell bounding along behind him. "Down this way past the Relaxation Wing is the Cave Johnson Memorial Bio-Sphere. We were dabbling in ADAM-infused plants shortly before the original head of things died. Hence the name, Cave Johnson Memorial…he was the one who found out first hand that the Moon-paint was, in fact, poisonous."
They had time to pause at the door as it worked at opening itself, Chell gripping her wrench tight in one hand. Wheatley looked down at her and cleared his throat, getting her attention.
"Now, uh, I feel I should inform you that this area is one that the Splicers sometimes visit, though not as often because it's wide-open, not too many nooks and crannies to hide in. But just so you know, you may need to put that wrench to use. You wouldn't happen to be a baseball player would you?"
Chell shook her head to indicate that she wasn't.
"Hm, shame, they have good swinging arms. I bet they could knock a Splicer's block clear off with just one-oh, there goes the door! Keep your eyes sharp! My rail only circles the outer rim of this dome so see if you can steer clear of the middle, where, well, you'd be easy picking from anything lurking around here."
Giving a solemn nod, she grit her teeth with a determined scowl as the door fell away with the hiss of pistons and the pair entered the Cave Johnson Memorial Bio-Sphere. Wheatley shuddered to a stop barely beyond the door, staring down at what looked like a crushed wooden crate with a widening pupil. Chell looked at the crate, then up to the Core with a raised brow.
"Oh bloody hell, they've found the Combustible Lemonade…"
Chell did not like the sound of that in the least.
Chapter 3: Combustible Lemonade
What exactly was Combustible Lemonade and why in the name of all things holy did it exist?
"Oh, this is bad," Wheatley whined, his forehead back in the lab breaking into a sweat. "So very, very bad…I thought that we'd disposed of that stuff already!"
Chell knelt down and sifted through the wrecked crate, pulling free a sheet of paper that served as the instructions for this 'Combustible Lemonade' that had her companion so worried.
"From the Rhapsody Labs: Combustible Lemonade
Introduction: When life gives you lemons, don't just make lemonade! Make Combustible Lemonade! Our engineers have painstakingly created luscious lemons perfect for all your incendiary needs, but why stop there? We took the next step for your convenience and carefully squeezed our lemons and thus this delightfully flammable drink was born!
NOTICE: Rhapsody Labs is not responsible for any injury that occurs as a direct or indirect result of our Combustible Lemonade. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK AND THE RISK OF THOSE AROUND YOU.
- Burning down structures for the purposes of demolition (or fun).
- Burning down your enemies ( Tip: houses make for exceptional kindling to heighten the effect of the lemonade).
- Starting bonfires, campfires, fireplaces, pyres, and forest fires.
- Fourth of July festivities ( Tip: try adding fireworks to a punch bowl of our lemonade, it's a blast!).
- April Fool's Day pranks ( Tip: simply pour a glass of our lemonade and present to your target!).
- Carefully uncap the bottle. Contents are under pressure. DO NOT SHAKE BEFORE OPENING. OR AFTER. DO NOT SHAKE THE LEMONADE AT ANY TIME.
- Carefully pour the lemonade onto the surface* you wish to set ablaze.
* Note that the only surface that does not instantaneously combust when in contact with the lemonade is glass. This makes bottling possible and such uses as our holiday suggestions. If you are attempting to burn down a structure made entirely of glass, simply rent or purchase a wrecking ball and crane instead.
PRODUCT CONTAINS TRACE AMOUNTS OF ADAM, NAPALM AND NITROGLYCERIN."
She had to skim the sheet a second time to be sure she'd read it correctly before standing, shoving it toward Wheatley with a demanding expression. He startled out of his tangent and managed to look sheepish.
"Ah, well that…that's why I'm so worried," he explained helplessly. "My boss, the guy who used to run this place, was a hot-head named Cave Johnson. And one day, while he was dying of Moon-paint poisoning, he demanded that Life couldn't give him lemons. One thing lead to another and he ordered the scientists to develop combustible lemons. So they did and we had an orchard of lemon trees, but no use for them. They ended up turning them into lemonade so they'd stop dropping off the trees and setting fire to the Bio-Sphere, hoping they could market it as a more friendly version of nitro. We were supposed to either ship that stuff to Rapture or dump it in the deep-sea trench but, ah, it doesn't look like we got around to it and…now the Splicers found it."
