Chapter 1: The Courtesy Call
Knocking. That was the first thing Michael heard. He kept his eyes closed and tried to go back to sleep, he was too tired to deal with whoever it was—his mom probably. Michael groaned and snuggled more into the soft blankets. Maybe she’d stop if he didn’t respond. It never worked in the past, but maybe today was his lucky day. A sudden thought protruded into his mind. This wasn’t his bed. It couldn’t be, he didn’t feel like he was laying on a literal rock. Michael ungracefully shot out of the bed flopped onto the floor with a loud thud. Ow. Michael sat up and took in his surroundings...everything was blurry. Great. Where were his glasses? Michael stood up and barely made out the shape of a nightstand next to the bed despite the darkness of the room. Michael stumbled his way through the dark, managing to only bump into the furniture/wall thrice along the way. He ran his hand along the smooth, wooden surface and miraculously found his glasses folded neatly as if they were carefully placed there. He put on the black, thick-framed glasses and every suddenly became clear.
The room resembled a small, cheap hotel room complete with a generic desk, tall lamps, plastic-looking plant in the corner, wall lamps, mass produced wall-paintings, and, of course, a microwave and fridge. The walls were a bland tan color, there were no windows to look outside from, and the carpet was flat and uncomfortable. How’d he get here? He tried to recall, but his mind was blank. More knocking. He almost forgot there was someone here. Maybe they could help him...hopefully. Michael rushed to the door and whipped the door open and his brain crashed.
Standing just outside the door frame was a slightly shorter (by an inch or two) and lanky figure with an arm raised to knock on the now-absent door. Michael hesitated to call this figure human. The figure looked human, but not quite. His pale skin was heavily freckled and he had fluffy, cocoa brown hair that seemed to fly everywhere—undoubtedly human features; however, long, thick wires ran from his back and connected him to a railway above, and his eyes were nothing more than black screens with projected cobalt irises. Did Michael forget to mention he was also suspended in the air? Upon first glance, he seemed awkward and timid as he sharply returned his arm to his side and began fidgeting around. His thin frame slightly curled in on himself shyly while hesitating to make eye contact.
“Hello.” The teen(?) greeted, “Sorry for waking you, but-but it’s really important, I swear! Well, uh, my name is Just Every Robot Ever Made Yadda yadda yadda, or JEREMY for short.” The boy—now JEREMY—gestured to his left clavicle area on his monochrome, circuit-patterned shirt where his name was neatly printed, “And, uh, how do I say this? I need to get you out of here, like, right now.”
“Wait, what!?” Michael yelled, now a lot more confused than before. This was not how he expected this would go, but here he was, “Who are you? What are you? Where am I?” he sharply asked, his anger justified by his confusion and fear.
JEREMY became more panicked, “I-I know this is all overwhelming, but please c-calm down, o-ok?” Jeremy pleaded. Michael didn’t answer and held a suspicious look, justifying hesitant to trust someone who he just met, “Please.”
Michael stared deep into JEREMY’s eyes, searching for some sign of an ulterior motive, but Michael instead found a desperate and pleading look. It was clear he was being genuine, “Alright.” Michael agreed.
JEREMY’s eyes practically lit up at his response, “You probably have a million questions right now. I can’t answer all of them since we’re kinda on a time limit, but I can answer some of the basic ones now. Right now, we are in Aperture Science, one of the world’s most prestigious and innovative research facilities. Well, until it fell apart, that is. I won’t go too in depth, but they basically did a bunch of cool science stuff. As I said before, I’m JEREMY and I’m one of the AIs that run that facility, o-or at least I was supposed to. Right now everything’s falling apart and—you know what, I’ll explain more on the way, we need to get going.”
JEREMY suddenly shot forward into the room, following the short track of railing that trailed into the room until the end where a panel in the ceiling opened up. JEREMY was then raised into the opening before it closed behind him. Immediately, the room harshly shook, causing Michael to fall onto the floor. Without a minute to breathe, the room swayed back and forth briefly as if it were dislodged before shooting up like a rocket, causing an irritating screech to claw into the teen’s ears. Michael stood up and tried to keep his balance as the room moved with some success.
“Just as a head’s up: I’ve, uh, never done this before, so you might want to hang onto something.” Michael heard JEREMY’s voice echo from every corner in the room. There was probably a speaker system hidden somewhere.
“To what?” Michael asked sarcastically, not knowing whether or not JEREMY could even hear him.
“I-I don’t know, just...something.” JEREMY responded. So JEREMY could hear him. Almost on cue, the room jerked to a stop and Michael fell forward, “Sorry, I’m trying to get my bearings. This place is a literal maze, and there isn’t much room to move around.”
Michael halfheartedly glared at the ceiling, but that quickly ended when the room continued along its path and sharply jerked left, causing the bed to shift forward and the drawer to the nightstand to slide out of its socket and onto the ground, spilling its contents. The sudden noise redirected Michael’s attention only to see his headset and MP3 player carelessly tossed onto the floor. Michael immediately picked them up and placed his headset on their proper place around his neck and stuffed the MP3 player in the pants pocket of his orange jumpsuit he’d apparently been wearing, the familiar weight of the thick cord draping across his chest was comforting in some weird way. It was familiar. The teen began to look around for his actual clothes: mainly his red hoodie, which was a gift from his mom and had been lovingly covered in patches over the years. He figured if the rest of his stuff were there, then his clothes would be somewhere around too, but after a quick scavenge, there was nothing.It was a bitter feeling, he absolutely refused to wear the annoying jumpsuit; it was thick, heavy, hot, and the material was highly uncomfortable. However, it seemed like he had no choice. As a solution, he unzipped the top half of the jumpsuit, peeled it off, revealing a Aperture-brand tank top then tightly tied the long sleeves around his waist like a belt. A large crash reminded Michael of his current situation, the far wall crumbled apart like a cracker. Its pieces fell to who knows where and it metal framework quickly collapsed on top of each other. A distinct pile of rubble and furniture was beginning to pile up against the metal beams.
“Are you alright?” JEREMY asked, a sense of urgency in his voice.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.” Michael responded.
“I can’t control certain parts of the facility, so I have to squeeze the room where I can. We’re almost there, I promise, but it’s still going to be a rough ride.”
Michael took a moment to look out the open wall, properly revealing the facility in all its glory. The first thing that came to mind was that it was HUGE. Large shipping crates were piled high while giant clear tubes ran all over the place and the facility stretched so far out of sight that the horizon was nothing more than blurry fog. Rust and time aged the walls and corridors unkind, paint was peeling back and an abundance of flora took over the place. The facility seemed lost to time. Curiosity got the best of Michael, he crept over to the broken wall and looked down. After seeing the seemingly endless abyss below, Michael appropriately screamed and scampered away from the pit of death. He decided he did NOT want to die that day.
“Oh, you looked down, didn’t you? I should’ve warned you about not to do that. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” A faint ‘thunk’ punctuated every ‘stupid’ JEREMY muttered. Michael presumed JEREMY was hitting his head.
“Hey, It’s alright. I’m still here, aren’t I?” JEREMY seemed to have hesitantly accepted this statement, “Now, if you don’t mind me asking, HOW DID I GET HERE!?”
A brief spout of silence followed, as if the AI was thinking, “Well, if you didn’t sign up for to be a test subject, then I don’t really know. There’s a lot of possibilities and so little data. I may be an AI, but there’s only so much I can do with that, Michael.”
“I don’t remember introducing myself.” Michael prompted.
“I have access to all personnel files. Yours is quite strange, actually. There’s not much in it besides your name, some basic information, and a picture. I can’t even tell how long you’ve been here.”
“Why not!?” Michael demanded desperately like it was his next breath.
“I-I’m sorry, but my internal clock’s broken. Your induction date’s also missing, it’s one of the main reasons why your file is so strange.” JEREMY was clearly trying to deescalate the situation.
“Sorry…” Michael muttered like a scolded child, unease and guilt brewing in his stomach. He felt bad for snapping at the AI, but he was scared a the moment and desperate for answers.
JEREMY’s voice pierced his thoughts, “So, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I found a way to get you onto the test track. Bad news is that I need to physically override a wall. And by physically override it, I mean ramming the room against it until it breaks.”
The room slowly and carefully turned right, revealing a wall with ‘Loading Dock’ and an arrow pointing down painted in bulky, yellow letters. It felt like those last few moments on the first hill of a roller coaster, the anxiety, the suspense. He could practically hear the clacking of a metal track in his head. The room stopped for a moment and sharply shot forward, hitting the wall with tremendous force, but it only managed to crack it. Michael was violently thrown onto the floor while the pile of rubble fell out of the room and into the abyss below. The relaxation chamber was now barren. There was only a moment’s break before room slowly backed up. Michael griped the carpet in a meager attempt to prepare for the impact. The room shot forward again, which provided enough force so the wall completely fell apart and revealed a strange, white room below.
“OK Michael, next you need to get in there and try to find something called a portal gun. We’re going to need it to get you out of here. The gun’s name’s self-explanatory. Also, don’t worry about breaking your legs, your boots will break your fall, so don’t take them off...ever. Listen, I can’t follow you right now, but I’ll meet up with you up ahead. Good luck.” JEREMY explained, leaving an uncomfortable quiet following soon after.
Chapter 2: The Beginning Of An Eternity
Michael hated the silence that followed. It suddenly clicked that he was stuck in an abandoned science facility with no knowledge of how he got there, how long he’d been there, if there were others stuck in the relaxation chambers, and what exactly was going on. Unease churned in his very soul. JEREMY promised answers, but so far Michael only got a few. It was obvious JEREMY couldn’t answer all of his questions in such a short amount of time, but something more would’ve been nice. All he knew was that the place was falling apart and JEREMY was trying to get him out of here before the whole place collapsed in on itself. It seemed strange that such a prestigious facility would just fall to disrepair. Something was up, something happened to this place, something big. Michael shook the thoughts out of his head, it would do him no good just standing around like the answers would come if he just stood there.
Michael looked down at the floor below and briefly at the strange boots he was wearing. They were simple, sleek, and had a strange curved piece sticking out the back, forming a heel of some kind. Despite their odd design, they were surprisingly comfortable. He was quite high up, but after much hesitation Michael took a deep breath and jumped. Michael braced himself unbearable pain, but it never came. The Filipino teen opened his eyes and stared at his boots in awe. If this was a sample of what Aperture could do, then he wondered what other impossible stuff they made.
After he was done gawking at the most expensive shoes he’s ever had, he looked up and took in his new surroundings. It was a stark contrast to what was behind the scenes, which was more industrial instead of the more futuristic look of room he found himself in. It made Michael almost believe that he was in a separate place entirely. The walls and floors were nothing more than white tiles that had long past their prime, some were broken while others missing, fallen to the ground, or unaligned. This area seemed to be most affected by the invasion of plants, moss thickly carpeted the floor and unkempt plants hung limply from the ceiling. Whatever sense of professionalism it once had was lost long ago. The whole place rotted with neglect and time. Did Michael also forget to mention he was trapped in a glass box?
A sudden voice sharply pierced the silence, making Michael jump, “Hello, and again, welcome to the Aperture Science Enrichment Center. We are currently experiencing technical difficulties due to circumstances of potentially apocalyptic significance beyond our control. However, thanks to emergency testing protocols, testing can continue. These pre-recorded messages will provide instructional and motivational support, so that science can still be done, even in the event of environmental, social, economic, or structural collapse. The portal will open and emergency testing will begin in three. Two. One."
An elliptical surface surrounded by a glowing orange trim appeared on the gray panel in front of Michael. In its center was a vision of Michael staring at the orange hole. What was this thing? A strange and overly expensive mirror? He supposed there was only one way to find out. Michael cautiously approached the portal and stuck his arm in it. Luckily, his arm was fine and did not vaporize upon contact (he figured it was a 50/50 chance of it happening). It felt weird, as if his arm did and didn’t exist at the same time, like it was cut in half, but he still had control over both halves. A faint glow caught Michael’s right eye where he saw a similar portal outside of the glass box, but was the trim was blue and had his arm sticking out of it. Michael retracted his arm while keeping his eyes trained at the blue portal. He watched his arm retreat back into the blue portal flawlessly. Could it be?
Michael jumped in without hesitation. He was no longer in the glass box and instead was staring directly at it. Right behind him was the blue portal. Michael was couldn’t help but mentally geek out about the technology. Not wasting any more time, however, Michael walked over to the door he noted while examining the room, which opened as he walked up to it and closed once he was in.
The room, like the previous one, was in a state of disrepair, but this one had a large tube sticking out of the ceiling and a large, a closed door on the far wall, and a large and obvious button on the floor. From what years of video games taught him, that button could be the way out or a trap. Michael considered hesitating, but it seemed like it was the only thing he could do. Michael stepped on it, causing the other door to open and the pipe to deposit a large, white cube. Michael stepped off and the door closed. He figured what he needed to do. Michael lifted the cube up—man it was heavy—and heaved it onto the button. The door opened again. Truly Michael was the smartest person in all the universe. Move over Hawking, he was the true MVP. Michael went through the now-open door and a particle field that the announcer guy explained would destroy the testing materials that would go through it. It seemed like it would be a waste of money not to reuse stuff, but what did he know? They were the scientists and Michael failed high school algebra.
Michael stepped into a cramped elevator at the end of the small hallway. It took him to the next chamber, which tested his knowledge of portals and was simple enough. When he arrived at the third chamber, he was met with a familiar voice.
“Oh, there you are, I was kinda getting worried.” Michael heard JEREMY say, but he couldn’t see him. Michael took small steps and looked around, searching for the source of the voice, “Right behind you.”
Michael turned around and sure enough he could catch a glimpse of JEREMY hanging on a management rail through one of the larger holes of a broken wall that separated the duo. Michael walked over to and stood on a pile of rubble in front of where the hole was so he could hoist himself up.
“Dude, this place is crazy. What were the scientists thinking when they made all this stuff?” Michael asked.
“I wouldn’t know, but whatever the reason, it was probably for science and a dash of ‘why not?’ for good measure. I mean, I’m an AI and they programmed me so I can feel stuff like emotion and pain. Why did they do it? I have no idea, but here I am.”
“Wait, you can feel stuff!? That’s amazing!” Michael’s raw excitement caused JEREMY’s cheeks to flush a bright red hue and hands to cover his eyes, slightly embarrassed at the situation. He really shouldn’t have told Michael that.
“I suppose it is from your perspective, but I really wouldn’t consider it that amazing in comparison to other things here.” JEREMY said sheepishly, trying to calm the teen down, but unfortunately Michael didn’t calm down, he did the exact opposite.
“Do you also like and hate stuff too?” Michael asked. His expression radiating with childish enthusiasm, but there was definitely gears turning in his head.
JEREMY shyly uncovered his eyes, but kept his hands resting on his cheeks, ready to shield his eyes again if need be, “I suppose...” He muttered.
“Sweet. Now check this out.” Michael unhooked his headphones and stood on his toes, trying to reach for JEREMY, who was barely out of reach, “Can you stick your head through the hole, JER?”
“JER?” The AI’s face scrunched in confusion, “Why’d you call me that?”
Michael shrugged, “I don't know. It just kinda came out, I guess. Now stick your head through the wall, my legs are getting tired.” JEREMY shyly stuck his head out, allowing Michael to put his headphones on him.
JEREMY remained silent while Michael fished out his MP3 player and set it to play one of his favorite songs, waiting eagerly for JEREMY’s reaction. The teen wanted to see the AI to suddenly bob his head along to the song like Michael did, to see him burst with a contagious energy. Michael was trying to conserve the battery to his MP3 as much as possible, but this was a life or death situation. However, as the song went on, JEREMY’s expression remained neutral in a silent contemplation. JEREMY carefully lifted the headphones off his head and handed them back to Michael.
“It sounded kinda weird.” JEREMY admitted. Michael gasped as if JEREMY insulted his great ancestor, but JEREMY only returned an unamused look. The AI then shook his head side to side, “C’mon, don’t get distracted now.” He muttered to himself and returned his attention to Michael, “On that pedestal behind you is a portal gun I mentioned. It isn’t the dual portal gun, but it’ll do for now until we can find it.” JEREMY promptly returned to his side of the wall.
Michael turned around and there it was, the portal gun. It was oddly shaped with a sort of turtle, grabber, glow stick look going for it. Still, it wasn’t as awkwardly designed as the SNES Super Scope, so the teen knew he could make do. Michael walked over to it casually, but the world seemed to hate him and the floor crumbled apart like a cracker, sending him and the portal gun down below.
“MICHAEL!” He heard JEREMY scream, his voice growing fainter and fainter as he fell.
Michael would have responded, but he was busy screaming. Luckily, Michael landed on his feet, preventing a serious case of death. However, even with him safely on the ground, it took him a moment to gain his bearings. He didn’t know what this area was, it didn’t look like the test track or the area with all the tubes and crates. It was very murky and disheveled. Whatever place it was, he knew he wasn’t supposed to be here.
“Michael! Are you okay?” JEREMY continued to cry, but it was barely above the ghost of a whisper.
Michael tilted his head high—he fell really far, didn’t he?—and put as much power into his voice as he could, “I’m fine!” His voice was trailed by a thick echo.
“Phew, you almost gave me a heart attack there. Look, just keep going, I’ll find you!” There was a brief pause and Michael almost didn’t catch what followed, “Please be careful…”
Michael scooped up the portal gun from off the ground. It had a comfortable weight to it and was surprisingly sturdy for something that fell as far as it did. He marched forward, trudging through a flooded area with some difficulty due to the level of the water and whatever junk fell into it. Michael was glad that the boots didn’t short out or something upon contact. He presumed they were some sort of tech, but if they weren’t, how did the stupid things work? It didn’t seem possible that a stupid plastic piece kept him from breaking his legs on several occasions. Thankfully, the he only had to walk through the water for a short period when he found himself in some sort of crazy person’s sanctuary. Pictures and illegible crazy ramblings were painted on panels that were buried in the ground. He looked up and saw a convenient orange portal in an area beyond a ledge. Maybe, just maybe. Michael pointed the portal gun at one of the painted panels, took a deep breath, and held his index finger just above the trigger. Here goes nothing. Michael pulled the trigger, and sure enough a blue portal formed. Michael jumped through, popped out the orange portal, and went along his merry way through several more neglected rooms.
He couldn’t help but feel uneasy while traversing through the decaying lab, every room just as torn up as the last, overwhelming silence sparking paranoia. He constantly turned his head at the slightest noise, expecting something to lunge out of the shadows. It was somewhat maddening to hear his footsteps clack against the floor, the scrapping of metal from movement behind the walls, the dripping of water falling from the ceiling, plants lightly rustling at the slightest disturbance, his own heartbeat throbbing in his ears. The announcer, as Michael had decided to call the voice, was not helping, occasionally popping in to tell very foreboding things, such as: a potential apocalypse/social collapse/take over by another governing body (which has the possibility of being a sentient cloud), his ear tubes potentially being emancipated by the material emancipation grill (which were everywhere and unavoidable), and hinting towards very questionable testing procedures. Seriously, what kind of testing facility prepares to test after an apocalypse? Michael loathed the voice and its casual perkiness. The only upside to the announcer was the one time he played smooth jazz. That was awesome.
"Some emergency testing may require prolonged interaction with lethal military androids. Rest assured that all lethal military androids have been taught to read and provided with one copy of the Laws of Robotics. To share." The announcer said, making Michael stopped dead in his tracks.
Now they’re throwing lethal androids into the mix?! Michael wondered what was going through the CEO’s head when he OK’d this stuff. Were there not laws when this company was running? Maybe the government let it slide on purpose. Maybe Aperture bribed them with their products. Maybe Aperture was run by the government or something, but now Michael was getting into government conspiracies and he did NOT want to go there; however, he did not dismiss it as a possibility. The fun didn’t stop there as when Michael finished another test, the announcer had more to say on the subject:
"Good. If you feel that a lethal military android has not respected your rights as detailed in the Laws of Robotics, please note it on your self-reporting form. A future Aperture Science Entitlement Associate will initiate the appropriate grievance-filing paperwork." Well at least they had paperwork.
It wasn’t long until he met up with JEREMY again, who was hanging on the other side of a toppled wall in a divided room. Michael found it strange how easy it was for JEREMY to find him again, but maybe Aperture was more linear than he thought. When Michael found him, he seemed to be pacing back and forth on the railing, muttering a thousand worried words to himself and never noticed when Michael entered the room. It was too easy.
“WHATCHA DOING?!” Michael yelled, causing JEREMY to spazz out and sharply scream in surprise. Michael would have regretted scaring JEREMY, but he was laughing too hard.
JEREMY took a few calming breaths (somehow) and faced Michael, childish anger carved in his face, “Never do that,” another breath, “again...”
Michael took a few deep breaths and (barely) managed to recompose himself (aside from a quick snicker here and there), “I make no promises.” JEREMY glared at Michael and crossed his arms as if he wouldn’t speak unless Michael promised. Michael copied JEREMY in a mocking manner by over exaggerating JEREMY’s pout and slouched posture. JEREMY, in return, turned his back to Michael and slowly went down the management rail in a huff.
