Sunlight. That was sunlight, right? She remembered it faintly, knew its name and how it felt, but it pressed against her skin like a thousand pinpricks.
Chell lowered her arm, which she had shielded her eyes with, and stood still, a statue before a field of grain. The closest color she could recall was the yellow of some ridged panels she had been enclosed with once, turret-fire red and sharp against it; the sky, a portal blue, was littered with clouds and breathtakingly endless.
She fell to her knees, pavement skidding against them. It was warm, even through her jumpsuit’s leggings. A breeze shook the field, which spread to the horizon, and Chell’s hair circled around her ears, brushing against her chin as if to hold up her head.
Chell bounded in to the field, fell in to it, reveled in its texture. She stumbled as she stood, reeling. There was dirt, too – dirt! Not mold, or moss, but soil, still clinging to the spaces between her fingers. The soil was smeared against her leggings, and she kicked up more soil and fallen bits of wheat as the backs of her Long Fall Boots dug in to the ground. She smiled, and spun once, twice, three times before falling again, laughing, this time on her back.
The grain and sky circled around her, her head still spinning with gleeful dizziness. Dirt and leaves brushed against her shoulders as she shifted her arms and stared. Sunlight. Soil. The sky. It was all before her, like suddenly recalling a vague memory.
A flock of birds, V-shaped, flew in the opposite direction of the clouds, and though she had seen one or two in the facility it still took her a moment to recall their names. She watched as they vanished behind the clouds, breathing as hard and deep as she could – the air was crisp, and cool.
She waited until the clouds had flown from one end of the sky to the other before finally standing, brushing a thin layer of dirt from her back. Though her euphoria had not yet faded, the sky was already dimming.
Chell walked toward the shed she had exited from, but only for the Companion Cube – it sat where she left it, after being thrown from the shed behind her.
The fresh air had blown away much of its charred odor, and Chell lifted it, cradling it against her chest. It was lighter than she remembered, though its shape had long since been etched in to her memory. The hearts on each side of the Companion Cube were barely visible beneath an ashen layer of grime, and Chell resolved to eventually find a way to clean it. After all, she had all the time in the world.
There was sky and soil here; she was free.
She stepped again in to the field, treading more carefully now so as to not disturb the wheat any further. She walked away from the shed without once looking back.