Chell crumpled up the instructions and tossed the ball lightly at the core with an exasperated sigh: could this facility get any more ridiculous? Wheatley flinched and babbled on with an almost apologetic tone.
"A-anyway, we'll just have to be careful not to trip over any bottle of that stuff along the way. But if we do find anyone waving around a bottle of lemonade, well…resist the urge to drink any. So don't lick the paint, no lemonade. Should be golden!"
Not paying much attention to him at this point, Chell stepped away from the door to take in the vast Bio-Sphere. The floor beneath her appeared to be red brick that wrapped around against the wall and crossed through the middle of the circular area, leaving four segments of artificially watered grass lawns where various types of plants were grown. Toward the north-west she could see the lemon trees, several of them having been scorched badly by their own fruit. The south-western segment seemed to yield an overgrown garden of potatoes, tomatoes, corn and beans. To the left of the lemon trees in the northern end was a field of wheat and sugar cane; the last segment, which was right before them, held a handmade lake with massive fish that Chell assumed had been encouraged by unnatural means. The beams supporting the thick glass panes of the dome were covered with thorny vines baring breathtaking, luminescent roses in every color of the rainbow. Crisscrossing overhead were numerous catwalks and pipes for the irrigation system that seemed to still be working, as the plants were all quite lively; the only real sign of neglect was the lack of pruning to keep them uniform.
Chell took a deep breath and followed Wheatley's track, heading for the hatch door she spotted in the north. Realizing that his companion was leaving without him, he whizzed after her frantically.
"H-hey, don't go off on your own!" he scolded her, earning a glare from over her shoulder. "I-you might get lost without me! And then we'd have no chance of getting out of here if we're both too busy trying to find one anoth-"
He trailed off as Chell stopped suddenly, her gaze rising to the catwalks above them and her wrench gripped so tightly that he could see her knuckles shining white under her skin. Wheatley followed her scanning with his own, wondering what had gotten her attention.
"Did you see something?" he whispered, receiving a nod. "Oh, well…is it a bad something?"
Before she could make any sort of response of her own, he got his answer. Some distance he could hear the heavy thunk of steel-toed boots on the catwalk. Chell's blood ran cold as she caught a better glimpse of the figure, its features illuminated by a nearby yellow rose. It was a man-at least he had been once-with wild black hair and dressed much like she was, but his overalls were caked with filth and dried blood. His face was a grotesque parody of a normal human's: the eyes seemed far too large for their sockets and were yellowed, the iris black as pitch. His mouth was pulled into a painfully deranged grin, crooked teeth revealed above an unkempt beard as he stopped in his tracks. Chell made note that he was carrying what looked like a piece of rusted pipe railing…that was also stained with blood, though shiny red and likely freshly spilled.
"I'm not hallucinating…" he croaked darkly, taking a step toward Chell. "I'm not…you are!"
With an inhuman shriek, he leaped down from the catwalk and onto the path, rushing headlong at the startled pair brandishing his pipe like a sword; Wheatley seemed to shrink back, his panels trembling. Chell debated fleeing for a moment before taking a battle stance, knowing that turning her back to the Splicer would only leave her more vulnerable. Meanwhile, the core above her looked around frantically for some other way out of the situation, not having expected to encounter one of the beastly former-humans so close to the last safe wing of the facility so soon.
Before he could offer any advice, Chell barely fended off a blow from the pipe, blocking it with her wrench and kicking the man in his chest, pushing him back a few feet as he stumbled. This only served to enrage him further and he charged once more, attempting to sweep the pipe at her legs. Unable to get away fast enough, it struck uselessly against the metal of her long-fall boot and the reverberation shook the pipe from his hands. As he fumbled to retrieve his weapon, Chell took off at a sprint, grabbing hold of a nearby ladder and ascended into the catwalks. Wheatley gave a cry of protest, his rail system restricted to the lower level of the Bio-Sphere.
"No no no no, don't go up there!" he implored, gazing up at her frantically. "It's not safe!"