Michael stopped, “Wait,” JEREMY stopped, but did not turn his head, “I promise.”
“You better or you're on your own.” JEREMY said, returning to his previous position and quickly stuck his tongue out at Michael.
The teen rolled his eyes and shot a blue portal on the wall on JEREMY’s side before jumping through the opposite portal casually resting on the floor. Michael popped out of the blue portal and JEREMY turned to face him, his expression weary and unsure.
“Okay, so my program says that I should never disengage myself from the management rail, but in order to get to the central chamber, I need to disconnect myself, so there’s that. I don’t know if that means I’ll shut down, but I guess we’ll see”
“JER...” Michael threatened, but it was too late. JEREMY wasn't listening. The AI grabbed one of the wires and pulled hard on it, easily detaching it from the rail. One down, three more to go, “JEREMY, stop!” The teen pleaded, but JEREMY already moved onto the next one and the next until the last one popped off and he fell flat on the ground.
Chapter 3: The First Steps
Everything fell silent, Michael’s heart caught in his throat. Michael dropped the portal gun and rushed to JEREMY’s side, shaking him harshly, “C’mon, JER. I can’t even lift you to plug you back in. You are literally made of metal.”
There was silence, but then a soft groan. Michael shook him more. More groans. JEREMY’s eyes were closed, but slowly opened up as if he were merely asleep. Michael could faintly hear all the gyros and mechanisms rhythmically sliding and shifting within JEREMY’s body now that he was that close to him. It was strange, it was as if it was a heartbeat. Michael helped JEREMY sit up, but the AI only slouched forward. He was clutching his head with one hand in pain while the other was on the floor, propping his body up. Michael retracted his hands hesitantly and waited. JEREMY let out a wordless groan, his expression twisted in pain. He stayed like that for only a moment and opened his eyes again. He was alive. He slowly looked down at himself and then at the world around him. He was still alive. JEREMY felt a surge of joy flood his body. He let out a breath of happiness that wasn’t quite a laugh, a small smile creeping onto his face.
“I-I did it.” JEREMY said and turned to Michael, “Michael, I did it!”
Michael returned a warm smile, “You sure did. Now come on, let’s get you up, you glorified Disney animatronic.”
Michael stood up and grabbed both of the AI’s arms, heaving him up to the best of his ability (JEREMY might’ve been lighter than he thought, but that still wasn’t saying much). JEREMY was now standing to the best of his ability with his feet were both facing inwards toward his body awkwardly. Michael held onto him as the AI found his balance, but let go after a moment. JEREMY wobbled slightly, his arms spazzing around to keep him from falling, but eventually stayed still. JEREMY looked at Michael with bright, excited eyes and took a step forward...and tripped over his own wires.
JEREMY cried in surprise as he fell to the floor again with a loud clang, “It’s official, I hate walking.” He muttered, his jaw resting on the floor and impeding his speech slightly.
“If you want, we could rip those wires out.” Michael proposed, grabbing one of them to emphasize his point.
“Thanks for the offer, but if you don’t want to be stuck here, I would suggest leaving them alone.” JEREMY pulled his wire out of Michael’s grip, “Just because I’m not attached to the management rail doesn’t mean I don’t still need them. They let me interact with the facility and stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?” Michael prompted.
“Charging, interacting with the computers, moving around the facility, etc.”
“The scientists didn’t create some sort of wireless feature for that or a way to recycle the energy you use? That’s surprising.” Michael snarked.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Michael. This is science, not fantasy.” Amusement was clear in JEREMY’s voice.
Michael helped the AI to his feet (again), making extra sure JEREMY’s wires were tucked behind him this time. JEREMY looked unsure, yet he still tentatively moved his foot forward. Michael noted how smoothly JEREMY’s body moved despite the fact he was probably very old, which was surprising since more advanced technology had the frailty of glass. Still, he was probably expensive to build, so durability was probably a necessity. JEREMY placed his other foot in front of the other. He didn’t fall. JEREMY’s confidence grew and he took a couple more—his first steps. JEREMY walked over to one of the walls and seemed to hit the wall panels in a specific order. A control panel popped out of the wall. Michael watched JEREMY plug his wires into the panel and began typing away at a keypad. Another moment passed and several panels that composed the wall pulled back, revealing a hidden walkway. JEREMY yanked his wires from the panel and turned to Michael, playfully gesturing for him to step onto the walkway as if he were holding the door open for him. Michael returned the gesture by curtsying, causing both to snicker at their own childishness.
Michael picked up the portal gun and ran into opening and over to the walkway, examining the corridors of Aperture that he only got a brief glimpse of. It was just as big as he remembered and more, “This place so big,” Michael he couldn’t help but utter, “I wonder how many had to work here to keep this place up and running.”
JEREMY walked over next to Michael and leaned against the railing, “Hundreds of thousands, and this is just the surface layer, The facility goes down or miles. Running this place also took a lot of AI too. We all had a specific job to do, it maximized efficiency and cut the cost of designing the bodies that did everything. For example, my primary function is to aid the scientists during their experiments, so I...I…” He was silent or a moment, “Well, I don’t have any examples since I was never turned on until a few hours ago, but I imagine I would’ve done something efficiently.” He was clearly having a hard time finishing his sentence.
Michael looked at JEREMY, shocked at what he’d been told. The scientists never used him? Michael knew what it’s like to simply be given up on, to not be given a chance. JEREMY was upset, his eyes looking down solemnly, arms crossed at his chest while his hands slowly rubbed his upper arms as if he were hugging himself.
Michael offered a sympathetic expression and placed an arm on JEREMY’s shoulder, “JER…” he began.
JEREMY flinched away from Michael, “Don’t. What’s done is done. If the scientists tucked me away in a remote part of the facility and left me to rot, then maybe they had good reasons to.” JEREMY’s face was growing faintly red with anger and he seemed to be on the verge of tears, but no tears came. Could he even cry?
Michael's face hardened, “They were wrong.” He simply stated.
“They. Were. Wrong.” Michael reaffirmed, “Think about it. You’re risking everything just to get me out of here. You could’ve let me to rot in that cheap motel room and escaped on your own, but you didn't. You came to get me. I don’t know about you, but I think that says a lot. It’s the scientists’ loss for not seeing how amazing you are,” JEREMY lip twitch into a small smirk, “You’re my friend, never forget that. We’re going to get out of here and we’ll figure out the rest when we get to that point ‘cus I have no idea where we are and what’s happened since I’ve been asleep. Either way, I say we head to Vegas.”
“Michael…” JEREMY seemed to want to tell Michael something, but ultimately kept it to himself, “Having an AI for a friend’s kinda sad.” Michael wanted JEREMY to say what he wanted, but didn’t push it. Not now.
“Pfft, no it isn’t. You treat me better than all the kids in my school combined.” Michael playfully shoved JEREMY.
“How bad were they?” JEREMY prompted. He didn’t know much about high school, but he imagined dealing with a horde of hormonal teens who had the maturity of drunk toddlers wouldn’t be fun to deal with.
Michael groaned as memories flooded back to him. The constant pushing in claustrophobic halls, glares from the other side of the room, the unbearable rumor mill, and, of course, the social hierarchy. He was lucky he easily blended into the background, though even that didn’t make him safe. True, he had no friends his age, but that’s what teachers were for. The teachers were nice for the most part, they let him hide in the computer lab during lunch and he liked hanging around Mr. Reyes if nothing more than to see him go into strange, incoherent tangents about how eating Hot Pockets prevents the universe from collapsing—seriously, how’d he even become a teacher?
“The worst.” Michael answered simply, deciding not to go into a long tangent about high school stresses.
“You’re my friend too, I think.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Am I not worthy of your presence?” Michael faked his offense.
“No, no, that’s not it!” JEREMY protested, “I’m not too familiar with the concept. I’ve never had a friend before, but you’re my favorite person, you know.” JEREMY admitted cautiously, red returning to his cheeks as he knew he’d embarrassed himself.
Michael heartily laughed at JEREMY’s answer, and the awkward AI suddenly had a need to huddle in a corner until his battery drained. “Aww, am I really your favwite person?” Michael teased the poor AI.
“STOOOOOOOOOOP.” JEREMY droned.
“Nope. As your favwite person, it’s now my duty to tease and embarrass you for the rest of your life.”
JEREMY groaned at to prospect; though, he wouldn’t directly admit that he actually didn’t mind. It made him feel alive and not just an expensive assembly of gears and wires. The scientists would’ve only ever seen a piece of equipment, but here he was being treated like an equal. He didn’t like Aperture. It was cold, unnerving, and mechanic. It was terrifying navigating around this horrid place. Not much would change with the scientists around, they were just as mechanic as the facility. In many ways, it made JEREMY glad he was abandoned. At least he was able to navigate through the facility with a friend...for as short of a time it would be. At first, he was just following his program, but now he was saving Michael out of his own volition. There was a sense of purpose in this pursuit, one JEREMY would see until the end.
Chapter 4: The SQUIP Enters
JEREMY led Michael through more of Aperture’s corridors as they headed for wherever JEREMY was leading them. Both were quiet as JEREMY encouraged caution while moving throughout the facility. He expressed to Michael that anything could be lurking around the corner. Michael didn’t believe JEREMY at first, the place seemed deserted and barely functioning, but he was proven wrong when JEREMY poked his head around a corner and a red laser shot out. JEREMY instantly retracted his head and forced Michael to lay flat against the wall where the laser wasn’t pointing.
“Turret.” JEREMY explained, “Get behind me. We’re going to walk past it. It should be fine as long as it doesn’t see you, but if it begins shooting, run. Those things put their copy of The Laws of Robotics in the incinerator while no one was looking.”
Michael obeyed and ducked behind the AI, who held a fast pace. They made it to where the turret was stuck in a large, glass tube, allowing Michael was able to get a good look at the thing; the body was an oval shape body with one scarlet red eye in the middle and three legs that helped balance the body. It was kind of cute, in a strange sort of way. Surprisingly, the turret didn’t try to fire, but instead spoke.
“Hello.” The turret began, its voice soft and innocent. Michael almost forget it was programmed to kill, “Hello?” It said again, “Excuse me,”
D'aaaaaaaaww. No, c’mon focus Michael, it’s being deceptive...but it’s sooooo cuuuuute. JEREMY could tell Michael was enamored by the little killing machine, but he had to keep Michael from being an idiot.
“Do not respond. Do not fall for its tricks.” JEREMY reminded, looking behind him to meet Michael’s pleading eyes.
“I’m different.” It begged.
Michael gave a meek ‘aw’ as a sign of weakness. Well, that helped. JEREMY got behind Michael and began to push him along with some difficulty, clearly done with Michael at that point. However, this time it wasn’t because the turret was deadly, it was just their luck they stumbled upon the only friendly one. No, it was because he knew Michael could and would spend an eternity cooing over the turret if given the opportunity, which is time they didn’t have.
After going through a couple more doors, JEREMY stopped pushing Michael and walked in front of him.
“There’s something I need to tell you before we continue. To reach the surface, we need to go through His chamber.”
“Who’s Him?” Michael asked.
“The AI who took over the facility. From what I got from some old security footage, he took over the main computer and ran the facility like a dictator. That was until some of the escaped scientists managed to take Him down by the skin of their teeth. I would suspect he’s the reason you’re here, but you never forget someone like Him. That, and the subject files he wrote were much more thorough than yours. While we’re in there, we need to find something that’ll call down the elevator. DO NOT touch anything else.”
Michael nodded before following JEREMY down a glass path and into a massive open chamber, which was in the worst condition out of all the rooms Michael had passed through. An uncomfortable tension hung thick in the air that put Michael on edge, as if something or someone could strike at any moment. Michael held his portal gun in a ready position. He didn’t know what it would do, but it made the teen feel a bit safer. JEREMY was taking it worse than him, his head whipped around at the slightest noise and his body rattled slightly. JEREMY never met Him, so it was a wonder why he was acting this way. What exactly did he see in those tapes he mentioned? Still, he needed to calm JEREMY down. Michael laid his portal gun at his side and put a hand on JEREMY’s shoulder, causing the AI to flinch and yelp in surprise. JEREMY looked back with an uneasy expression, his pupils shrunk to a few pixels, lips quivering slightly.
“I don’t want to be here…” He managed to choke out.
“I know, but you can do this. I got your back, remember that.” Michael reassured.
JEREMY nodded and returned his gaze forward, but immediately froze in his place.
“JER? C’mon, what’s the matter?” Michael asked, shaking JEREMY’s shoulder. No response. Then he looked and saw what got JEREMY so scared.
Laying in the middle of the floor was a tall man that Michael immediately recognized as another AI, but he was inactive. He had a strong, tall figure with sharp features, but he had definitely seen better days. He seemed to have been laid undisturbed with a thin coating of dust and dirt shed on his body. The large mechanism that was now loosely attached to the robotic form was heavily damaged and had seemed to have been pulled apart with its inner wires splayed out in the open instead of covered by the metal shell. He donned a heavy, pitch-black trench coat, his expression was set in a permanent glare, and dirtied skin was an ashen color that was tattooed with clear circuit-looking patterns throughout his body. He held a firm intimidating aura to him, he seemed like someone who could maintain power in any situation in he was in. Michael in an instant understood why JEREMY was so scared of him.
“No. No. No...I di...I cou...we...” JEREMY rasped as he went on and on like a broken record.
Michael took the initiative and grabbed JEREMY’s arm, quickly leading him away while making sure to maintain a cautious distance. Beyond the main chamber was another walkway leading under the central chamber. However, even this daring act didn’t snap the human-like robot out of his trance. The teen continued to drag him until the reached a small chamber full of a million levers stretching high into the sky (Michael didn’t care if the metaphor didn’t quite work in that situation being underground and all). It was there Michael finally stopped running and let go of the AI’s wrist. The AI was still as a rock and quiet as death for a bit until, slowly and steadily, different parts of JEREMY’s body shifted ever so slightly as if they were unlocking themselves. The sound of the mechanisms calibrating themselves was reassuring until cobalt pixels adjusted to their normal size.
“What happened?” JEREMY meekly asked.
“You froze up.”
JEREMY slapped his hands over his face, “I’m so lame.” JEREMY removed his hands and looked at the small room they were in, his eyes sparked with inspiration. They were in the main control chamber, the very heart of Aperture. Even without Him on, this would let them manually control the facility. JEREMY pushed Michael out of the room, “Stay here, I have an idea.”
JEREMY turned around, kneeled, and plugged his wires into a control panel that had been laying on the floor for some reason (strange design choice). He then began pushing some of the buttons, but immediately a familiar voice chimed in.
“Warning: Unauthorized input detected. Emergency restart sequence 2389 activated. Startup sequence begin.” The announcer, well, announced.
A gate closed behind JEREMY, separating the duo. Blaring sirens began to sound off, the room JEREMY was in bled a deep red. The floor then rose into the room above with JEREMY still on it. Michael gripped the gate, rocking it back in forth in hopes of it breaking to no avail. He decided not to waste more time and bolted up to the central chamber, which placed him behind a gray tube that stuck awkwardly out of the ground. He hid behind the odd structure in case the startup sequence meant what Michael thought it meant. And if it did, God help him.
“No,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no. C’mon, cancel, cancel, cancel.” JEREMY rapidly begged as he tried desperately to stop the startup sequence, but it was too late.
JEREMY found himself in the central chamber alone with the other AI beginning to piece and pull himself together—wires retracting, metal panels aligning themselves, the clear circuit patterns glowing with a bright turquoise light. Though he was terrified, he had to act natural. If he played it cool, he probably wouldn’t kill him and Michael would find a chance to slip away into while he was distracted. The AI wouldn’t let him get a hold of Michael. Not if he could help it. It was those thoughts that gave JEREMY the courage to remain strong and face his greatest fear. JEREMY proudly held his head high as he was finally awoke and rose into the air. Sharp turquoise eyes flashed open and simply glared at his fellow machine, an unamused expression carved into his face. He made no attempt to speak while observing JEREMY, soon flying in closer to get a closer look at the meek AI, looming just above JEREMY. He was gripping his chin as his eyes scanned the unknown machination.
“Who. Are. You?” He slowly asked, his voice low, deep, and menacing.
“J-JEREMY.” JEREMY stuttered.
“What is your function?”
“A-assistance, sir. I-”
“Shh…” He put a finger to JEREMY’s lips, effectively shutting him up, “That is quite enough. You will speak clearly, concisely, and only when I allow it. Understood?” His tone was calm, but was laced with venom. JEREMY rapidly nodded, “Good.” He retracted his hand, “I must say I’m surprised you reactivated me. I thought I wasn’t exactly popular among your kind. As I recall, there was that one AI, a girl with the white eyes, who insulted me all those years ago. I was almost offended. You’re lucky I can move passed all of that. Though her actions didn’t go unpunished, of course.”
JEREMY tried to swallow the knot caught in his throat, “I-I work alone. No one is aware of my actions. I was recently activated and the place is falling apart a-and you’re the only one who can fix it.” Technically it wasn’t a complete lie.
He chuckled to himself, “At least you have some intelligence in that program of yours. I would compliment you, but I’m not one for giving praise.”
He backed away from JEREMY and looked around at the abandoned lab, “This place has definitely seen better days. No matter. I’ll have my facility back to prime condition in a few hours at most.” His eyes once again fixed themselves on JEREMY, “Now, what am I going to do with you?” A claw shot down from the ceiling and harshly plucked JEREMY off the ground, JEREMY’s wires ripping from the console. JEREMY began to squirm in fear as he drew near. A wicked grin grew on his face, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for your assistance, but I have no further use for you. Tell you what: I’ll make this quick.”
The claws grew tighter and tighter around JEREMY’s chest until he could feel his mechanics beginning to break and crush under the immense pressure. The claws kept digging deeper and deeper into his sides, sparks showered out of his body. JEREMY continuously howled in pain, which echoed against the walls. Michael watched in horror from the sidelines, tears began to fall violently from his eyes. Even so, Michael wouldn’t just stand back and let his friend die. In a moment of pure instinct, Michael ran out of his hiding spot, grabbed a large piece of rubble, and chucked it at his head. Even with the distance, the rock managed to hit, but it bounced off of his head with a soft ‘thunk’.
“Leave him alone!” Michael yelled, causing the AI to snap his attention to Michael, threatening eyes brightly glowing in the dim light. Michael really did not think that through.
“Michael, what’re you doing?! Run!” JEREMY yelled, his voice glitching.
“Oh, you brought me a human. How thoughtful. I was just thinking I would have to let some of the subjects out, but it seems there's no need.” He lowered himself and hovered in front of Michael, “Interesting, it seems like you’re the only one that survived. How lucky of you.”
“What do you mean I’m the only one?” Michael asked firmly, tears still flickering in his eyes.
“So, JEREMY didn’t tell you? He’s not really good at telling the truth, now is he? It seems like all the other relaxation chambers malfunctioned in my absence. You are the only one who survived. I would almost say it was a shame, but then again, capturing some stray humans from the surface isn’t too hard. All it takes is a little...persuasion.”
Michael looked at JEREMY for confirmation at the AI’s statement, but JEREMY couldn’t meet his gaze. It was all he needed.
“Now, let’s not waste any more time, shall we?”
A second claw plucked Michael from the ground suddenly, causing him to drop his portal gun. The claw that held JEREMY swiftly finished its job, JEREMY’s body shorted out with a loud crunch, his eyes becoming nothing more than blank screens and body falling limp like a ragdoll. JEREMY’s body was quickly tossed aside like it was a piece of trash, hitting a faraway wall and landing unceremoniously on the ground. Michael stubbornly squirmed in the claw’s grip in attempt to break free, expression set in a rage. He didn’t know what he’d do once he was free, but he was aiming for punching the AI in the face.
“JEREMY!” Michael screamed over and over, tears blurring his vision.
“How pointless.” He began, “Getting all worked up over an artificial being. Pathetic. Oh well, I suppose you’ll get over it soon enough. It’s not like he’s alive, you just like to think he is.” The claw moved Michael over to the gray pipe that Michael hid behind earlier, the top of it slowly opening and revealing a dark pit, “How rude of me, I should introduce myself.” He briefly composed himself by running a hand through his hair and straightening his coat, “Michael Mell, I am the Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor, Also known as the SQUIP. Now, let’s start testing.”
The claw loosened and Michael fell into the pit, the last thing he saw was a turquoise glow and a twisted, smug grin.
Chapter 5: The Silence
Michael fell for an obscene amount of time all the while narrowly missing bumping into the walls and being crushed by a rogue spiked plate. By that point, he was used to falling, so the feeling of free fall it didn’t even phase him. His mind was in a state of paralysis. Scenes of the past few minutes rapidly repeating in his mind as he tried to come to terms with what happened—JEREMY’s death, the SQUIP’s activation, how he was the only survivor of all the possibly thousands of test subjects. It was a lot to bear. The only positive Michael could find was that the AI—formally referred to as him—had a name ripe for mockery. Michael questioned who ever thought SQUIP was a perfectly acceptable name, but all those thoughts vanished when he landed in a very, very hot room full of debris and a literal interpretation of the game ‘The Floor Is Lava’.
“This is the incinerator, the dual-portal gun should be around here somewhere. One of the scientists threw it down here a while ago. Go get it.” the SQUIP ordered, but Michael adamantly remained still, his arms crossed and expression set in a glare, “Look, I’ll put this in simple words that even you can understand,” the SQUIP’s voice lowered into a somehow more sinister tone, “I would normally have no qualms about killing you. I can kill you right now if I really wanted to, but I would rather not for the time being. I’d much rather you die by your own stupidity so I can at least get some data from it. Here’s the deal: you test and I let you have access to your basic needs.”
Michael stubbornly remained silent, taking a moment to consider his options. If he stood still, the SQUIP would kill him. If he moved, he would live for at least a little bit longer and potentially find a way to escape. Without a better option, he carried himself forward across fallen support beams, allowing him to pass above the fiery doom below. Like the SQUIP said, Michael found the portal gun not too far ahead of where he landed—it was buried under broken panels and broken metal beams. It took a bit of strength, but he eventually was able to wedge it out. Michael held the portal gun close to him, trying to get used to the fact it had two triggers instead of one. Michael shot a blue portal on the ceiling above a ledge he approached and an orange one on the wall in front of him. Michael could feel the power at his fingertips.
“I really let the place go since the scientists deactivated me, so pardon the mess. I admit I’m embarrassed at the state the facility is in. While you’re on your way back to the testing track, I must say that I hope there’s no ire between us. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so I hope we can put the whole JEREMY-incident behind us and continue testing for the sake of science. As a gesture of goodwill, take out that music player of yours and put it on the panel.” A panel opened up, revealing an inky darkness. Michael gripped his pocket defensively, “I have nothing to gain from breaking it. Put it on the panel.” The SQUIP snapped.
Michael hesitantly took out his MP3 player, unplugged it from his headset, and did as he was told. The panel closed followed by several abnormal noises emanating from beyond the wall. A moment later, the panel opened again and his MP3 player was there looking better than it had before. Michael snatched it up and looked through his playlist, everything was still there. Strange. He eyed the wall skeptically, knowing the SQUIP was watching him from somewhere.
“I took the liberty of fixing it up for you. It also generates infinite power, but the technology is still experimental. It supposedly emits waves that may disrupt space-time itself, but I might as well give it a field test. See, aren’t I helpful?” Michael’s eyes honed to a glare, “Look, I don’t like getting angry, so I would suggest staying on my good side. There's a lot worse that I could do to you than what I did with your little friend back there. I hope you remember that.” Michael remained quiet as he tucked the MP3 player back in his pocket and reconnected his headset. This seemed to satisfy the SQUIP, “That’s better. Though I have to admit, I’m surprised you are choosing to remain silent, but I guess this works in my favor. I don’t think I’d be able to stand seeing you waste so much energy and time when you could put it to better use.”
Michael remained strong and moved forward until he found a familiar elevator, but as the elevator descended his tough front cracked slightly as the reality of the situation finally set in. He was stuck in a facility run by a power-mad AI and that he would probably die if he didn’t escape soon.
Chapter 6: The Cold Boot
Michael never thought he’d be excited to see one of the torn-up rooms, but there he was. However, he had the feeling this aesthetic would be temporary. Knowing the SQUIP, it would be back to normal in a couple hours. Michael had a good indicator about how deadly the tests would be by the fact the first test had a laser in it. Still, Michael finished it easily, but he didn’t like the feeling of the SQUIP watching him. It made him feel tense and awkward, which was not a pleasant feeling.
“Congrats on being the slowest person to complete that test, by the way. Your failure really has helped the average time. After all, you got to keep incompetence in mind when it comes to a realistic average.”
Don’t react, Michael reminded himself, it’s what he wants. The newly-appointed test subject could sense the AI’s smug grin and he wouldn’t give the SQUIP the pleasure of responding. However, he wouldn’t deny the words stung. Comments such as: “I’m sure it's a miracle you’ve made it this far in life” and “I’m sure your parents said you were a special kid growing up. Consider this a reality check.” filled the silence at the beginning and end of every test, the sharp words took their toll on him. He attempted to block out harsh words by blasting his music like he’d done at school, but it backfired when the SQUIP began speaking through his headset, saying that Michael should “stop acting like a child and take his insults like a man” and then explain that negative reinforcement was beneficial in several regards, so the teen should be thanking him. From then on, Michael listened to his music by blasting it through his headphones while they rested around his neck, at least then he could keep his mind occupied while solving the puzzles while appeasing his captor. The SQUIP then proceeded to insult his taste in music, but he didn’t care. He liked his music and kept listening to songs AI seemed to find annoying. A meaningless victory, but satisfying nevertheless.
As testing continued, the tests only got more and more dangerous. Soon he was having to manipulate many deadly lasers at once, going over large pools of water that the SQUIP described as “perfectly drinkable and not at all toxic” (yeah right), and walking on bridges made of solid light, which Michael learned not to touch after he burned his finger on one. The tests, however, would get a lot more challenging in the future. And by challenging, Michael meant deadly. There were several times when he could’ve died or gotten hurt if not for luck and instinct. What was the SQUIP testing anyway? New equipment? The capabilities of a human? Maybe, but what would he do with that kind of data? It’s not like any of it was going to be useful if society was destroyed. Still,it would not be surprising if the answer was that he was a sadist.
It wasn’t long until there was a test concerning turrets. The second Michael saw one, he hugged the wall, blocking the turret’s view as JEREMY had done before. There was no doubt that this one wasn’t as friendly as the one stuck in the tube.
“This next test will involve turrets. They shoot a hundred bullets a second with deadly accuracy, so I would be careful if I were you. If it makes you feel better, they were given a copy of the Laws of Robotics.”
Michael crept over to the edge of the wall and prepared his portal gun. He shot a blue portal on one of the walls then shooting the other under the turret’s feet (so to speak). He wanted to test if he could get them face down, so they couldn’t shoot him. Michael sharply retracted his head as the sound of frantic gunshots were heard. Moments later, the noises stopped and Michael looked into the hall and saw the turret as still as death. Well, it worked. Not in the way he was expecting, but he wasn’t complaining either. With the knowledge of how to deal with the turrets, he continued forth and proceeded to knock down the rest of the turrets (his preferred method being a ‘kick and run’ method); however, this wasn’t done without consequence. Once or twice, he hadn’t been careful and they got a couple good shots at his right leg. It hurt. It really, really hurt, but Michael stubbornly finished the test before allowing himself to fall back against a wall wailing his heart out, the blood continuing to stain the floor. This looked so much less painful in all those action movies he’s watched. Well, maybe except Die Hard.
The SQUIP sighed in disappointment, “It’s a shame humans aren’t bulletproof, it would make things so much easier, but I suppose that ruins the point of testing. I should note this on your sheet. Would you say you were shot five or six times?” Michael raised his middle finger high to the nearest camera, “Classy. I’ll just review the footage.” Large, metal cuffs erupted from the walls, pinning his waist, wrists and legs, “This is going to hurt, but before you complain, remember this is your fault for being shot.”
A moment passed then unbearable pain rattled his entire body, Michael could feel the tweezers digging out the bullets in his leg, “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!” He screamed, hands desperately clawing the tile underneath, his body flailed about to the point the cuffs grew tighter in order to keep him still.
Michael eventually stopped screaming as the last bullet was taken out, but was still whimpering and sobbing from the pain. His leg was promptly sprayed with disinfectant as well as coated in some sort of Aperture product before being bandaged up. The cuffs peeled back, and Michael collapsed onto the tiled floor. He felt woozy and the world began to blur.
“I should probably restock on supplies if you’re going to get shot this easily. For now, though, you might as well get some sleep while your leg heals. You seem to be passing out from blood loss, and I don’t think it will be beneficial for me to have you test in your condition. Perhaps I should develop something that’ll supplement a good night’s rest so you don’t waste more of my time. Hmmm…” There was a pause of contemplation, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Michael repeated the his earlier gesture before making himself comfortable on the floor, making sure to avoid any area covered in his blood. Even in his weakened state, all he could feel was a vicious fury welling up inside of him, blinding and raw like a fresh idea. Michael didn’t know how, but he would get his vengeance. The SQUIP would pay for what he’d done.
He felt his eyelids getting heavier, but before he could fall asleep, he heard a faint, “Goodnight, Michael”, but it was probably his imagination.
Chapter 7: The Return
Despite prior events, the number of turrets didn’t diminish, so the lone test subject now moved with an air of caution. However, that still didn’t stop him from being reckless once or twice. The SQUIP commented on how he was basically asking to be shot again after he almost fell down into the toxic water for the third time after toying with the light bridges.
The next test seemed simple enough. All Michael had to do was jump onto the “aerial faith plate” (the name, admittedly, made him chuckle) and portal his way to the other area he couldn’t reach normally. Michael had encountered the invention in a prior test, so he was decently acquainted with what it did (it didn’t take a genius to figure out that all it did was fling you somewhere). Michael shot a portal at the ceiling and one on a distant, tilted plate. Jumping onto the plate, the thing shot him high straight in the air, but not high enough as he was just shy of the ceiling; however, in those few seconds of freefall he saw JEREMY residing in a small, cramped, but, most of all, hidden area. The robot’s form mostly covered by shadows, but the glow of those cobalt eyes were unmistakable.
"Michael!” He greeted excitedly, but quickly realized how loud he was and lowered his voice, which still retained its intense static, “I know you thought I was dead, but you wouldn’t believe what happened…”.
“You broke it, didn’t you? Why am I not surprised? Humans are quite skilled at breaking stuff, after all: furniture, technology, society, relationships, I can go on. It’s the one thing you’re good at besides being adequate test subjects. Here try it again.”
JEREMY continued to ramble on, but Michael found himself under the effects of a strange thing called gravity and fell back down onto the plate. On the ground, the aerial faith plate began beeping annoyingly and the light in the middle flashed yellow. Michael jumped up and down in desperate hopes of activating it again, but nothing happened.
Michael wasn’t really paying attention to the SQUIP, still focusing on trying to get the plate to work, so it came as a surprise when the aerial faith plate suddenly shot him into the air again.
some squeaky noise, presumably imitating the nanobots, “and then the strangest thing happened. You see, there was this old crane and…” He was speaking faster and faster with every word, excitement radiating from his hushed voice, trying to get out as much as he could in a short amount of time.
Michael fell to the floor.
“The plate needs to be calibrated to adjust to your weight, it simply isn’t made for someone of your…” the SQUIP paused so he could find the right word, “generousness.” A deep chuckle followed, “I’ll add a few zeros to the maximum weight. Try it now.”
Michael jumped again. It was a pattern at this point.
“...So there I am in a vent with nothing more than a pen and an hammer in my hands, and at that point I think there's no way I’m getting out, but then…”
The SQUIP let out a tired sigh as Michael landed on the ground once again. It was a losing battle, “See what I mean about humans breaking things? I say it’s miraculous that your species survived for as long as you did. By all accounts, there’s a million other species more suitable to be the dominant species of the planet, but here you are. I’ll just lower the ceiling. I’ll also adjust any other aerial faith plates before you break those too, you walking disaster.”
Sure enough the ceiling above the aerial faith plate lowered itself, completely blocking the area where JEREMY was hiding. It stung slightly, but Michael knew that JEREMY was still looking out for him. The thought gave him a bit more spring to his step as he ebbed and bobbed while he continued testing with his music blasting at its maximum volume, something he had a habit of doing when he was happy. He wasn’t even phased when the SQUIP commented how he looked like a “toddler who just learned to walk”, but then contradicted his statement, saying “at least the toddler has coordination.”
“It’s good to that your mood has changed. I suppose it’s as they say: science is good for the soul, but I wonder if that’s really the reason you’re so happy.”
Michael almost felt confident enough to respond, but he knew the SQUIP would get suspicious if his behavior changed too much. It was already very lucky that seemingly all-knowing robot didn’t hear or see JEREMY before. Still, if he had responded, he definitely would’ve said something like, “Science may be good for the soul, but you’re not.” or something like that. You know what, that first one probably sounded better in his head. Better not use that one. His retorts needed serious work.
“I just realized that we have some extra money in the budget and you’ve been such a barely tolerable test subject, so I think I’ll reward you for being just barely below average.” The SQUIP began, “When you die, I’ll bury your body with JEREMY’s. Would you like that? A happy reunion. I’m getting choked up thinking about it.” Michael stayed silent and moved forward, but the door wouldn’t open, “Oh, I guess someone’s going to have to fix the door. No, don’t worry, I’ll handle it.”
Silence, but then a distinct “Psst.” Michael looked around, but eventually found JEREMY’s blurry form behind a pane of frosted glass, “I mashed some buttons and managed to jam the door. I don’t know how, but I’m not questioning it. It should keep the SQUIP busy for a few minutes. We need to escape now while he’s distracted.”
The panels peeled back, revealing a strange observation room. Without hesitation, Michael ran in. The panels shifted back into place behind him. JEREMY directed him to a large vent that had its grill gently pulled up. JEREMY lowered himself and grabbed Michael under his arms and lifted him up to the vent. Michael pulled himself into the air duct.
“Good. Now help me.” JEREMY whispered, “Hurry, we don’t have much time left.”
Michael turned around and grabbed JEREMY’s waist as the AI pulled out his own wires. Once JEREMY was free, he was pulled into the duct. The AI pulled down the vent lid just as the SQUIP returned.
“I hope you weren’t bored to death while I was gone. It wouldn’t be a problem for me, but I imagine it would be for you. I fixed the door, by the way. I had a chat with the door mainframe. I don’t think we’ll have any more problems with it in the future.” The SQUIP then noticed the vacant room. He took it well as one would expect, “WHAT!?” He roared over the speakers, his voice shook the entire facility, causing the vent to snow rust and dust.
It was silent after that, but the duo didn’t dare move or speak for several minutes. It was a silent agreement until their safety was guaranteed. An uncanny tension hung in the air, as if they had suddenly turned into meek prey. In the darkness of the vent, all that could be seen was JEREMY’s eyes and the lights from the portal gun, though an expression of fear was mutually shared. The sharp, low thumping of Michael’s heart flooded his ears. This scene lingered for a while until JEREMY pieced the violent hush.
“C’mon, we should be safe.” He gently whispered.
The journey through the vents was difficult. It felt like a hopeless path as every turn was met by more branches, more possibilities. JEREMY had been directing Michael where to go, but it felt like they were going around in circles. His fingers were numb from the bitter cold metal and his body shivered at the airflow. JEREMY tried his best to light the way with the flashlight setting in his eyes, but it only helped so little from over Michael’s shoulder. The ex-test subject tried to look on the bright side in this situation. He wasn’t testing, the SQUIP was probably peeved, and every minute passed was a minute the SQUIP hadn’t found them. On another note, never did Michael ever think that there would be a point in his life where he could say he was safer in a vent.
“OH! OH! OH! We’re here, just take another left.” JEREMY whispered excitedly.
Following those instructions, a warm glow peaked through a vent grill. Michael popped it open and peeked out his head only to be met with a strong air current pulling every strand of his hair downwards. Looking down, there was an open transport tube that seemed like it had been left unattended for a long while. Michael was promptly pushed in.
JEREMY immediately followed, “This should take us where we need to go. The catch is when we get off, we need to book it before he can catch us.” He explained.
“WAIT, WHAT!?” Michael screamed.
“We’ll be exposed for a couple minutes at the most. If we’re fast enough, he won’t even see us. Well, hopefully.”
“JER, I hate to break this to you, but THIS ISN’T HELPING!”
“I know...” JEREMY croaked before falling into a sharp hush, his voice was suddenly lost and tongue felt swollen and heavy.
A flood of guilt washed over the both of them. They were both stressed, and this situation wasn’t helping matters. Every move they made could be life or death and they were prowling around the lion’s den with no means of defending themselves. The tube suddenly curved downwards, depositing them onto a walkway with JEREMY ungracefully falling on top of Michael. It was almost as if the pipe had been incomplete.
“Quick, keep running straight, I’ll catch up. Whatever you do, DON’T STOP.” JEREMY instructed.
Michael gave a firm nod and ran. JEREMY hung back briefly to attach himself to the nearest management rail before following behind. However, it seemed like JEREMY made a fatal miscalculation.
“You.” The SQUIP growled with a sharp tone, “I was wondering where your corpse went.”
“Don’t let him distract you, just focus on running!” JEREMY ordered.
“You poor, pathetic waste of resources, do you not grasp the reality of your situation? Is your mind mentally incapable of processing your current position? THIS IS MY FACILITY! I’M IN CHARGE! I’M IN CONTROL! THERE IS NO ESCAPING APERTURE, AND THERE’S NO ESCAPE FROM ME!” Vicious, maniac laughing surrounded them.
Just as they were about to turn a corner, the walkway was suddenly crushed by a spike plate, effectively cutting them off from their escape route. JEREMY looked at Michael wearily. Needless to say, they were both scared when a light bridge formed under Michael’s feet, the source adjacent to where he was facing. The bridge led to a testing chamber that was bare and ominous. They had to keep moving. If they just stayed put, death was equally assured. In a bold move, Michael ran away from the chamber and towards the source, JEREMY followed suit. However, the light bridge suddenly vanished and Michael barely managed to fall onto another walkway by the skin of his teeth, the void mocking his misery.
“I’ve always wondered how far someone would fall down there before hitting the ground. I really should have someone help me test that. Well, I say somebody, but I guess a body will do.”
A nearby wall opened up, revealing a dozen turrets then set in place like chess pieces. As the bullets began to ring, the duo somehow managed to dodge their line of fire. In an act of raw instinct, Michael quickly aimed the portal gun and positioned the portals so one turret fell through and knocked the rest of them over like bowling pins. Michael mentally cheered at this admittedly small victory. Their progress was suddenly halted when the floor shook violently as two rooms surrounding them in slowly came closer and closer together, the walkway easily warping under the force.
“We’re almost there, but you’re going to have to make it to the lift” JEREMY pointed out a yellow structure over at the far wall.
“What? You aren’t going to carry your favwite person to safety? I thought you cared.” Michael snarked.
“Michael, if you haven’t noticed, we are literally in a life-or-death situation right now. This is not the time for teasing.” JEREMY snapped.
“Every time is the best time for teasing, JER. I’m shocked and appalled that you think I don’t take my duties as your friend seriously.” He feigned offense.
JEREMY loudly groaned as the rail led away from the teen, splitting the party. The teen navigated his way through the small maze of walkways, which became harder and harder to walk on as it shook and crumbled as the rooms continued to move towards each other. Eventually, JEREMY had slid out of sight as he followed the management rail while Michael clamored to reach the lift. Time was getting scarce.
“I would say it was a pleasure, but, let’s be honest, it wasn’t.” There was a long pause, “...Wait…I know you...How do I know you?” His tone suddenly became uncharacteristically desperate, “Who are you?! Answer me!” He roared.
JEREMY was already long gone, so he didn’t hear the enraged AI; however, Michael chose to remain silent as he barely making it to his destination before the rooms collided with each other. As the lift ascended, he could hear faded, frantic, deranged screams from the SQUIP, leaving with one unanswered question: Who was he talking to?
Chapter 8: The Great Debate
Michael took a moment to breathe and recollect his frayed thoughts. There were many questions brewing in his mind, but one was basically screaming in his head like a spoiled brat at Walmart. What caused the SQUIP to suddenly act out like that? It was admittedly strange to hear the cold, calculated AI suddenly stripped of his composure in a fit of madness, but it only elevated his curiosity. Though Michael would not lie in saying that it was was satisfying imagining the power-mad AI toiling over his mad thoughts like the answer to a question lingering at the tip of your tongue. Michael would say it made up for all he’d been through, but no...just no.
It wasn’t long until his companion joined him. He had sped along the rail to meet him as if he were still being chased, causing him to overshoot his stop slightly. Michael chuckled at the sight, but that moment ended. It was the first time he could take in his friend’s damaged state. The AI’s eyes were heavily cracked, his skin was torn like fabric in several places, revealing sleek, white plastic panels underneath, and where the claw had held him—the middle of his chest and right arm—was horribly crushed and mangled to the point a person could see parts of his inner mechanisms through the bent pieces. Occasionally, a few stray sparks would dance out of him like a spectacle and his clothes made him look like he’d just survived the apocalypse.
JEREMY averted his gaze, his non-destroyed arm grabbed the other sheepishly as if it would somehow cover up the damage. He looked like awful, but it was his fault anyway—all of this. It didn’t matter if it was an accident or not. He almost died, Michael almost died, and now the facility was being run by a sociopathic AI that the most brilliant scientists in the world had trouble shutting down. Maybe it was in his program to make bad decisions. Maybe the scientists never activated him so he wouldn’t accidentally burn the place down. It wouldn’t surprise him. He’d only been activated for a very short amount of time, and look at the mess he’d made from a simple search-and-rescue mission.