She ignored his pleas, reaching the catwalk quickly and defiantly began kicking at the rusted metal until the ladder barely clung on. Spotting his prey getting away, the Splicer tried to clamber after her, but his weight on the compromised ladder tore it free, crashing down to the floor with a surprised growl. While he was busy trying to free himself from the tangle of metal, Chell pointed to Wheatley, then to the door in the north before taking off in that direction herself at a full sprint.
"O-oh! You want to get to the door!" he concluded, zipping along his rail toward it. "That's a good idea! Brilliant, really! We'll lock that guy in here and be on our way!"
Above in the catwalks, Cell reached another ladder that was nearest to the door, climbing down as fast as she could. Wheatley wasted no time activating the mechanisms, pistons pulling back and the gears rumbling to life. Meanwhile, the Splicer tossed the ladder off himself and was back on his feet, looking around for the pair. The tell-tale clunk of the door retracting into the floor alerted him and his gaze locked onto Chell; in his eyes, she could see such a murderous, sickening hunger that her breath caught and she froze in place.
"Come on!" Wheatley pleaded, already in the next hallway, waiting on her so he could reseal the door. "I'd rather he not join us in here!"
But fear seemed to have rooted her in place, her eyes wide as the Splicer charged her at a breakneck pace.
"Would you kindly get in here?" Wheatley tried again, his voice cracking with urgency.
This time she responded, turning on her heel and stepping through the doorway. With a sigh of relief, the core had the door sliding up again just a millisecond after she'd cleared it. Just as it clicked into place, they could hear the furious Splicer crash up against it, beating at the thick metal and screaming profanities.
"I will find you!" he threatened one last time before silence crashed down upon the pair hidden from him.
Chell was leaning against the wall, trying desperately to catch her breath with one of her hands over her racing heart. Is that what she could expect from the other Splicers? No amount of forewarning from Wheatley could have prepared her for something like that. The body seemed normal enough, but the humanity was gone from the Splicer's eyes completely, leaving only rage and hunger…
"Ah, I should have also mentioned," Wheatley began, not looking at her, but down at her feet. "The, ah, Splicers. In addition to being aggressive, fast and strong…they're also looking to get a quick fix of ADAM. Which, thanks to that aperture plasmid, you now carry in your blood. So…well, let's not let them get that close to you again."
Chell glowered up at him, causing the core to shrink back again; her eyes cut so sharply, he was finding.
"I know, I know, I should have said something earlier, it-it just slipped my mind, that's all! My mind's so crowded with things, you know? It won't happen again, I promise."
The woman stared with a deadpan expression.
"Promise," he reassured her.
She sighed, sliding down into a seated position. Giving the door a glance, she turned her gaze down the hallway stretching out in the opposite direction. Some ways away she could see an overturned trashcan, a camera that had been torn down from the wall, and what looked like yet another crushed crate. Chell wondered if it was too late to just go back to her Relaxation room and let someone else get themselves torn to pieces trying to help this moron of a scientist escape from the facility. But the allure of freedom was too sweet and despite his shortcomings and bewildering lack of wits, she had to admit that he was growing on her.
Chell met the core's gaze and gave a nod before pointing down the hall with a questioning tilt of her head.
"Wondering what's next?" he followed her finger, shutters closing a bit in a squint. "Down this way leads to the Dining Sphere and more importantly, the Grand Testing Tower. It's kinda shaped more like a big cube but all the same, they called it a tower. That's where the test chambers are. Impressive bit of work, it can shift the chambers into any sorta order and each is directly controlled by…well, no one right now. But when GLaDOS was running things, she'd design them, construct them, and guide the test subjects through them. But ever since the Splicers knocked her offline, the Tower's been still as stone. That'll making climbing up to top all the easier! At the very tip-top of that--with short-cutting through some maintenance corridors and my lab, of course--is the Sun's Ray, the bathysphere that leads up to the surface. From there we can take one of the escape vessels and set course for land!"
Closing her eyes for a moment, Chell nodded in understanding.
"Ah, that was pretty scary, huh?" he observed, a frown turning down his lips in his lab. "Here, why don't you just rest here for a few minutes and I'll wander ahead to get the Tower's power going. I'll have to divert the last energy from the Relaxation Wing, but not to worry, you were the only one left there that was, er, still alive."
She barely caught him add "I think," as he zipped down the hall on his rail, sending an implacable shiver down her spine: what had happened to everyone else?