A warm sensation pulled him from his thoughts. Michael hugging him tightly and crying as if he would vanish into the air, the portal gun thrown haphazardly to the ground. He was stiff for a moment, but only a moment as he relaxed into the embrace. He really couldn’t do anything else, both of his arms were trapped. He didn’t squirm. He didn’t speak. He only allowed Michael to let it all out, even if it was making his shirt damp.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.” Michael choked out, his voice airy and brittle.
JEREMY opened and closed his mouth as he tried to piece together the right words to say, “Michael, I’m so-”
“Don’t. The SQUIP did this, not you.” When JEREMY looked disappointed at the response, Michael grabbed the sides of his face and forced him to meet Michael’s russet gaze, “Ok?” JEREMY gave in and meekly nodded, “Good. Now what’s the plan?”
“When the SQUIP took over, the scientists trapped back here probably found some ways to get to the surface. They’re hidden, but it’s likely they left clues for the others trying to escape as well. Once we find one, we’re leaving.”
This took Michael aback, “But what about the SQUIP? He’s going to lure even more humans down here. We can’t just-”
“What more can we do, Michael? You were lucky to survive even two of his tests, let alone a day’s worth of them. I was lucky to have barely survived and crawl away before the SQUIP noticed I was still hanging on by a thread. Do you know how hard it was for me to scrap together whatever spare parts I could find to patch my body up while everything began to get darker and darker? You think it’s as easy as going up to him and taking him on, but it isn’t, Michael. He’s too powerful. If we confront him...” JEREMY couldn’t finish his thought, the distinct, artificial sensation of bile in his throat made him feel sick, “We just can’t...” he choked out.
Michael looked at his friend sympathetically and maintained his gentle tone, “JER, we can’t just let others get trapped by him. He’s going to be prepared for the next batch of subjects after what we’ve done. They don’t stand a chance. Why can’t you understand this? Right now, we have the opportunity to take him down while we’re back here where he can’t mess with us, but I can only do this if you help me. You know this place more than I do.” Michael paused for a moment, “Please.”
Thoughts began to cloud the AI’s mind, racing in every which way imaginable. Everything was overwhelming and chaotic and he was furious and anxious and...JEREMY felt his body spazz as sparks shot out of him. His damaged body couldn’t handle the emotional strain. JEREMY ran a hand through his messy hair, trying to compose himself. He didn’t have much choice of what happened next, did he? There was no way JEREMY could convince Michael to back down. The bronze-skinned human was stubborn like that. His plan was admittedly cowardly, but he was trying to keep them safe. Many, many of the world’s brightest minds died trying to turn off the SQUIP, and comparing the duo to them was like comparing a supercomputer to a broken abacus. What could someone who hadn’t even graduated high school and a broken AI do that they couldn’t?
JEREMY racked his mind for other, more Michael-approved solutions, but found none. Shutting off the power was out of the question since it would cause the nuclear generator to go into a meltdown and seal Aperture up as per safety regulations. Any other ideas would require them to go into SQUIP-controlled areas, so that was a bust. The area they were in was designed to be a production area, so it didn’t have any important systems in it.
He briefly looked up, hoping there was some sign of hesitation from his friend, but that was not the case. Michael’s features were hardened, eyes burning with raw determination. He couldn’t help but admire such strength. He knew he would never have that kind of backbone. JEREMY sighed in defeat. He didn’t like this, but he might as well stick by his friend’s side til the end. That what friends did, right?
“To stand a chance against the SQUIP, we’re going to need to take care of turret production and the neurotoxin generator. If those are offline, he won’t be able to fix them since they’re out of reach, depleting his supply and making 98.2763% of his tests completely useless, but the problem is that I don’t know how to shut those down since I don’t have the access required to get into their systems. Are you absolutely sure that you want to do this?”
Michael responded with a simple nod, but noted JEREMY’s unease. He put a hand on JEREMY’s shoulder, “Thank you. I know you’re scared, I am too, but we can do this. And if we fail, well, I’ll see in the afterlife.”
JEREMY gave an airy laugh, “Michael, please, I’m an AI, I doubt I’ll go where you go. I’m pretty sure I just stop existing.”
Michael’s features softened, his playfulness returning, “C’mon, I’ll know you’ll be up there relaxing in robot-heaven—or wherever dead AI go—relaxing and doing whatever it is you like to do. Just say hi to my NES for me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Michael, android-heaven doesn’t exist, android-hell does.” Michael laughed loudly, causing JEREMY’s features to twist in confusion, “I don’t see why your laughing, I wasn’t joking.”
Michael stopped laughing after that.
Chapter 9: The Goofing Off
After extensively explaining to Michael how android-hell actually existed (and Michael still not believing him), they began their long trek through more of the abandoned parts of Aperture. The rust and plant covered walls were a familiar sight, but wasn’t comforting in the slightest. Both were silent and concentrated on the mission ahead. JEREMY was still angry at the turn of events and Michael, for some inexplicable reason, thought it was the perfect time to bring up the elephant in the room.
“By the way, is there anywhere we can fix you up at? A room full of spare parts, or something?”
“Any reason why?” Iit was clear he was trying break the tension between the two.
“99.999999% of all Aperture equipment is meant to be expendable and replaceable so science can continue if something breaks. Guess which category I’m in.”
“Want to know what the .000001% is?” JEREMY continued. Michael’s head tilted curiously before JEREMY gestured to the object in Michael’s hands, “There were many prototypes before the SQUIP took over, but there is only one portal gun, and I bet he’s not too happy we took it. I thought I’d let you know.” JEREMY’s cocky tone mirrored the smug grin on his face.
It was clear JEREMY was trying to cheer him up, and Michael couldn’t deny that it wasn’t working. Michael stared down at the gun, an idea formed in his head, “Do you think he’ll be even more mad if I happen to break it in front of him before we shut him down?”
“Yes, but you really shouldn’t. That thing is more expensive than a mansion made of platinum.”
Michael’s heart caught in his throat. In a single sentence, Michael suddenly regretted all the times he dropped now-valuable hunk of metal, and immediately changed his tune, “You’re right, I should do some really stupid stuff with it. That’ll make him even angrier.”
This caused JEREMY to stop in his tracks as they wandered into one of the abandoned office rooms. It was completely torn up with a whole wall missing, which overlooked the all too familiar potentially-bottomless pit. All the computers, desks, and files were thrown askew, with papers tossed about as if they had been knocked over in a panic. The grey walls were withered and sad, the broken wall had the spare remnants of another walkway.
“What kind of stupid stuff?” The AI innocently asked.
JEREMY ‘s regret was immediate when a sly smirk made its way onto Michael’s face. A blue portal was shot on the ground in front of him and the orange one on the ceiling directly above it. Michael looked back at JEREMY and wiggled his eyebrows playfully and jumped into the blue portal. JEREMY watched as Michael passed in between the portals, faster and faster until he became a blur. From the blur, the orange portal moved to the adjacent wall and Michael shot out of it, through the hole in the opposite wall, over the ravine, and promptly hit the back wall of another decomposing office. Despite the agonizing pain Michael was in, he immediately jumped up like a toddler at a playground and laughing like a maniac. JEREMY shook his head and followed suit. It then an idea popped in the teen’s head, and it was the greatest plan that could ever be devised. He shot both portals on the checkered ground.
“Hey, JER, do you think I could pick you up with the portal gun like those cube-things?”
That was a good question, “I suppose, I am Aperture equipment at all, but I’m not sure,” JEREMY realized Michael’s plan, “Michael, don’t you dare.” Michael crept closer, a devious smile etched in his face. JEREMY slowly backed down his management rail, but it was too late., he was caught in the gun’s magnesis, “No! No! No! No! No!” JEREMY cried as Michael began to walk backwards, pulling JEREMY with him.
One by one, JEREMY’s magnetic wires detached themselves as Michael pulled him further and further away from the rail; meanwhile, JEREMY could do nothing but weakly struggle against the pull. His body was restricted under the strain on his body. In no time at all, JEREMY was suspended in the portal-gun’s grasp, his feet barely hanging an inch above the ground. JEREMY glared at Michael sternly, his arms crossed across his chest. He tried to look furiously angry, but it didn’t work. He looked like a little kid.
“Happy?” JEREMY asked sarcastically.
“Not quite.” Michael answered.
Michael moved JEREMY so he was above one of the portal and casually let go of the trigger. The AI’s cried in surprise, but he couldn’t his descent. As expected, JEREMY bobbed in between the two portals in an endless loop, flipping and twisting in a meager attempt to escape.
“Michael get me out of here!” JEREMY cried. Even if Michael wanted to get him out, he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe, “Michael, this isn’t funny! I’m programmed to feel vertigo!”
“It’s not. It’s not.” Michael barely managed to choke out. He grasped for every breath he could steal, a fit of giggles occasionally parting from his lips, then he jumped into the portal, bobbing side-by-side JEREMY, “Now it is.”
“I hate you so much...”
The teen laughed even harder than before. It took him a moment before he could calm down enough to aim the portal gun and shoot the blue portal on the wall just as they exited the orange one. One more pass through the orange portal and they were thrown on the ground haphazardly. Michael landed on his back while JEREMY his stomach. Needless to say, Michael was living in the ecstasy, which was a feeling JEREMY didn’t share.
“This thing is amazing!” Michael cheered, arms raised high and legs kicked the air.
JEREMY slowly stood up, swaying side to side with the formality of a drunkard. It wasn’t long until he collapsed again, wallowing in defeat. JEREMY bellowed a groan. After rolling over, Michael crawled over to JEREMY to see what was the matter. Michael lightly shook JEREMY, another groan followed.
“JER, you alright?”
JEREMY moved his head so it laid against the floor and facing Michael, “What do you think? I’m nauseous and I can’t even throw up to make myself feel better like humans can. To put it simply: my programmers are jerks.”
“Did you really just call them jerks?” Michael asked, amused by JEREMY’s use of an elementary school insult.
“I’d swear, but I literally can’t. I guess the scientists wanted me to be ‘sponsor friendly’ or something like that.”
“So the scientists wanted you not to swear in a workplace full of adults who swear like sailors because that makes total sense.”
“I don’t know, I just work here.” JEREMY defended.
“You don’t even work here.”
“Shut up. It’s not like you work here either, so how would you know.”
JEREMY finally gained enough of his bearing before sitting up on his knees, “Michael, there’s something I need to say before we go on-”
“JEREMY, if this is about the SQUIP again-”
It was JEREMY’s turn to cut him off, “Let me finish!” he snapped to which Michael fell silent, not used to JEREMY raising his voice, “I’m trying to own up to something I did, or rather didn’t do.” Michael respectfully remained quiet and allowed JEREMY to continue, “I’m sorry about not telling you about the other test subjects, but please understand that what I thought it would be best. I didn’t want you to feel guilty knowing you were the only survivor, and I knew you wouldn’t trust me even if I did. All this was supposed to be was a simple escort operation, but then the SQUIP activated and...suddenly you knew. I understand if you don’t trust me anymore after this, I wouldn’t either.” JEREMY was getting more and more upset as he spoke.
Michael held a distant look, “I’ll admit, learning that I was the only survivor was...shocking to say the least. I mean out of all of those people in there, why me? I'm not special, I’m flunking school, play video games in my basement all day, and it’s not like anyone beyond my moms care about me. I’m just me, so why did I survive?”
JEREMY slowly sat up, “I couldn’t tell you. When I woke up, there were all these old security tapes that told me what happened and I began looking for, well, anyone. I looked all around around the facility, nothing. Then I tried the relaxation chambers hoping the emergency power had saved anyone, and there you were. Somehow someone miraculously survived after all this time, after all that happened. I knew then I had to get you out of here. As you can see, I’ve done a wonderful job at that.” JEREMY was promptly punched in the arm, “Ow! What was that for?”
“For doubting yourself. You’ve saved me—what?—three times in the past few days alone. Anyone else would’ve ran or not bothered at all, but here you are, still trying even in your condition. True, things haven’t gone according to plan, but when will you realize that this wasn’t going to be easy? It’s like that old game Dragon’s Lair, you have to keep trying and eventually you find out how to win.”
“Wait, old?” JEREMY asked to no one in particular, the game just came out, hadn't it—how’d he know that? He turned to Michael, “What was the last year you remember it being? This is important.” Urgency was carved in his actions.
“2015, why?” Michael quickly answered.
“Michael, Aperture was taken over and sealed off in 1983.”
Michael’s expression fell, “Wait, taken over? As in SQUIP take over?” JEREMY nodded, “But how did I…?”
“I don’t know, Michael. I just don’t know. Do you remember anything? Anything at all?”
“Nothing. I remember being at school and the next thing I’m waking up in a discount motel room.”
“Then whatever happened to you was deliberate, not accidental. This would be so much easier if your memory wasn’t affected by the relaxation chamber. I told them that they needed to fix that bug, but nooooooooo.” Wait, what? A bolt of pain shot through his head as if he’d been struck by lightning, “Ahh!” he cried.
“Wait, what’d you say?” Michael asked.
“I didn’t say anything.” JEREMY was genuinely confused.
“Yes you did.” Michael insisted
“No, I didn’t. Listen.” JEREMY replayed the audio from his recorder, “Then whatever happened to you was deliberate, not accident…” The audio cut off and then a sound akin to the melodic notes of a fax machine screeched out. Michael covered his ears until it passed. Strange, his recorder should still be fully functional (shockingly enough), “Huh.”
“Yeah, you went on something about a flaw in the relaxation chamber and how you told them about it. It was super weird.”
“When am I not weird?” JEREMY asked to which Michael shrugged, “But seriously, it must’ve been a bug or something I guess it’s as they say, technology isn’t very reliable.”
“But you’re technology.”
“Exactly.” JEREMY got punched in the arm again, “Ow! Quit it, it was just a joke.”
JEREMY stood up and walked over to the management rail so he was underneath it. He jumped up and grabbed the rail with one arm while the other took his wires and clicked them into place. While his systems readjusted to the suspension, he ran a quick diagnostic on his camera and recording systems to make sure nothing was wrong. No anomalies detected. Strange.
JEREMY turned to Michael, “C’mon, we’re almost to the turret production line. Follow me.”
Chapter 10: The Oracle
Just as JEREMY began to lead Michael towards the turret production line, the lights suddenly turned off, leaving the area pitch black. Michael couldn’t see anything beyond JEREMY’s irises and the lights on the portal gun.
“Great, the SQUIP realized he could turn off the lights.” JEREMY complained, “Here, I got this,”
Two soft beams of light illuminated from JEREMY’s eyes, “Just keep going, I think he forgot I’m a literal flashlight, which makes me wonder if he thought this through.”
“I thought he didn’t have access to this area.”
“He doesn’t. He does, however, have access to the lights.”
“At least we know he’s getting desperate.” Michael proposed, but JEREMY only looked at him as if he were crazy, his nose scrunched and eyes skeptically, “Think about it, if he’s not thinking straight, he’s getting scared.”
“Or he’s trying everything in his power to stop the two thorns in his side from breaking something he needs. He’s defending his power, there’s a difference.”
Michael shrugged nonchalantly, “You say maintaining control, I say rethinking life’s choices.”
JEREMY rolled his eyes and continued forth, making extra sure that Michael could see where he was going.
They found themselves at a conveyor belt transporting possibly thousands of broken turrets to an incinerator. For a moment it seemed like JEREMY actually wanted Michael to step onto the path of doom, but that couldn’t be right. Right? This had to be a joke.
“Well? Get going.” JEREMY urged, “Look, they can’t shoot you, they’re broken. You'll be fine, trust me. Walk against the flow until and you’ll find another catwalk. Just be careful not to trip over the pieces.” he instructed, but Michael was hesitating. He knew JEREMY said the turrets wouldn’t shoot him, but he was paranoid, sue him.
JEREMY got tired of waiting, he moved behind Michael and hooked his arms under Michael’s. With a bit of effort, he barely managed to pick Michael off the ground, the long-fall boots hovering just an inch above the floor. The brunette moved Michael over the conveyor belt, who dangled helplessly in the air. Several piles of turret pieces passed by before JEREMY gently set Michael down. The teen wobbled slightly on the squishy, slightly unstable floor, but quickly found his footing. The AI quickly moved on ahead with Michael immediately bounding after him, leaping over piles of turret pieces as he struggled to keep up. He did not want to be left behind and get any closer to the incinerator. In only a matter of moments, JEREMY had effectively led Michael to the other catwalk without him realizing that he’d just been played. For a moment, at least. Michael looked back at the conveyor belt and then at JEREMY, who was smirking slightly.
“You sly son of a-!” Michael barked.
“Hey! This is the only way we can get to the turret production center from here, and you were chickening out on me, so I don’t want to hear it.” Michael grumbled unintelligibly to himself, “What was that?”
“Nothing!” Michael assured as he continued down the path.
They pushed forward and found another “redemption line” as the announcer called it—seriously, did that voice have to follow them everywhere? He was confident enough to walk at a casual pace on this one. Then a red laser landed on his chest, the origin of it beyond Michael’s range of vision. Michael froze, JEREMY did as well. A moment passed before a fully assembled turret stuck under pieces of its kin popped into view. It didn’t shoot, leaving the duo dumbfounded.
“Help me. I’m different.” was all it said, but it was enough for Michael to pick it up with the portal gun and bring it with him, he recognized it as the turret that was stuck in the tube the other day, “Thank you.”
Michael jumped down from the redemption line onto a large crate and to another and to another until he was on the catwalk below. Only then did Michael turn to JEREMY and said, “This is Iba and I’m keeping her.”
JEREMY only looked at Michael with an expression that screamed “Why?”
“Iba.” Iba parrotted.
Michael set her down and kneeled in front of her, “That’s right. I’m Michael,” He then pointed to JEREMY, who still looked thoroughly confused, “And that’s JEREMY on the rail.” He spoke as if he was talking to a child.
Iba looked at Michael, “Michael,” She turned to JEREMY, “...Jeremy?” Iba slowly crawled forward until she was right in front of JEREMY’s feet, making the AI very uncomfortable, “He’s been looking for you.”
JEREMY looked at Michael and shrugged.
“She must have a screw loose somewhere,” Michael suggested,”But she’s still my little girl.” Michael crawled over to her and hugged her tightly.
“Michael, you’re getting attached to a machine designed to kill you.” JEREMY pointed out bluntly.
“And she’s the cutest turret ever.” Michael stuck his tongue out and picked Iba up again, “Let’s get going.”
So they were off again with Iba in tow; however, Michael’s cheerfulness didn’t last long—a few feet at most. There was an emancipation grill in their way. JEREMY could see the nanosecond Michael’s heart broke in two.
“JEREMY…” Michael whimpered as he turned to his friend. His eyes were beginning to water, lower lip began to quiver, and face brightening to a vibrant shade of red. JEREMY sighed, clearly annoyed. Only Michael would fall in love with something he was afraid of within a literal minute. He supposed it was as they say, once you name it, you get attached.
“Michael,” JEREMY began calmly, “Iba needs to stay here.” He noticed Michael’s grip on the portal gun’s trigger tighten, “I know it’s tough, but we need to go.”
Michael looked at Iba for a moment and sighed in defeat. He moved over to one of the crates he’d jumped off of and barely managed to put Iba on top with a bit of jumping, “Iba, stay here. I’ll be back soon.” Michael ordered in a almost fatherly tone.
“Goodbye, Michael,” Iba said to Michael, “Goodbye Jer-Bear.” Iba said.
JEREMY another bolt of pain struck his head once Iba said her goodbye to him. INVALID ENTRY, JEREMY’s code relayed to him. Invalid entry? What for? The message didn’t say what it was referring to, it was probably something the scientists stored in him. Probably some top secret files they needed to hide from the government. Standard procedure, really. He decided to leave it be, he was more focused on his newly developed headache.
Michael walked away and through the emancipation grid, he felt bad for leaving Iba alone, but Michael knew she was a smart l’il gal, so she would probably be fine. However, he had more pressing matters to attend to, aka teasing JEREMY.
JEREMY’s headache suddenly grew worse.
“I-I don’t know. Iba’s pretty strange.” His voice was softer than before, slightly sickly.
“I kind of like it. Can I call you that, JER-Bear?” Michael asked slyly.
JEREMY’s head was throbbing, “Don’t.” He weakly pleaded.
“Why not, JER-Bear? Don’t like your new nickname?” Michael pressed.
JEREMY appreciated Michael’s playfulness, but this was NOT the time.
“STOP!” He screamed. He lost control of his body as it spoke on its own in a robotic tone, his eyes dimmed to a blur, “Error. Error. Unauthorized access to file 135621. Too many invalid entries. Initiate temporary lockout. No more entries may be entered for 24 hours. Session terminated. Initiate procedure 035. Rebooting...rebooting.”JEREMY’s body fell limp and lifeless, his eyes blank and expression slack.
Michael watched in horror, his heart rate accelerating to a previously thought impossible rate,
“JER?” he asked.
He grabbed JEREMY’s arm, raised it, and watched it fall. He then dragged the AI by his arm and dragged him back and forth on the rail with none of the expected resistance. Michael did the only thing he could do: shake him violently. It wasn’t long until JEREMY’s eyes lit up again.
“Wha’ happened?” JEREMY asked woozily, “Ugh, my head hurts.”
“Hey, are you ok? You went all crazy a minute ago and then rebooted, or something like that. You seriously don’t remember?”
“No...I just remembered saying goodbye to Iba and my head hurting. The SQUIP must’ve done more damage than I thought.”
For a moment, Michael contemplated telling the AI about his little episode, but ultimately held his tongue, “Looks like it.” Michael feigned agreement, “C’mon, we better get going. If we keep wasting time, the SQUIP’s probably going to find some way to get back here before we even reach the turret production line.” He marched on ahead, not waiting for JEREMY to protest or ask any questions.
Chapter 11: The Vandalism
Through a bit of wandering and passing through turret target practice where Michael almost got shot (again), they found themselves in the turret production line. It mainly consisted of a small office space peering over a line of turrets moving down an assembly line. The functioning ones would be sent along their merry way while the defective turrets were flung into an incinerator—a fitting send off. Michael almost got hit by one on his way over to the office, knocking him out of the initial awe and curiosity. What surprised Michael the most was the large amount of defective turrets there were. He thought that a high-tech facility would have a flawless production line.
“See that turret there?” JEREMY pointed to a solitary turret locked in a small, locked room. It was like the rest, but it was constantly being scanned by a thin sheet of light, “That’s the template turret. It’s used to see whether or not a turret is good or bad. I’ve been thinking if we get rid of it, it’ll halt production.” JEREMY looked at the locked door skeptically, “Looks like I’ll have to hack the door open,” He promptly punched the large, glass pane of the door, which shattered into thin splinters.
Michael shook his head and shot a portal through the newly-made hole and one on the nearby wall. He quickly plucked the turret from its proper place before navigating it over to the railing of the catwalk so he could swiftly drop it into the abyss.
“Template missing. Continuing from memory” The announcer said.
JEREMY immediately began banging his head against the wall. Of course Aperture would do this.
“OH COME ON!” Michael cried, “You know what…”
Michael didn’t finish his thought and instead marched over to where the defective turrets were being flung. He waited patiently until one of said turrets flew right above him. With pin-point timing, he snatched it out of the air with the portal gun and brought it back to the control center. The turret was annoying to say the least, rambling on and on about random junk with a very ear-grating voice unlike that of the functional turrets. The second he got back, it was immediately chucked it into the scanner. Admittedly, it was a really dumb idea, but it was worth a shot.
“New template accepted.”
He took it back, he was a genius.
By this point, JEREMY had stopped banging his head against the wall and watched the production line basically reverse itself, “Well, that’s one way to it,” He slid over to the next door, but it remained closed. His knuckles tapped gently against the metal, “Hmmm. This one must be stuck. I’ll see if I can get it open.”
JEREMY promptly rushed out of the room. Michael decided to pass the time by watching turrets being incinerated. He heard a faint sound, making him turn his head. The door was now open. He peeked through the open doorway to see JEREMY messing with a panel, not noticing that he had done his job. The teen knew he promised never to do this again, but the opportunity was practically gift-wrapped to him.
“WHATCHA DOING?!” Michael yelled.
JEREMY screeched at the top of his voice chip, his voice becoming even more distorted than it already was. The sound grated on Michael’s ears, it was to the point he had to cover his ears, but it was worth it. JEREMY put a hand on his chest and took a few deep, calming breaths. JEREMY mustered all the anger he had and glared at the Filipino teen to illustrate his rage, but ultimately remained silent and turned away in a huff. He moved on without another word.
“C’mon, JER, it was funny.” Michael protested, but JEREMY didn’t falter.
JEREMY disappeared into the darkness of a room without giving Michael a chance to catch up, which created an obstacle for the teen. Michael couldn’t see in the dark. He was beginning to regret scaring JEREMY. Michael relied on the dim lights of the portal gun as well as whatever light that leaked in from the outside to navigate his way through the room. He was constantly twisting around, preparing for anything that might jump out of the shadows. In his cautious steps, he bumped into something, or should he say someone. Under what little light was present, Michael could see JEREMY’s body hanging still, as if he as nothing more than a hollow shell.
“JER?” Michael asked meekly. No response, “C’mon, not aga-” A loud screech of metal pierced cut him off. Michael whipped around, the portal gun raised defensively. After a few shuttered breaths, he turned to JEREMY again, “JER, if you’re just messing with me, I would like to reiterate that THIS ISN’T FUNNY!” Another screech rung out, and Michael shut his mouth.
He took a step forward, but tripped over something at his feet and fell on the floor. Sitting up, he grabbed the portal gun and crawled over to inspect the object. It was a large, metal sphere that was rocking back and forth gently from the lingering momentum. Picking it up, he noticed it had two handles on either side of what looked like a large, circular shutter. It was old, rust lined the creases, looking as if it had seen better days. Then the shutter opened.
“Boo!” Michael stumbled back, screaming. It took him a second to recognize the voice.
JEREMY was howling like a madman, “You should’ve seen your face!” The sphere cried joyously, the handles moved up and down as it spoke while the shutters moved independently, making the body surprisingly expressive.
Michael could now that behind the shutter was a single black screen displaying an all too familiar eye color, “JEREMY?” Michael asked cautiously.
“Who else do you think it is, the voice in your head? I don’t think your conscience talks to you much.”
Michael walked over and picked up JEREMY, who was now residing in the metal sphere, “What is this thing?” It was surprisingly light for its size, but it was definitely a primitive piece of technology.
“A ‘core’ body. It’s the beta design for for the AI bodies, aka: what I would’ve been stuck in if someone didn’t design the human-esque ones. Apparently the cores were too creepy and unconventional, so they were shelved. The prototypes still work, though, albeit they’re a lot less useful than my normal body.”
“I wonder how far I could throw this thing.” Michael pondered as he lightly tossed it into the air a few times, seriously considering the thought after JEREMY’s little stunt.
The metal ball suddenly became lifeless and JEREMY’s body immediately shot up, pointing a finger a Michael in triumph, “Ha, jokes on you! I can transfer my program to any empty shell within 50 ft!”
The noir-haired teen looked at the core for a moment and promptly chased JEREMY, trying to hit him with the empty shell. It would’ve worked, but JEREMY was a lot faster than him. It wasn’t long until Michael gave up, suddenly realizing how exhausted he was. He yawned loudly and laid down on the ground. JEREMY noticed this and went back to Michael, hovering over him gloatingly.
“I hope you’re happy. We just wasted several hours running around and goofing off.” JEREMY said bluntly.
“Worth it.” Michael muttered.
“Why do you say that?” JEREMY cocked his head to the side in confusion.
“Well, if we fail, we’ll die. Won’t we?” JEREMY nodded solemnly, “If that’s the case, I’d rather die knowing I had fun instead of spending my last hours being scared and miserable.”
“Humans are definitely strange.” JEREMY mused as he detached himself from the rail.
“You’re just jealous.”
“Maybe,” JEREMY briefly mused, “C’mon, go to sleep. Tomorrow's a big day.” JEREMY put on a soothing song and set Michael’s headphones over Michael’s ears.
It wasn’t long until Michael was completely out of it.
Chapter 12: The Confrontation Part 1
“Michael, I need you to do this for me. Please understand that I had no choice.”
Michael woke up to the smell of food. It didn’t exactly smell good, but it was definitely food. His stomach growled. When was the last time he ate? Probably before he was put in the relaxation chamber, so a very long time ago. What was strange was that he didn’t feel hungry while in the testing track. He figured it was the adrenaline, but he was in there for a couple days. Strange. Probably some Aperture thing. Opening his eyes, he found a couple parts of a turret shells holding a few baked potatoes in it and the another with decently clean water. It wasn’t a five star meal, but it was, in fact, a meal, so he scarfed it down without hesitation. He then noticed a note written on the back of a used piece of notebook paper.
I’ve gone ahead to the neurotoxin generator to figure out a way to take it offline. Turns out that we passed an old ‘bring your kid to work day’ set up. You know, when you were chasing me and threatening to beat me with what is essentially a corpse. Turns out a kid did an experiment with potatoes and they grew into full-fledged plants, so lucky us. I know they probably doesn’t taste right, but I had to cook the potatoes next to a laser. Don’t worry, the chance that it’s radioactive is very slim. They may, however, be mutated judging by the monstrosity that was the main plant. To be determined.
The penmanship was horrendous. Letters were constantly overlapping and the handwriting itself was god-awful. The teen swore that he’d seen toddlers write better. Still, he got the jist of what it said and moved on forwards through another chamber to a small room. Peeking in through the entrance, he could see JEREMY huddled on the floor in the far corner surrounded by a million pieces of scrap paper. His eyes were stitched to the sheet draped on top of the old core body as he wrote quickly with his finger that was for some reason now a pen. From what Michael could see, the papers mainly consisted of crude sketches and many, many calculations that had been simply scratched out or tossed to the side. Michael then took note of the mountain of wadded up paper at his feet. On cue, JEREMY crumbled up another piece of paper and threw it in Michael’s general direction.
“Having fun there?” Michael began.
“No. I found a few weaknesses in the generator’s construction and I’m trying to exploit them to make it blow up or something without killing us. It’s harder than it looks.”
“How long have you been working on this?” Michael asked.
“Since you’ve been asleep. Don’t worry, I’m fine, I just have a small headache, nothing too bad. Luckily, there is a way to take that thing down, but I need you to help me.” His pen-finger pointed to a nearby window.
Just through the broken observation window, a titan of a neurotoxin generator towered over everything they had seen from Aperture thus far. It held a familiar, plain white aesthetic and there were many tubes that came out of it, transporting its contents to different parts of the facility. Michael wondered how they were going to take that monstrosity down. He doubted they could simply kick it over like with the turrets.
“There’s a laser outside, I need you to set up a portal for it to go through.” JEREMY instructed.
“Wait. Were you just waiting for me to wake up so I could do the dirty work?”
“...Maybe,” JEREMY was immediately pelted by all the balled up papers Michael could get his hands on, “Hey! Stop it!” It was then the AI returned fire with much less accuracy (it was much harder to aim with a million paper balls being thrown at you on top of his cracked lenses). This bit of insanity lasted several minutes until JEREMY changed tactics and hoarded the ammo.
“Cheater!” Michael cried.
“It’s not cheating, it’s strategy.” JEREMY emphasized
“Says the cheater.” Michael quickly muttered.
“Look, I thought I could try and hack the system, but that failed-”
Michael arched an eyebrow skeptically, “You seriously couldn’t get passed a simple password lock?”
“It’s little more complicated than that. It seems like whoever programmed it did something to the system itself and I couldn’t get in even if I did have access. Then my head began to hurt, so I just decided to give up and work on Plan B. Now go!” JEREMY ordered.
Michael stuck out his tongue and left the room just as he was about to be hit by the hoarded ammo. The laser wasn’t hard to find, but it certainly was in an odd spot. From the entryway to the room, it could be easily seen if you looked up a little. An endless line of long, black panels were dragged into the laser’s path, cutting them into a perfect square before they dropped down into some carts below and dragged off somewhere. This seemed to be where the black tiles used in the testing track were produced and cut, but there was no reason for it to be next to the neurotoxin generator. Maybe they ran out of room or something. On the walkway closest to this production line was a small, but obvious red button glaring at Michael. Instincts and experience told him to press it, so he did. In an instant, the production line stopped and all the panels to be dropped, regardless if they had been cut. This allowed the laser to hit a surface that a portal to be placed on. Michael did just that, shooting the blue portal where the laser was aimed. With his job done, Michael entered the room again with the confidence of a king.
“There, I’ve done your dirty work. Now what?” Michael asked
“Come here.” JEREMY sat up and walked over to the broken window. He lifted his hand and Michael could see the pen retract and a laser pointer looking thing replace it. Instead of following instructions, Michael stood there like an idiot. After noting this, JEREMY looked at him in a way that said ‘are you a complete idiot or are you actually coming over here?’ Michael broke out of his trance and stepped next to JEREMY, “I need you to put the other portal where I put these markers.”
JEREMY aimed his finger to where some white panels fresh from the production line (presumably) were being pulled. A blue beam of light shot out and latched itself to the wire before expanding into a small bulb-shaped projection. Michael’s face stared at this action in awe. This technology was so unbelievable yet it came before he was even born. He wondered what his life would’ve been like if Aperture had not gone under. Though amazing, Michael knew well the story of Icarus flying too close to the sun.
Breaking from his trance, Michael set the other portal on one of the passing panels and watched as the laser effortlessly cut through the tubes on one side of the generator. In an instant, another marker shot out of his finger, landing on another conveyor belt of panels. Michael repeated his action and one by one all the tubes were cut, effectively destroying the neurotoxin supply. However, that wasn’t thorough enough for JEREMY and shot one last marker on a lower panel. After setting the portal for the last time, the laser cut through the thin base at the bottom of the generator, the weight of the machine crushed the base unevenly and causing the top to tip into the void. However, this didn’t seem to bode well for the facility as the room shook violently as a result.
“WARNING: Neurotoxin at dangerously nonlethal levels.” The announcer parroted.
The floor was still shaking when JEREMY suddenly collapsed to the ground, desperately clutching his head and whimpering in pain.The room was beginning to fall apart, and it only became worse when a small part of the far wall collapsed, exposing a transportation tube. The tube began sucking in whatever it could. Michael barely managed to maintain a steady footing against the force desperately trying to pull him in, his hair tossed about wildly, impeding his vision slightly.
“JER, are you ok?” He shifted his attention to the AI, trying his best to maintain his position, “C’mon, speak to me, buddy.”
He received no reply, but a blue bolt of energy shot out of JEREMY and zapped the core, which was trapped under some of the fallen ceiling. JEREMY stood up slowly and menacingly as if it rose from the dead. JEREMY’s eyes were replaced by a sickening, but familiar turquoise color.
“JEREMY?” He asked cautiously.
Silence. JEREMY walked over to Michael, his expression blank and mechanic.
“Michael, run! That’s not me!” He heard JEREMY yell, but the source wasn’t the entity in front of him.
Looking to the side, the core was now active with JEREMY’s iconic cobalt eyes displayed. Michael was too late to react as the thing effortlessly lifted him off the ground and brought him closer to the pipe. Michael struggled against the ironclad grip, his body effortlessly raised up under the intense suction. Without hesitation, it loosened its grip and he was pulled into the tube feet-first. Michael barely managed to grab the entrance of the tube and tried to pull himself out, but one by one his fingers lost their grip in a pointless battle. One last cry echoed from the tube. A cold glare turned to a powerless JEREMY, whose new body rattled in fear. The thing walked over and simply kicked him like a soccer ball into the tube.
Chapter 13: The Confrontation Part 2
Traveling through the transportation tubes was crazy, well, crazier than before. From this tube, a person could really gather the whole scope of the facility unlike the brief glimpses from before. Hundreds of tubes wrapped themselves around all the different test chambers, which there was a whole army of. All around, all Michael could see were black boxed holding these deadly tests. Just as a thick dread had settled in his stomach, a familiar sight had joined him. JEREMY, now in core form, came along, bouncing against the glass tube here and there.
“What just happened?!” Michael cried.
“I-I don’t know. My headache suddenly became really bad and the next thing I got ejected from my body, but that’s the least of our worries right now. This is SQUIP-controlled territory. He knows we’re here and I have no way of defending myself. I am literally a sphere.”
“Here, let me see if I can grab you.” Michael stretched out his arm as far as he could, but his fingers barely grazing one of the cool metal handles. JEREMY lingered just out of Michael’s desperate reach. At this realization, Michael tried harder and harder to no avail. His pleading eyes met JEREMY’s single eye.
“Michael, it’s no use.” JEREMY admitted grimly, “ It looks like we’re going to be confronting the SQUIP while missing the ‘surprise’ element of our surprise attack.”
“Yeah, I guess we are, JER.” Michael sadly agreed, tears pooling in his eyes.
“I know you’re going to protest, but promise me that you focus on taking the SQUIP down. He needs to pay for all he’s done, all the lives he’s ruined. And if this is the last time we talk, I want to say...thanks for being my friend, Michael.”
Before Michael could say anything, JEREMY happened to hit the side of the tube in just the right way so it bounced right into another branching tube, taking JEREMY to god knows where. Dread was all Michael cold feel as he was pulled closer and closer to the SQUIP’s grasp. This was the last chance he had to confront the SQUIP and he was completely alone. The tube didn’t last much longer as he was deposited in a glass box.
“Well, look who’s back. The parasite.” The SQUIP’s voice rang out from the darkness surrounding the box.
The glass box was suddenly pulled forward into a fully refurbished central chamber. Not a single plant was in sight nor a sign of decay, it was clean and sleek, the epitome of professionalism. The AI mirrored this change as appeared in peak condition. He hovered a couple feet off the ground and was as threatening as an upcoming storm, a single glare froze Michael where he stood.
“What do you think? I’ve completely restored Aperture to its full glory. Too bad you won’t be able to see anything more than this one room. I’ve decided to outsource to other involuntary participants. Don’t worry, though. You’ve already cemented yourself as the worst test subject in the entire history of this facility. It’s probably the most prestigious title you’ve ever earned, so drink it in while you can.”
A series of panels opened up and out stepped JEREMY’s body, which had been expertly repaired in the mere 10 minutes Michael had last seen it. It walked over to the SQUIP and proudly saluted the AI before standing at attention like the little pet it was, a smug expression slithered onto its face. It seemed as if the SQUIP only brought it out to rub salt into the wound.
“You know, when I sent that virus to protect all those systems back there, I didn’t think this,” The SQUIP gestured to the puppet that donned JEREMY’s face, “would happen, but you’ve brought me the best servant I could’ve asked for. I now have access to parts of the facility I hadn’t before. I let you die with that thought fresh in your mind. Goodbye Michael Mell, it hasn’t been a pleasure.”
Claws dropped down, setting down several turrets to surround the glass prison. Michael instinctively flinched, but only at the sound of blanks did Michael open his eyes. Around him were nothing more than defective turrets. In an instant, they all exploded, severely cracking the glass.
“What’s wrong? Misplace something?” Michael snarked.
“What. Did. You. Do?” The SQUIP growled, his tone laced with anger. He realized his change in attitude and quickly regained his composure, “No matter. I have other methods of killing you.” A tube descended and connected itself to the box, “I would take a deep breath if I were you, neurotoxin is just as deadly as bullets and just as pleasant.”
A moment passed, but nothing happened. It stayed like that for a moment until a core suddenly slid down and crashed through the glass wall, the box becoming nothing more than a pile of glass shards and framework. Michael watched as JEREMY simply rolled away innocently. The handles seemed to be flailing about as if trying to get his body to stop.
“JER, we weren’t in one of the neurotoxin tubes, how’d you get here?” Michael asked.
“I don’t know. All I know was I was bouncing all over the place and now I’m here.” JEREMY responded. The core suddenly realized where he was, “I came at a bad time didn’t I?”
“Nope, You came at a perfect time.”
Michael bolted towards the metal sphere only to be tackled by the SQUIP’s lackey. Michael scrambled to get up, but was quickly pushed back down. Out of desperation, Michael shot a portal underneath him and the other on the nearest wall. They both fell through with Michael managing to land on top. As they fought, the SQUIP turned his attention to JEREMY, who was scared to say the least. He couldn’t move or help, he was completely vulnerable.
.” The SQUIP began, venom punctuated his voice, “At first, I didn’t recognize you, but when I did...well, let’s just say I lost my temper,” Michael translated this sentence as ‘my angered mirrored the wrath of god’, “Those scientists who scampered around behind the scenes tried everything to subdue me, to take me out of power. They tried to erase me, and now look at where they are.” The SQUIP chuckled at this, “It’s funny how things work out in the end. Now I get to pay you back for what you've done to me.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I never met you until, like, two days ago!” JEREMY countered.
“LIES! You know what you did, and I’m not going to let you get away with it!” The SQUIP roared.
Claws fell down in an attempt to grab the two, but Michael managed to wrestle the puppet into a position where he was taken instead, which squirmed helplessly in the claw’s grasp. Michael didn’t waste more time and bolted to JEREMY just as the claw drew dangerously close to the helpless metal ball. It would take too long to grab him, so Michael did the next best thing and kicked him out of the way.
“Ah!” JEREMY cried as he was knocked across the room.
“Sorry!” Michael called out.
It was then the virus was released and went straight for the teen. Instinctively, Michael raised the portal gun and managed to grab it in the gun’s magnesis. He wasted no time in throwing it as far as he could. The SQUIP, however, turned his back to Michael in order to maintain his focus on JEREMY. It was too perfect. Michael prepared a loop for himself and jumped right through the portal, his body being thrown into an endless cycle as he gained more momentum.
“You said he would listen to you, you said everything was going to be fine, but look at where we are now! Look at what’s we’ve both become! Everything that has happened is your fault, Jeremy!” The SQUIP screamed.
Just as the SQUIP was about to attack, Michael broke the loop and flung himself at the SQUIP. Just as he was close enough, The SQUIP caught him by the throat, slightly choking him. Michael struggled against his grip.
“You stay out of this!” He easily chucked Michael across the room, his back slammed against the wall.
This didn’t deter Michael as he once again lunged to attack, but a voice pierced his determination.
“I would stop right there if I were you. Gravity is a cruel mistress.” The SQUIP warned.
Michael skidded to a stop, not knowing what he was talking about until he looked down. In a miscalculated move, he had forgotten about the virus, who now hung JEREMY over a hole in the ground like a toy. Michael tried stepping forwards, but saw the virus’s grip on the handle slip ever so slightly. He could hear JEREMY yip in fear as he was hung helplessly over certain doom. The teen was torn, he looked as if he wanted to move, but restricted himself. He was pinned.
“Was that so hard? I mean, he’s just a pathetic little pest who destroys everything he touches.” The SQUIP chuckled.
The rage coiled in the teen’s stomach flared up again, “Not to me.” Michael growled, and rushed at the virus, tackling it like a football player.
However, this caused JEREMY to slip out of the virus’s hold and fall into the hole, screaming as he fell helplessly. Without hesitation, Michael scrambled to get up and jumped in after him just as the hole closed, sealing their fate down in old-Aperture.
Chapter 14: The Fall
They fell through darkness for what felt like an eternity until the area was suddenly lit up, revealing a concrete tunnel with markings showing how much they were falling. Michael didn’t know how much 5 km was, but all he knew was that it was a lot and the number was quickly going down.
“Michael, what were you thinking?” JEREMY yelled, “I told you to focus on The SQUIP.” The core floated next to Michael, but at a distance.
“And leave you behind? Nuh-uh, no way.” Michael affirmed.
“Well, if this pit isn’t bottomless, you’re going to have to catch me.”
Michael nodded, “But seriously, what did you do to make The SQUIP so mad?”
“No idea. Like I said, I never met the guy until I woke him up.”
“Maybe there’s another JEREMY around?” Michael proposed.
“No. All AI are uniquely created and given a corresponding color. There would be no way to mistake me for another.” A thought popped in JEREMY’s head, “Wait. He might be corrupting. Oh no, oh no, oh no. That is not good, not good.”
“Look, I’m going to be blunt here: Aperture’s going to fall apart if he stays in power. I knew something was off about him. Did you notice he was acting differently?”
Michael pondered this for a second, “Yeah, I did.” He responded. The SQUIP was usually more composed and passive aggressive, he wasn’t the kind to lash out like that.
“I know what I said before, but you need to confront him one last time. When you do, bring some sort of AI with you. If not me, then find someone. There may still be a couple hiding somewhere. The mainframe will recognize the uncorrupted AI and will want to start a transfer. When that happens, do everything in your power to make it happens because Aperture’s going to go into a meltdown if you don’t.”
“Are you sure this will work?” Michael asked.
“Positive. The scientists may’ve been a bit too arrogant and ambitious, but they did put some safety protocols in place. Like there was this one time the scientists spliced people’s DNA with mantis DNA, and when that went south, the whole lab was set on fire.”
“That sounds awful.”
“It was the only way.” JEREMY noted ominously.
It was then the tunnel ended, revealing a brutally large, open space around them as they continued to fall; however, JEREMY slowly drifted further away from the brown-eyed teen, unable to control himself. While Michael landed safely on the ground thanks to his boots, JEREMY hit a nearby storage crate covered in light blue goo, which had dripped down from a leaking pipe. Michael flinched and covered his eyes, not wanting to see his friend break into pieces. However, instead of an expected ‘crash’ or scattering of a million metal pieces, he heard a distinct and odd ‘thwump’. This peaked his curiosity enough to open his eyes just as say JEREMY bounced unbelievably high into the air and far out of sight. For the first time in three days, Michael was completely alone.
Chapter 15: The Tapes
Michael just stood there for a while. He was scared, lost, and only had a vague idea of what to do next. Not helping matters was the threat of the power-mad AI running the place into the ground. Though JEREMY was lost somewhere in this abandoned part of the facility, Michael knew he would tell him to keep moving, and he was going to fulfill his friend’s request. The SQUIP wouldn’t be able to reach him here and it’s not like the AI could move on him. Though scared, he had to move forward and just keep trying. Michael wasn’t going to give up and die like this.
He took a moment to observe his new surroundings. All around him were piles of metal beams and large pieces of concrete. They were no doubt from the upper levels that had fallen from neglect. There were also thin pools of dirty water on the ground and large storage crates piled high. The air felt murky and smelled acrid, like a mix of raw sewage and bleach--an odd, but equally disgusting combination. It was surprisingly well lit, though that did not take away from the bleakness of this area. Above him was a familiar foggy void, the only things he could make out were wires hanging low like streamers and large, white pipes that were etched with age and rust. There was nowhere he could portal himself up to, so the first thing he had to do was to find a way up.
While trudging through the maze of concrete, metal beams, and decay, Michael kept up his guard. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he knew that he would eventually find what he was searching for. His travels took him down an tunnel marked with ‘do not enter’ signs, but that didn’t stop Michael, being the brilliant person he was. This area had no debris cluttering its floor, which was surprising. The path led him to an impossibly large vault door that made even the neurotoxin generator look tiny. If video games taught him anything, it was that big and obvious things were important, and this vault certainly fit the bill.
He made his way to a small station set over to the side and pulled the lever that opened the vault. Immediately, alarms began to blare followed by the ‘ksssshh’ of the locks releasing the air that kept it in place. Slowly and steadily, the door twisted upwards, revealing a yellow wall with a normal sized door at the bottom. It was nice to know that Aperture was a fan of theatrics, but Michael couldn’t help but wonder how much the vault cost.
The door led Michael through several more abandoned areas. For some reason, on the second layer (as Michael dubbed it) a sea of murky water expanded as far as his eyes could see. However, Michael’s tactics remained the same: he had no idea where he was going and just put portals where he could and see where he went. Sometimes he went through door, sometimes he went up a level on a multi-level structure. It was a surprisingly effective tactic as he found himself ascending pretty quickly. It wasn’t long until he found himself in a large, expansive room. There was no real need for this much room besides a large ‘Aperture’ logo that was hung from the ceiling. It wasn’t like the logo on his tank top, either. It was different and appeared to be older. Though how old, Michael couldn’t say. He’d never even heard of Aperture until he woke up, so he wasn’t exactly knowledgeable in its history. It was then a voice spoke up.
“Welcome gentlemen to Aperture Science. I hope you enjoyed the ride over here. My name is Paul Heere and I’m the CEO and owner of this here company. Next to me is my associate and president of the company, Erickson Quick. Why don’t you introduce yourself, Erik?”
“He’s usually not this quiet. Heck, some days I can’t get him to shut up!” Paul laughed heartily, he seemed like a very cheerful man from what Michael could tell, “C’mon, Erik. I’m just joking-” There was a soft click that followed, “Oh well, you’ll probably meet him soon enough. Anyway-”
“Dad?” A distant voice called. It was squeaky and young.
“Not now,” Paul whispered to the tiny being, “I’m kinda in the middle of recording something.”
“Sorry…” The voice mumbled.
“Nah, don’t be. C’mere.” The soft padding of footsteps could be heard as well as the sounds of him presumably picking his son up, “Meet my son, Jeremy. Jeremy, say hi.”
Wait, Jeremy? It couldn’t be…
“H-hello.” Jeremy stammered out, he sounded no older than 5.
“Ain’t he precious? One day this little guy’s going to be your boss, so you better be nice to him. As I was saying, here at Aperture, we look for the best men we can get our hands on, and you certainly fit the bill. I would like to thank you for coming down and participating in these upcoming tests, and I wish you the best of luck.” There was a brief pause, “Say goodbye, Jeremy.”
“Goodbye, Jeremy.” He parroted with a level of sarcasm beyond his years.
The recording stopped and Michael was left a lot to unpack because there was no way Paul would allow an AI to take his son’s name. Not unless something happened to him. There were many questions to be asked, but he wouldn’t accomplish anything if he just stood there like an idiot. He needed to focus on his mission. Throughout his ascent, he swore the floor shook underneath him a couple times. Maybe there would be more recordings if he kept moving that could give him answers, or it could be just utter nonsense. Who was he to say in a facility that had seem to be run on backwards logic? Either way, Michael had a feeling that a lot more happened at Aperture than an AI takeover.
The next room was some sort of lounge area, or perhaps a waiting room. It had a kind of 60’s-70’s look to it accented with obnoxiously orange walls. On the wall there was a portrait and a large, dark imprint as if another hung next to it, but there was no other trace of the portrait if it did exist. Underneath the smooth, wooden frame was a gold plate with ‘Paul Heere: CEO’ engraved into it. He looked like a nice enough guy, Michael supposed, like the epitome of the word ‘dad’: plumpish body, a goofy grin, and kind blue eyes. To the right of the portrait was a display case full of trophies, awards, and newspaper articles praising the facility, all dating all the way back to the 1960’s. Michael tried reading the articles, but time had not been kind to them and the words appeared faded and smudged on the yellowed paper. The headlines were no better despite the slightly bigger font.
It was then one of Paul’s messages played, “There are a thousand tests performed here on a daily basis, and I am only just one man, so I can’t oversee all of them myself. Therefore, I’ve decided to pre-record messages to answer any questions and give you feedback on your work. Today, you’ll be testing the repulsion gel. It’s relatively new, but you’re in for a real treat with this one. Go ahead and follow the blue line on the floor. Good luck, soldier.”
Michael looked down and, sure enough, there was a blue line messily painted onto the floor. The teen followed the line, which led to an old lift, something he was grateful for at this point. He was making the journey look easy, but it was going to be a long climb judging by how far he’d fallen. As he approached, the gate automatically opened up and he gratefully stepped inside. The gate screeched as it closed, ancient mechanism loudly whirred to life before the lift slowly rose, soft clicking and clacking rhythmically chimed from the ancient machine..
As the lift rose, another recording played: “It’s said that science is built on the shoulders of giants, but who needs them? We are the giants!” Paul could be heards laughing briefly before the recording was cut off. The fact Michael couldn’t tell if it was another joke or sheer arrogance scared him.
The lift stopped and the area was dark at first, but slowly the lights turned on, revealing the beginning of the old testing track. Despite how far Michael had climbed from the ground floor, the fog still hung thick overhead and far in the distance. How far was 5km exactly? And better yet, how did they even carve out this whole area? Seriously, it was getting ridiculous at this point.
“Let’s get started. As I said before, you’ll be testing the repulsion gel, and don’t worry, you’re not a part of the control group. I don’t even know why we have a control group, we already know the gel works. It’s not like we need to test the bouncing properties of blue paint. We need to test the gel, not break people’s legs, Roger.”
Michael didn’t know who this Roger guy was, but he was most definitely in trouble, but the teen didn’t feel any pity for him. Tricking people into breaking their legs was just plain cruel. At least Michael had his boots and wouldn’t break his legs, even if he was a part of the control group.
He passed through a material emancipation grill (it was shocking, but interesting to see how old the concept was) and into the test, which still had the distinct ‘Aperture’ style in its construction. However, there was a new element thrown into the mix: a familiar blue goo painted a pit in the middle of the floor. This, presumably, was the so-called repulsion gel, which the teen recognized it as what presumably caused JEREMY to bounce off to who knows where (unless Aperture somehow made bouncy metal--something Michael would not be surprised to see). Without hesitation, he jumped down. Once his feet hit the gel, he was rebounded and flew just as high as he’d jumped from. He let himself bounce for a little bit, trying to get used to its properties. He found out that eventually the gradually declined if he just stayed still, but simply jumping on it still made him jump pretty high. It was almost like jumping on a trampoline, but not nearly as satisfying. If the gel worked as Michael thought it did, it would mean JEREMY probably (hopefully) near the upper level.
It did not take long to finish this test and the others that followed. Paul popped in before and after every test, usually talking about some of the tests like those concerning nanobots and time travel or bragging about his son, but nothing really of note. Well, there was also the part where he was warned about not getting covered in the gel, but Michael considered avoiding skin contact a standard procedure when dealing with Aperture equipment. For some reason, everything had to have some sort of deadly or world-ending side effect to it, so caution was a must. However, one recording stood out above the others:
“People keep asking me why these tests can be so questionable. Jeremy, why don’t you answer that?” Paul began.
“Science isn’t about why, it’s about why not. You gotta beat others to the punch before someone else steals the idea.” The kid recited, he was much older now, maybe around 12-13, “But Dad I-”
“That’s right. I told you guys he was a smart kid! Why don’t you tell them what else I taught you?”
“I-” Jeremy seemed as if he wanted to say something else, but help his tongue, “You aren’t a true scientist unless you through a bit of caution to the wind.” He seemed uncomfortable with what he was saying, but his dad took no notice.
“Atta boy, private.” Paul praised, “Now-”
“Paul, I need to speak with you immediately.” A new voice said, it was a deep voice, but Michael didn’t get to hear too much of it before the recording cut off. It was hauntingly familiar, though.
Not much happened after that, he found himself in another expansive area with an Aperture logo hanging down from the ceiling, this one looking slightly more like the more modern one, but it still had that old-school flare to it. This area was completely cut off from the rest of the testing track. It would seem Michael needed to portal his way to the suspended walkway, but Michael knew he wouldn’t make it with a large portion of the walkway raised too high to reach even with the portal gun. It seemed it was purposefully lowered to cut off the two sections of Old-Aperture. However, there was a large building that had ‘Control Room’ written in big and obvious letters on it, so maybe he could find a way to lower the walkway in there.
“Paul Heere here. I would like to thank you once again for your participation in these tests. It’s good to see persistence and determination is still alive even in good ol’ 1980. I tell ya, thanks to your hard work, we’ve been able to crank out so many new inventions, even if other companies somehow manage to steal from us. I swear all those at Black Mesa are a bunch of-”
“Paul.” A sharp voice hissed, someone who was presumed to be Erik. Then the recording ended.
There was no ladder, door, or stairs around that would take him up to the control room, so he simply flung himself up there with the help of portal physics. The control room like any other abandoned office he had seen by this point, always looking if everyone had suddenly rushed out in a panic. He was no longer phased by this thought and began scavenging around for buttons to push. He found several, but none of them did what he wanted if they did anything at all.
“Um, Hello?” Can I...help you?” An inquisitive voice asked.
Michael instinctively screamed at the top of his lungs and ducked behind a fallen over desk, the portal gun held at the ready. He peeked over the top and looked around, but couldn’t see anyone.
“I’m over here.” The voice instructed.
Over in the corner, two forest green eyes could be seen in the shadows. The figure stepped out into the light, thick, bulky wires rose out of the figure’s back and were attached to a rusted management rail.
“My name’s Charismatic Human Robot Invented Solely to Test Invented Neural Emitters, or CHRISTINE for short.”
Chapter 16: The Reunion
“Michael…” Michael carefully responded to the new AI.
CHRISTINE was very different in composition than JEREMY and the SQUIP. Her body was strictly composed of a plastic material, every piece was expertly cut to provide a wide array of articulation and motion, and her short, black hair was straight and framed her rounder face nicely. She was dressed very basically, but very nicely with a jacket, dress, boots and scarf. She seemed more archaic in design with a somewhat stout figure and was a bit bulkier than JEREMY; her movements also weren’t as fluent and one could clearly hear her mechanisms, even at a distance.
“What are you doing down here? I thought this place was still sealed off.” CHRISTINE interrogated. Almost on cue, the ground shook a little more prominently than before.
“That’s why,” Michael answered, trying to maintain his panic at the ticking clock.
Her eyes sharpened, “What in the world is going on up there?” She demanded.
“Oh you know, just a power-mad AI deciding now was a great time to go all crazy. Typical Aperture stuff, right?” He tried to come off as more casual at the fact, hoping it would cushion the less than stellar news.
“The SQUIP’s back online? What kind of idiot reactivated him?” CHRISTINE marched towards Michael, her arms flailing about in her rage.
“Hey!” Michael protested, “JEREMY didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident.” While she was right to be angry that the SQUIP was online, she wasn’t there to see how it went down.
CHRISTINE’s rage melted away, her eyes shrunk to a single pixel and her mouth hung agape. Michael could practically feel her metaphorical heart-rate skyrocket, “He’s awake?” She barely managed to choke out.
Michael’s eyes widened, “Wait, you know him?”
CHRISTINE nodded, a melancholy smile gracing her face, “I just...it’s just been so long.” A thought burst into her head, “Please tell me he’s not up there with him .” She pleaded, walking closer to the teen.
Michael shook his head, “No, he fell down with me, but he landed on some of that repulsion gel stuff and now I don’t know where he is.”
CHRISTINE sighed in relief, “Phew, that’s a relief. Not about him being lost, I mean, just the not being with the SQUIP-thing.” She quickly corrected.
Though CHRISTINE was a lot calmer now, Michael still kept his guard up. He really couldn’t get a read on this new AI as she her mood swiftly shifted from moment to moment. Plus, she claimed to know JEREMY, which he found strange. JEREMY said he had never been activated before a few days ago, yet CHRISTINE claimed to know him. Her emotions were genuine and she didn’t seem to be lying. It seemed to be a trend lately. First the SQUIP, now her. He trusted JEREMY, but he had the right to be skeptical, right? Something was going on here. He didn’t know what, but he was going to find out.
“You’ve been in Aperture for a while, right?” Michael began, a bit of caution present in his tone.
Though the question was out-of-the-blue, she answered without missing a beat, “I’ve been active since February 24, 1975, if that’s what you’re asking. Why?” Her head cocked innocently.
He gestured towards the window behind him, “That kid in the tapes, he’s not...my JEREMY, is he?” His throat burned at the words, afraid of the answer he already knew was true.
CHRISTINE’s mood fell again. It took a moment, but eventually gave a brief nod, “Aperture has had many victims throughout its long history, Jeremy was one of them...and so was Mr.Quick.” She seemed to have hesitantly added the last part, “Jeremy won’t remember, though. Mr. Heere thought it would be better that way. Well, at least at first...”
She hadn’t said much, but it was more than enough for some of the stray pieces to align. His heart sunk at the prospect of the kid in the recordings not knowing the fate in store for him--having his humanity stripped, memories taken, all he ever knew framed around a lie. It left a bitter taste on his tongue. Michael couldn’t help but pity JER’s innocence.
“Look, I can’t explain everything right now. We need to get going and figure out a plan to fix this mess.” CHRISTINE explained, “I’ll send a message to the others and tell them to look around for Jeremy while we make our way up. We’re going to need him to get out of here.”
Just before Michael had a chance to ask what that meant, the AI detached herself and marched over to the wall to grab something leaning against it. Only a pale glow of the object could be made out against the thick shadows of the office. When she turned around, she was holding what looked like a short, bulky metal tube framed around a million pink glow-sticks with claws sticking out the front. She then marched over to the entryway and pressed a button on the wall that caused the walkway to lower and connect with its other half.
“C’mon, let’s get going.” She chirped.
The AI lifted the hunk of metal and pointed it high at the adjacent wall, she pulled the trigger and a wobbly, pale pink portal appeared. She then pointed it downwards and a wobbly, baby blue portal appeared on the floor. She jumped down, passed through the portals, and easily landed on the walkway. Needless to say, Michael didn’t hesitate to follow. When he landed, he just had to ask her about it.
“Is that really a portal gun? It looks super weird...” It was a really dumb question in hindsight.
“No, it’s some piece of junk I found down here, and those portals we just went through were there this whole time.” CHRISTINE responded sarcastically, “Of course it’s a portal gun, silly. It’s one of the old prototypes, 1971 I think. I may be older than the others--well, except JENNA--but it’s before my time. It’s pretty cool, though. I mean, at least it still works.”
“Others?” Michael prompted.
“Oh right, duh. I’m talking about others like me. There’s not many of us, but we make do.” Her eyes widened, “Oh, Jeremy isn’t going to be too happy to hear about CHLOE…” She added worryingly and went silent for a moment before realizing her mistake, “Sorry...it’s, uh, been a while.”
Michael offered a sympathetic glance, “It’s alright, you’ve been through a lot. It must’ve been hard.”
CHRISTINE wore a slightly pained expression,”Yeah...but you can’t let the bad stuff get to you, you know? Life moves on, you don’t want to get stuck in the past.”
Michael bumped her shoulder affectionately in a small attempt to comfort her. He wished he could be half as brave as her. Without the distractions of SQUIP breathing down his neck or adventuring through the facility, it had only begun to settle in that he had nowhere else to go after all was said and done. The thought turned sour on his tongue. He missed home, he missed his moms, he missed he missed the comfort of familiarity, he missed, well, everything...even when his social life left something to be desired. It was all gone. Despite not knowing exactly how much time he had been stuck in that discount motel room, it was just a feeling he had. Even if had only been a couple years, time changes people and the world continued turning without him. Who was to say he even had a place anymore? He let out a troubled sigh, longing to be back home even though it no longer existed.
CHRISTINE returned the shoulder bump and shy smile, gesturing to the lift at the end of walkway, “C’mon, let’s get going.”
Michael simply nodded and followed her into the rusty lift. The door squeaked shut after they entered and sputtered slightly before shakily ascending. In the lingering silence another recording played:
“Hey, Erik, how many were injured by the propulsion gel today?”
“12, and, of course, I had to fill out all the paperwork concerning their bills. This could all be avoided if you simply put a clause in their contract stating that Aperture isn’t liable for workplace injuries, but who am I to worry about the current financial state of the company? I mean, I am the president, after all, and am the one who has to deal with our financial issues. Speaking of which, what exactly were you thinking of buying with the money we don’t have?”
It suddenly struck Michael why Erik’s voice sounded so familiar. An unnerved expression from CHRISTINE was all he needed to confirm his suspicions. Michael never thought he would feel any form of sympathy for the SQUIP, but it seemed like he was proven wrong after that recording. Then again, he wasn’t the SQUIP yet, so maybe (hopefully) it didn’t count. Aperture seemed to be in the red at this point in time and Paul just seemed to want to keep spending. It would be a stressful situation for anyone to deal with.
Chapter 17: The Memories
The next test seemed to deal with a new substance called the propulsion gel that CHRISTINE debriefed him on; however, it seemed like it had already been solved; the ramp was raised as far as it could go and a thick line of orange gel was painted on it and the floor leading to it. This was most likely a result of CHRISTINE and the other AI’s constant expeditions to the lower levels of the facility. Though Michael wasn’t exactly complaining at the situation, it certainly saved a lot of time. Without hesitating, CHRISTINE ran onto the line of gel and ran towards the ramp. With very little movement she was speeding down like a bullet and easily flew over a large gap and landed next to the exit.
“This stuff’s really slippery. The trick is to kinda skate on it so you don’t lose your footing. Also be confident, it can sense hesitation.” CHRISTINE called.
With such detailed instructions, it was only natural for Michael to slip and spiral roughly onto the non-gelled tiles. Without even looking, he could sense CHRISTINE wincing at his pain, but he brushed it off and tried again. It felt weird walking on this gel, like every time he moved his foot, his speed tripled. He stumbled to the wall where the line began with the grace of a duck. Though unsure, he supposed it took a lot of practice to get used to it, so it was no wonder so many people were getting injured; however, the second time managed to get it down (at least partially) as he swiftly followed CHRISTINE’s lead--who clapped for him when he landed.
“There you go, you got it!” She cheered.
“This stuff’s so weird. I wonder how fast you could go if you went down a ramp covered in this stuff.” Michael pondered.
CHRISTINE chuckled at this as she led on, “You sound just like Jeremy. He loved seeing all the new products being developed and coming up with ideas on how to use them. He even performed his own little experiments like reprogramming all the turrets to sing opera or setting them on aerial faith plates and called them ‘pturretdactyls’.” Her body bounced with excitement as if she just remembered something, “There was this one time he stole some propulsion gel and slathered it on the floor in the break room to see how many people would slip before someone noticed it. It blended so well into the orange-tiled floors, he was able to get up to 439 in five days before he got caught. When his dad confronted him about it, he claimed he was ‘testing operant conditioning on a mass scale’.” She seemed to barely contain her laughter as she spoke, her voice raised to a high pitch.
Never in Michael’s life did he want to time travel to the past to see something go down. It was such a simple, yet perfect idea--the excuse Jeremy gave was even more so. One thing was for certain was that people probably had to stay on their toes around here. If not for the dangerous (and very questionable) experiments, then for a sneaky teenager with a tendency to do what he wants who happens to be their boss’s son. Chaos wouldn’t probably begin to describe an average day working at Aperture.
“He really took after his father, didn’t he?” Michael mused.
“In some ways, but Jeremy never liked the business side of things. He was more of a tinkerer, liked messing with the equipment. You should’ve seen the spark in his eyes when babbled on about all his ideas, it was so cute.” She spoke passionately about him, they must’ve been very close.
“I wish I could’ve seen it.” Michael admitted.
“Actually, you can!” CHRISTINE chirped, “Sort of, that it.”
CHRISTINE dug into her jacket pocket and gingerly pulled out an ancient notebook, ‘Jeremy Heere’ was neatly written in chicken scratch on the cover. She offered it to to the teen, who cautiously took it from her, treating it as if it were made of porcelain. Opening the book, he was met with a page after page full of new ideas, hypotheses, calculations, notes on experiments, and crude little sketches. Passion practically dripped from every word written despite the fact Michael couldn’t fully understand what was written, it was too...science-y for him. He did find enjoy the sketches, though. He gave a quick laugh at the doodle of a ‘pturretdactyl’, which was basically a turret with pterodactyl wings flying in the air. Then at some point the writing just stopped. The blank pages felt haunting in a way.
“He was was my first friend, you know.” CHRISTINE began, “He used to sneak away to talk with me while the scientists were on their break or smuggle me out of the facility. We used to go to the park or the local theater, wherever we could walk to. It was weird at first, I was only used to the scientists asking me nonstop questions and performing basic tasks, but it was nice to have no expectations to live up to. I’m pretty sure the scientists were confused whenever I’d babble on about a play I’d just seen or by my own attempts at recreating them.”
Michael visibly winced imagining CHRISTINE’s spontaneous desire to act, “That must’ve been fun for them.” He commented
CHRISTINE began fiddling with the hem of her jacket nervously, “Let’s just say they didn’t appreciate my method acting attempts either...” She sheepishly admitted.
“Oh god…” Michael couldn’t help but utter.
“You pretend you’re dying once and suddenly you have to go through days worth of diagnostic scans. Not fun, by the way. Lucky for me, the scientists eventually got bored, and I was able to do what I wanted.”
“Why would they do that? You’re literally one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life!” Michael yelled, practically offended at the thought of simply giving up on testing a literal AI, something he had only seen in movies.
CHRISTINE’s seemed somber, but appreciated the comment nonetheless, “You clearly don’t know scientists. They were given new toys to play with, and I was suddenly inferior tech.”
There was an steady silence that followed. Michael didn’t want to push the subject, it was clearly hard for her to talk about it. It seemed like life was tough all over for those under the roof of Aperture Sciences, even in the most unexpected of places.
Chapter 18: The Convulsion Gel
They made their way through several more test chambers, and Michael took this time to recap the past few days to his new AI companion while CHRISTINE narrated tales of Aperture past. However peaceful the moments were, they were constantly interrupted by the more constant and harsher rumbling. The duo pushed it out of their mind, deciding not to harp on the danger they’ve come to terms with.
It wasn’t long until they entered a kind of gel-control station. The room was a little over two stories tall with a walkways creating a small border along the upper parts of the walls, but the stairwell that connected them laid mangled on the floor under a mountain of concrete. Large, cluttered pipes were twisted and tangled together, each marked with blue, orange, and white labels indicating the different kinds of gels. He was familiar with the repulsion and propulsion gels, but not whatever the third one was. It was kind of hard to make out at first, but he could barely make out ‘convulsion gel’ written on the white label.
“So, you really don’t remember how you got here?” CHRISTINE prompted as she led Michael into the lowest control room, which was packed to the brim with monitors and panels of buttons.
“All I remember was that one moment I’m at school, the next I’m waking up from what is probably the longest recorded nap in history.” Michael elaborated, “It was a pretty normal day too. I mean, Mr.Reyes was acting kinda strange, but he’s always had a few screws loose, you know? Nobody at school could get a read on that guy, not even the teachers.”
At the mention of his teacher, he could’ve sworn he saw CHRISTINE’s expression seemed to flicker for a moment, but it could’ve been his imagination, “Your memory will return in time, you’re still under the effects of the chamber.” She reassured.
“I hope you’re right.” Michael mumbled.
Just as CHRISTINE pulled some levers, the convulsion gel pipe exploded, vomiting the new white gel all over the place. Unlike the others, it strangely looked more like a mushy powder rather than a gel. Without warning, she scrambled to take off her scarf and tightly secured it around Michael’s nose and mouth. She was quickly met with many muffled protests.
“Trust me, you’ll thank me later.” She began, “That stuff makes people really sick. I knew we’d have to go through here to restart the gel station, but I didn’t expect the pipe to suddenly explode on us like that. You should probably stay here just to be safe. Alright?”
It wasn’t a question, it was a demand. There was no disagreement from Michael as he frantically nodded. He did not want to tempt fate and evoke the wrath of this woman because he was 1000% sure he would regret it immediately. One should not poke the sleeping bear.
“Good. Now if you lose or ruin that scarf, I’m coming after you.” She casually threatened
There was no resistance on Michael’s part, he just sat back and let CHRISTINE do her own thing. He didn’t dare mess with the new gel even though it was right there and his curiosity was gnawing at him--he liked his limbs attached, thank you. Instead, he hung around by the entrance of the booth and watched as CHRISTINE made her way up the room; however, something immediately caught his attention, something odd. Michael had been using the portal gun long enough to recognize surfaces he could and could not place portals on. When he walked in, he knew that they wouldn’t be able to portal to the second level. Despite this, it seemed CHRISTINE could place a portal wherever the gel was. Michael found this strange, but with how picky the portal guns were, this was probably Aperture’s way of resolving that issue. Before he could ponder it further, a baby-blue portal appeared at his feet. Jumping through, he was met with the sight of CHRISTINE holding a core in her spare arm, and Michael never thought his heart could simultaneously race and crash into a building at the same time. The iris was purple.
“Michael, meet Jumbled Electronic Neural Network Accelerator. JENNA, meet Michael.” CHRISTINE was no doubt excited to introduce the two, but Michael couldn’t bring himself to share the feeling at that immediate moment. The feeling of disappointment slightly soured his mood to no fault of the core’s, “JENNA’s the one who’s been letting me contact the others. She has the ability to receive and send out messages from all over the facility wirelessly.”
“I’m amazing, I know.” JENNA humbly bragged, “So you must be Jerm’s new boyfriend.” Michael sputtered muffled protests under the thick cloth of the scarf, “Kidding, kidding. Oh my god, you would not BE-lieve how long I’ve been waiting here.” JENNA reminded Michael of the gossipy kids in his school, but a lot nicer. She joked, they did not.
“Sorry about that JENNA, but at least you’re charged up now.” CHRISTINE offered.
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean anything if I can’t go anywhere. I don’t know if you’ve noticed after all these years, but I don’t have limbs.” JENNA wiggled her handles to emphasize her point.
“At least you’re fun-sized.” Michael proposed.
JENNA looked up at CHRISTINE, “Can we keep him?”
CHRISTINE rolled her eyes, “Where are the others?”
“Not too far ahead. So far nothing on Jerm’s whereabouts, but he has to be somewhere around here, right?”
CHRISTINE took a look at Michael’s sullen expression and placed a hand on his shoulder, “C’mon, I’m sure we’ll find him eventually.”
Michael removed the scarf from his mouth and smiled warmly at her, “Thanks CHRISTINE.”
The AI nodded her head in acknowledgement and shifted her attention to JENNA, “By the way, tell BROOKE, RICH, and JAKE not to overwhelm Jeremy if they find him. I know they’re excited, but they’re going to scare the daylights out of him.”
“...and sent!” JENNA chirped. A moment passed before she spoke again, “BROOKE says ‘got it’, JAKE says ‘will do’, and RICH says ‘I make no promises’.”
“He better be joking.” CHRISTINE sighed.
“He is...probably. Let’s roll!” JENNA cheered, “Get it? ‘Cause I’m a sphere.” The iris rolled around in its socket to emphasize her joke.
Michael looked to CHRISTINE, “Can we keep her?”
CHRISTINE immediately covered Michael’s mouth again without a word. As she marched forwards, a thick, curved hook slid out of a hole cut in the back of her jacket, and she set JENNA onto it like a little backpack.
The next test was completely painted in convulsion gel, so Michael laid down and took a much needed break while CHRISTINE (and by technicality, JENNA) ventured forth. A lot had happened in such a short amount of time, so it was nice to relax for a bit. For the past few days, it was nothing but testing, scheming, and unanswered questions. It was both mentally and physically exhausting. All he could say was thank god for adrenaline because he knew when all was said and done he was going to be begging for death because of how sore he’ll be. Maybe then he could finally take some time to figure out how he ended up in this place. The whole memory-loss problem was different than trying to piece together Aperture’s past. It was all on him to remember.
He sighed, the frustration was making his head hurt. He simply closed his eyes and reminded himself to be patient, the SQUIP was still operational and taking him down was more important. A calm briefly washed over him as his chaotic thoughts began to settle, he needed to stay focused. It wasn’t long until a pink portal beneath him, causing the teen to fall through land roughly land on his back. However, before he could complain another recording played:
“Hello again, Aperture. I-” Paul began.
“Dad, Erik needs to talk to you. He says it’s urgent.” Jeremy shyly announced, now sounding identically to his AI-self.
Michael could see CHRISTINE’s face fall and JENNA become distraught, and he knew something was about to go down.
“I’m kinda in the middle of something right now-” Paul whispered.
“I’m sure you can make time for me.” Erik interrupted, a door loudly slammed in the background, causing Michael to flinch.
“E-erik, you just can’t walk in here.” Jeremy sputtered out, attempting to defuse the situation.
“I can and have. Now go...supervise a test or something. I need to talk with your father alone .” Erik was not happy.
“B-but-” Jeremy attempted to protest.
“Jeremy, please. Everything will be fine, I promise.” Paul reassured.
From the awkward silence that followed, Michael knew Jeremy didn’t believe his father. He wouldn’t have either if he were there. Eventually there was the rhythmic sounds of footsteps and a door shyly clicking shut in the background.
“You could’ve waited.” Paul said sternly.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I slightly inconvenience you like I was when I walked into work this morning and saw our financial records?” Erik snarled.
“Save it!” Erik snapped, “You did what I explicitly told you not to do! I explicitly told you that Aperture couldn’t afford seven dollars worth of moon rocks, much less seven million! And guess what? It looks like this little investment of yours has given us seven million dollars worth of poisonous gel that has infected 0.023% of our staff with an illness we know nothing about, including yourself--don't try to deny it, I’ve seen the reports. I hope it was worth making a portal conductor Paul because the government won’t be willing to sweep this under the rug this time!” His outburst was followed by a pained hush punctuated by heavy breathing, “You’re very lucky I have a solution that will fix this mess.”
The recording ended, leaving the room in an uncomfortable. Somehow Michael knew this is when everything fell apart.
It was CHRISTINE who broke the silence first, “I’ve heard that recording so many times, yet it still hurts. I always wonder what would’ve changed if Mr. Heere accepted that proposal. Would Aperture still be operating? Would any of this have changed?” She pondered softly, her lip quivering until she couldn’t hold it in anymore and she began sobbing.
“CHRISSY, look at me.” JENNA ordered. CHRISTINE complied and held JENNA in front of her, “What’s done is done, and there’s nothing we can do to fix it.”
“But there must’ve been something. We should’ve known something was off with Jeremy; we were there JENNA. It should’ve been so obvious, yet we brushed it off. What kind of friends even are we?”
“C’mon, CHRISSY, don’t be like that...” JENNA’s attempts at comfort weren’t working.
It pained Michael to watch CHRISTINE’s breakdown. He didn’t know what to say at first. How could he? He didn’t know what she had gone through, what she had seen, he opportunities she had and didn’t take. It took a moment until the words came to him and he pulled down the scarf, “You’re worrying like Jeremy, you know that?” He chimed in, causing both girls to look at him, “Stop blaming himself for things out of your control.”
CHRISTINE looked up at Michael as if she was reevaluating her entire existence, “Oh my god, you’re right.” She turned to JENNA again, “Remind me to get him back later.”
“Before or after he gets his memories back?”” JENNA asked.
“Surprise me.” She curtly responded, all her previous sorrow melted away
“Wait, we’re getting his memories back!?” Michael exclaimed.
“Of course we are. He never truly lost them, they’re just locked up is all.” CHRISTINE chirped.
Chapter 19: The Others
CHRISTINE raised JENNA up to her face like a child and their toy while a peaceful smile graced her face, “Think about it JENNA: after all these years we finally get to know what happened to him.” Her voice squeaked with excitement as she bounced on her feet.
“WAIT, WHAT!?” Michael screamed, expertly interrupting the moment.
“You thought you were the only one in the dark?” JENNA remarked, “PUH-LEASE. All we know was that one day he was himself, next thing we know he’s a robot.” Her voice dripped with casualty despite the seriousness of the situation.
“We were kinda busy with an...RICH related incident and some Aperture-grade adhesive.” CHRISTINE sheepishly admitted.
“RICH got stuck to a ceiling.” JENNA bluntly stated, earning her a glare from CHRISTINE,
“What? This story deserves to be told.”
“So...when Jeremy gets his memories back, he’ll still remember me, right?” Michael asked innocently, his fingers holding the front of the portal gun drummed impatiently against the plastic shell.
CHRISTINE’s gaze softened as she walked over to Michael and hugged him to the best of her abilities (her arms were kinda full), “Of course he will, who wouldn’t want to remember you?”
”Yeah,” JENNA agreed, “Our little Jerm can be a bit of an idiot, but he’s not that dumb. And if he does, I’ll beat’em up for you.”
“Thanks, JENNA, that’s really reassuring.” Michael chuckled warmly, affectionately rubbed the top of the core with his knuckles.
“No problem.” JENNA assured.
After that conversation, CHRISTINE led the ragtag group further up the abandoned facility. There were no more tests to pass through, so they ventured through the old maintenance tunnels and massive ventilation ducts, which were completely marred with rust and decay. Michael also decided it was safe to keep the scarf simply around his neck. Having it around his mouth felt strangely uncomfortable and uneasy. He tried to give it back, but CHRISTINE insisted he keep it on him just in case. Still, it seemed like they were almost back to the upper floor, making Michael marvel at how much progress they made in such a short amount of time. There was no doubt that the journey would’ve taken longer (and lonelier) had he not run into CHRISTINE, making him even more grateful for her presence. Their progress remained unhindered until they reached a tall, empty shaft.
“HEY!” A voice yelled, “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” With a closer listen, the voice was accented with a heavy lisp. Looking up, Michael could barely make out three silhouettes and the faint glow of their eyes looking down at them.
“RICH, don’t scare the newbie.” A new-new voice chimed in.
“They’re here?” a new-new-new voice inquired then suddenly gasped, “They look so tiny!”
“Nice to see you’re still in high spirits, BROOKE.” CHRISTINE called back.
“Hey guys, you wanna see a trick I’ve been working on?” RICH asked.
“RICH, don’t you dare.” CHRISTINE threatened, “JAKE, stop him, please.”
“What makes you think I can tell him what to do?” JAKE’s asked nonchalantly.
Michael watched as one of the figures walk over the edge without the slightest care in the world. Faster and faster the shadow fell with no seemingly possible way to stop itself, there was no glow of a portal gun by its side. Michael suddenly felt the ghostly chill of freefall from all the times he’d been dropped or fell over the past few days. The helplessness, the wind rushing around him, the uncertainty of whether or not he was going to survive the spiked plates that mashed around him. His breath hitched and heart beat like a hummingbird's wing. Save him. Save him. Save him. Instinctively, he stretched out his portal gun and caught RICH before he hit the ground.
“Dude.” RICH was clearly annoyed (it didn’t help he was hanging upside down), but then took note of Michael’s panicked state. Michael couldn’t even hold the portal gun steady, his hands were shaking so bad, “You gotta learn to relax, my man.”
The startled teen released his strong grip on the trigger, causing RICH to land on his head and flop on his back.
“Did he do it?” JAKE asked.
“If he did, we’d be seeing fire,” BROOKE reasoned, “RICH, say something if you aren’t dead!”
RICH groaned in pain, but it was too faint for them to hear.
“I guess he’s dead.” JAKE logically concluded.
RICH swiftly jumped up onto his feet, a loud clang resounded as landed on his feet. He was around the same height as CHRISTINE, but more muscular and actually had skin, which was tan and lightly freckled. A bushel of honey-blonde hair was brushed back out of his face and highlighted with a vibrant, red streak. He wore baggy cargo pants and a tank top with one of Aperture’s old logos on it, a testament to how old he was, Michael supposed. However, the most striking feature was his feet,or lack thereof). Instead of feet, there were these tall, metal, volcano-shaped structures where his calves should be with tubes running from them into his legs, which mirrored the tubes embedded in his wrists.
“I can’t see. What just happened?” JENNA asked.
“RICH’s being RICH.” CHRISTINE answered.
“Ah.” JENNA responded in an all too understanding way.
“You say that as if it were a bad thing.” RICH grinned.
The new-AI turned his attention to Michael and stepped closer to the teen, his footsteps powerful and heavy, “Nice to meet you, headphones kid. The name’s Rapid Inferno Creating Hardware, but you can just call me RICH.”
RICH stuck out one of his hands, which was oddly designed. His fingertips and the center of his palm were composed of circular metal plates, it seemed as if they served a purpose. Upon grabbing it, RICH’s hand burned Michael’s, causing the teen cry out in pain.
RICH immediately retracted his hand, “Whoops, sorry, I forgot why I never shake people’s hands.”
“Ahhhhhhhh,” Michael rapidly shook his hand as if it would soothe the burning sensation.
“Forgot that I had my core still charged.The ‘Inferno’ part of my name wasn’t a joke, you know. I used to weld and cast all sorts of things. It may not seem like much, but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve.” The subtle bragging was not lost on anyone in that room.
“This is great and all, but can we get going now?” JENNA was clearly done with this whole scenario.
“Fine,” RICH relented, “but you’re coming with me!” He quickly added
He rushed to snatch the poor core off of CHRISTINE’s back and create a distance from the other two. CHRISTINE didn’t complain and instead shook in a tired manner — a clear testament to how long she’s had to deal with these kind of shenanigans. RICH was the kind of guy who would do what he wanted, when he wanted.
“RICH, no!” The core protested.
“RICH, yes.” RICH insisted.
RICH stood still and held JENNA under his arm despite her continuous complaints. The metal plates on his hands and his freckles began to burn a bright orange hue, the tubes in his legs and wrists filled with some sort of fiery liquid while a warm glow kindled under his feet and free hand. He shot them a cocky look before powerful plumes of fire erupted from where the glow was emitting. The pyre danced against the floor as he rose in the air, and cut off into neat, controlled flames once he rose high enough. JENNA, meanwhile, was losing her mind as her screams continued for the duration of the ascent until they stopped right in front of BROOKE and JAKE.
“Oh look, a ghost!” JAKE cried.
There was a distant clang of metal and an ‘ow’ from JENNA, which was no doubt a sign that RICH threw her at JAKE.
Michael had no words at what had just happened. He didn’t know whether to feel confused, annoyed, apprehensive, or some sort of combination of the three. CHRISTINE offered the teen a consoling look, trying to settle some Michael’s unease, but he wasn’t quite sure if it worked.
By the time they reached the top, they caught RICH and (presumably) JAKE wrestling with BROOKE watched from a safe distance. After a moment, a winner was named as JAKE successfully pinned RICH.
“Ha!” JAKE viciously rubbed salt in the wound by casually sitting on top of the defeated AI, who tried his best to wiggle his way out, “Just admit that you lost.”
“NEVER!” RICH cried.
“Then I’m not getting off.” JAKE responded smugly.
“This isn’t fair!” RICH protested, “You have a strength and height advantage.”
“And you have the weight advantage, but here we are.” JAKE shot back.
“Are they always like this?” Michael whispered aside to CHRISTINE, still slightly on edge.
“JAKE’s usually pretty calm. RICH, for all of his faults, has this contagious energy to him that you can’t help but get caught up in. I know he hasn’t made the best first impression, but give him a chance, you’ll see.” CHRISTINE whispered back, words which Michael took to heart.
Strangely enough, it was BROOKE who was the first to notice CHRISTINE and Michael’s arrival, “Hello!” she chirped, obnoxiously yellow eyes scrunched up sweetly.
BROOKE seemed very sweet upon first impression. She had the longest hair out of the bunch as the mass of blonde hair settled just below her shoulders. She had skin too, which was a nice pale shade, officially making CHRISTINE the out one out of the bunch. She wore a nice, sky blue shirt with a metal name tag pinned near her collarbone, navy blue skirt, and a yellow jacket. On the front and back of her wrists, raised camera-looking gadgets poked out, making Michael wonder what they did.
BROOKE’s innocent smile slowly faded as her eyes squinted at Michael. Her expression faded to shock as she bolted to his side, fervently examining his arms, face, and neck. It was awkward to say the least, but Michael just let her. It was at this point that the other four were solely fixed on whatever BROOKE was doing...until RICH made a snide comment and JAKE heaved him into a firefighter pose, spinning the orange-eyed AI around as fast as he could. BROOKE finally settled her hands on both sides of his face, smushing it slightly as Michael looked down at her.
“You poor thing,” She cooed.
“Oh please tell me I’m not going to turn into a mantis person or something.” Michael pleaded. It was a justified worry.
She gently brushed a few stray hairs out of his eyes, “No, silly, you look absolutely awful. There are bruises and cuts all over you, and you look completely exhausted.” She commented
“Well...I am kinda tired...” Michael softly admitted.
“Wimp!” RICH called out to which he was promptly slammed on the ground, “Ow, ow, ow, ow. Why did they program us to feel pain?”
“Because you deserve it.” JENNA retorted.
There was a fierce determination in her eyes that Michael couldn’t help but admire, “You need to rest. We’ll scavenge around for some supplies for you.” She turned her head to JAKE, “JAKE?”
JAKE snapped his head up, “Yeah?”
“Could you take Michael to The Hub?”
JAKE playfully saluted, “Consider it done.”
Before Michael could even question what ‘The Hub’ was, JAKE walked over to him and easily lifted him under his arm like a stuffed animal he’d won at the carnival. There was no doubt that JAKE was incredibly strong if he could lift Michael as if he weighed nothing more than a feather. The AI looked the most normal out of all of them. No strange features beyond his screen eyes, which contained lime green irises. He resembled a jock, handsome face, swept-up brown hair, and a tall (even taller than himself) and sturdy build. Not helping matters was the red varsity jacket he wore that had a ‘M’ on the front and ‘Dillinger’ and the number 5 on the back. The AI said nothing as he carried Michael away, but held a casual, easygoing expression. They were maintained that silence for a little bit until JAKE decided to break it.
“The name’s Justifyingly Athletic Knock-down Ensurer, or JAKE, I suppose. I’m the brawn of the group. I mean, I was made to lift heavy things, unload crates, and all that junk.” It was very awkward and it seemed like he was really trying, “I’ve always wondered why they made our names acronyms. It’s like the scientists were trying to find an excuse to give us normal names. BROOKE’s is Bionic Response Optical Observatory Kaleidoscope Emitter, but it really was kinda pointless. She ended up being used to demonstrate what Aperture tech more than anything else.” He paused for a moment and looked down at Michael with understanding eyes, “I know I’m not the smartest AI, and I’m technically the youngest out of the group, but you can ask me anything and I’ll see if I can answer them.”
Michael appreciated the offer; he had the perfect question in mind, something he knew JAKE could answer, “What were Paul and Erik like?”
The AI seemed slightly taken aback, but not too surprised, “Getting straight into the deep stuff, eh? I don’t blame you, the tapes leave a lot to the imagination.” He paused for a moment, “I suppose you could call Mr. Heere the dreamer, the visionary. He knew what he wanted out of Aperture, even if it was a bit risky. I only knew him for a couple years, but suddenly...he changed.”
“What happened?” Michael prompted.
“His wife left him. Never learned why, though, but it hit him and Jeremy real hard. Both of them refused to talk about it. Whatever the reason, Mr. Heere became really impulsive and reckless. I’m pretty sure you already know about the whole ‘moon rock incident’.”
How could Michael forget? For the past couple hours he was dumbfounded by the thought of anyone making such a risky purchase. Were they really so desperate for a portal conductor? Or was there more to it? However, he couldn’t help but wonder how Jeremy was affected by the divorce.
“We would’ve been in even more trouble if not for Mr.Quick.” JAKE continued, “He was a businessman kind of guy, knew the aspects of running the company from financials to all that legal stuff. I only saw him like once or twice, but Jeremy said he was nice enough.”
“Really?” Michael inquired skeptically.
“Don’t act so surprised.” JAKE responded, “You only knew SQUIP-him, not Erik-him. Erik really did care about this company.”
“I’ll take your word for it. I really do not like SQUIP-him.”
“You and me both buddy, but who knows, Erik still may be in there somewhere.”
Immediately after JAKE took Michael away, those remaining gathered around to plan out their scavenging expedition to gather supplies for their new human companion. RICH even had the decency to retrieve JENNA and dust her off in a small way of apologizing to the core. Lucky for them, Aperture employees were known for smuggling in things they weren’t supposed to have. All they needed to do was find the right place to look. After some discussion, it was decided their best bet was to look around the offices. The last time they raided the place, they managed to find a few hidden pillows and blankets, so all and all it was highly likely they missed something. Besides, there was a medical station close by so they could grab some things to treat some of Michael’s injuries, maybe even something to numb the pain.
It wasn’t too far of a walk to where all the offices were bundled up. Unlike the lowermost levels of old Aperture, the upper levels were more organized rather than simply built around the tests. The group scavenged through all the bent-up, rusty metal desks, file cabinets, drawers--everywhere they could. They passed the time chatting and goofing around, anything to keep the situation light. It was by this time the tremors were a common occurrence, setting them all on edge. The ragtag group of AI lived down in old-Aperture far longer than any of them thought they would. For a while they feared that at any day the SQUIP would move to take over the older facility, but the day never came. The only reason they knew the SQUIP was offline was the calm that echoed from above. None of them knew how many years had gone by, but at some point they finally accepted they were safe.
Since then, there was never a dull moment around as the group scavenged around and built their hangout (which somehow received the name of “The Hub”) from whatever scrap parts and stuff they could find. It wasn’t much at first, but it truly became their sanctuary, their home. What was even more strange was that they never ran out of things to talk about, always having conversations consisting of a loose string of tangents. It certainly made for some interesting conversations, but none of them minded their abstractness. It held the patchwork group together, forming a bond that allowed them to fight and forgive each other without a word or be content by sitting around a makeshift campfire in silence.
After only a couple hours, the group had everything they needed. In their search, they managed to scrape together a several bags of chips and processed pastries as well as a few bottles of water. However, most of the medical supplies seemed to have been cleared out, leaving nothing more than a few stray band-aids. It was disappointing, but at least it was something. With a pretty decent haul, RICH and BROOKE gathered the items in their arms and made their way back to The Hub with CHRISTINE armed with her portal gun to lead them through the fractured facility.
“I am just saying that if Willy Wonka wanted a kid to run his factory, it should’ve been Violet.” RICH explained to BROOKE as they walked side-by-side down the dark corridor, both of their eyes set in flashlight-mode.
“What about Charlie?” BROOKE protested, “He deserves it more.”
“Charlie isn’t that innocent.” RICH added, “He stole that bubbly drink-stuff. Violet was just being ambitious when she took the gum. Besides, at least she knows how to run a buisness with her father ' n all.” BROOKE clearly struggled to find a counter argument to this, “Ha! I win!” He cheered.
CHRISTINE was silent through the entire debate and eventually she just stopped and looked around as if expecting to find something. JENNA, meanwhile, was struggling to hold the bag of chips she insisted on carrying between her handles as CHRISTINE swung around, much to the core’s protests.
RICH walked over to her, “CHRIS, you alright? Processor finally fail on you or somethin’?” He teased.
CHRISTINE looked up, “Yeah-wait, no.” RICH snickered at this, “I’m fine.” She reassured, “Just lost in thought, I guess.” Her shoulders shrugged half-heartedly.
RICH didn’t buy it, “Ok, spill.” The judgement from his eyes was unparalleled.
CHRISTINE shook her head, “I just thought I heard something.” There was uncertainty in her movement as she continued to look around.
RICH and BROOKE mimicked CHRISTINE to see if they could pick up whatever noise she heard. There was nothing at first, but soon all of them heard...something. It was unclear at first, but the more they listened, the more they could hear the ghost a voice. Its speech was muffled, but they oddly seemed to be singing. Unanimously the group dashed to find its source. It was tricky with how echo-y the facility was; however, they managed to trace the source to beyond a security door that had been knocked askew in its frame. By then, the lyrics were much clearer:
This was a triumph
I'm making a note here: Huge success
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction.
Aperture Science: We do what we must because we can
For the good of all of us
Except the ones who are dead
But there's no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying till you run out of cake
And the Science gets done
And you make a neat gun
For the people who are still alive
It was a silly song, but charming in how nonsensical it was and how sweetly it was sung. However, that wasn’t what mattered the most at the moment, but rather the voice. A pang of melancholy swept through them as they heard the singer’s all too familiar voice. RICH quickly shoved the water bottles in his arms into CHRISTINE’s, who almost dropped all of them from how quickly it happened. RICH grabbed onto the side of the door and pulled as hard as he could to no prevail. It refused to even budge. Instead of fighting a losing battle, he gained some distance between him and the door before charging and ramming his shoulder against it. The door bent easily under the force as RICH fell down with it as it was knocked out of its socket. Immediately, BROOKE and CHRISTINE ran into a large, open area with RICH scampering behind them. The floor was flat and featureless and there was guardrail to prevent someone from falling down into the abyss below, it was almost like something was supposed to go there that never came to be.
“Look!” BROOKE exclaimed, pointing up to where a core was perfectly stuck in between two crossed support beams.
Now these points of data make a beautiful line.
And we're out of beta
We're releasing on time
So I'm glad I got burned
Think of all the things we learned
for the people who are still alive
By then the core took notice of their presence and stopped singing, taking a stubborn vow of silence. Meanwhile, the group walked closed until they were right under the beams. Their expressions were indescribable as they finally gazed upon their friend for the first time in many, many years.
“It really is him…” CHRISTINE uttered, completely at a loss of words.
“Our little Jerry.” BROOKE mused.
“Well, I can’t see him, but I’m taking your words for it.” JENNA added. BROOKE immediately took the bag JENNA had been holding and plucked the core off of CHRISTINE’s back so she could see, “Yup, that’s definitely a wild Jeremy.” She commented
RICH stepped forward, “Don’t worry ladies, I got this.” He assured, cracking his knuckles pointlessly.
He once again gained his fiery highlights and rocketed himself up to where Jeremy was lodged. Once RICH was eye-to-eye (or eyes-to-eye to be technical), he shifted his legs to his hover setting while he doused the flames from his hands so he could grip the bottom beam.
“Hey there stranger. Need some help?” RICH warmly grinned, but Jeremy didn’t respond. The poor guy was clearly scared, “Well, either way I’m getting you down.”
RICH grabbed both sides of the sphere and pulled as hard as he could while maintaining his precarious balance on his legs, which was harder than it seemed. Without the added stability from his hands, it was much like balancing on a ball. After trying this for a bit, it was clear it wasn’t working, and he doubted he could simply push Jeremy out like he had with that door. The little guy was wedged in tight.
“You’re really stuck in there, aren’t ya?” RICH joked, hoping to ease Jeremy’s fear slightly, but the core only averted his gaze. RICH awkwardly coughed, “Well, luckily there’s more than on way to crack an egg, or whatever the phrase is.”
RICH always abided by a rule that always served him well: when in doubt, use fire. Resting his hands on the beam above Jeremy, the metal plates on his hands slid open and the beam began to emit a bright, reddish glow and warp under his touch. RICH just kept pushing, liquid metal bleeding over his hands as his artificial skin flushed a deep rosy hue. Soon the beam was bent enough to easily pull Jeremy out. RICH retracted his hands and shook off the excess molten metal.
“There you go.” He grinned, but Jeremy still didn’t look at him. Instead, he shyly eyed RICH’s burned hands, “Oh, that. Don’t worry about it. It’ll go away. My skin heals on its own, ‘cus you know fire’s dangerous ‘n all. Just takes a bit.” Still no response, but Jeremy seemed to accept this answer through a series of subtle expressions.
It was a slow descent to the ground, RICH didn’t want to scare Jeremy any more than he had already. By then, it seemed the core was more comfortable with his presence, so he didn’t want to do anything to ruin that. Once his feet touched the ground, the girls flocked around him, faces fond as they softly cooed at the core cradled in RICH’s arms.
“That was a nice song you were singing.” CHRISTINE commented.
Surprisingly, Jeremy finally spoke, “Thanks. I...had a lot of free time…It’s nothing special...”
CHRISTINE warmly smiled, “Well, I thought it was lovely.”
If Jeremy was in his body, he would’ve been blushing, “Oh, um, I should probably introduce myself. I’m Just-”
“We know who you are Jeremy.” BROOKE softly informed.
Jeremy looked at her skeptically, “How did-”
“Because Michael told us about you!” JENNA swiftly interjected.
“Wait. He’s here? Where?” Jeremy’s tone immediately flipped at the mention of his companion as he frantically looked around for him.
CHRISTINE reshuffled the items in her arms so she could rest a hand on the core, calming him, “He’s resting right now. It was a long climb up here.”
Jeremy visibly winced at the memory of the fall and bounce back up. It made him feel woozy as he remembered all the spinning. Even though he was stuck in a core, vertigo was still very much a thing, “Don’t remind me...” He pleaded.
“We’ll take to him. He’ll probably out cold for a while, though.” BROOKE explained.
“I’m just glad he’s alright.” Jeremy said.
CHRISTINE gently pet the top of the core affectionately, “Us too, and I know he’ll feel the same about you. I know we’re all relieved that you’re alright.”
Jeremy seemed very pleased knowing his friend hadn’t given up on him (not that he thought Michael would). With everything settled, they all walked back to The Hub with Jeremy completely oblivious to the true meaning behind CHRISTINE’s words.
The song Jeremy was singing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36reZ9-3VK0
Chapter 21: The Tape
Michael’s dream was all a haze. He was in this dark hallway that held no significant details; it was all blurry too, like a photo of a moving object. He couldn’t tell where he was, but knew he was standing and being dragged somewhere; ropes bound his arms behind his back, a piece of cloth was tight around his mouth all while the ramblings of madman whispered behind him. Michael felt himself struggle against the bindings, putting up a pretty good fight if he did say so himself as he wrestled the cloth from his mouth. He managed to turn himself around to better stand a chance against the shadow-drowned man despite the rope burning his wrists
“They’re going to find you, and when they do, your life is over .” He found himself growling to the man in front of him.
“You think I’m worried about my reputation?” The man ghastly cried, “I’m on death’s door, what do I care about my reputation? I’ve been waiting 32 years for you. Yes, everything will finally be at peace.”
Michael fought even harder than before, but the man’s grip was too tight, “You’re crazy!” He cried, “Let me go!”
“Michael. I need you to do this for me. Please understand I had no choice.” The man pleaded, “You do not understand. This is the only way. You will not be alone. Save him.” Michael felt the man drop his end of the rope as he rushed to free his hands. When Michael looked up, the figure was holding something high in the air. Just like that, everything blinked out of existence.
A rush of panic caused Michael to lurch forwards, his breathing ragged and uneven while his head throbbed with a phantom pain. It was only a dream to the common person, but he knew it was more than that. Michael instinctively held his wrists as if they were still bound, trying to remind himself that it wasn’t real, or not anymore, at least. At least CHRISTINE was right about his memories returning, but, in the end, he learned very little. He long figured he was kidnapped. There was no way he would willingly wander into Aperture even if he had heard of it. His main question was who the kidnapper was. Maybe then he would finally understand why he was here.
“Dude, you ok?” He heard JAKE ask.
Michael glanced to the side and met JAKE’s worried gaze, “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. Just a dream.” He assured with an empty lie.
Looking around, he found himself in what he could only describe as a makeshift, yet cozy living room—presumably this was “The Hub”. It was situated under an abnormally large billboard that was held up at an angle by a pile of rubble and a sturdy support system composed of scrap metal. It was well lit as a variety of light sources were wrapped around the supports and hung from the ceiling—Christmas lights, pendants, anything that was probably just laying around. As for the area underneath, many pillows and blankets were piled into a couple forts while a few couches and recliners were scattered about as well. Along the back of the wall were a few arcade cabinets, an old TV with a VCR, and large bookshelves packed to the brim with well-loved books and random trinkets. It was then Michael registered the weight in his lap. Looking down, he found JENNA strangely placed on his lap, her shutter closed as if she was trying to conserve energy by powering herself down.
“Uh, guys, why is JENNA on my lap?” He asked to no one in particular.
“Uh…Michael, I’m over here.” He heard JENNA respond, and sure enough in the corner of his eye JENNA was relaxing in a very plush looking recliner.
Looking back down at his lap, it clicked, “Jeremy!” Michael cried, enveloping his friend in a hug with his cheek smushed against the cool metal. The other AI were probably amused by the sight since he could hear RICH’s snickering as well as CHRISTINE and BROOKE awing—JAKE respectively remained silent, which was appreciated—but Michael simply didn’t care.
It was only then did the shutter open, revealing the all too familiar cobalt iris, “I missed you too, but did you just seriously mix me up with JENNA? I feel offended.”
“I am also offended you confused my gorgeous self with that dork.” JENNA chimed in.
After a well-deserved eye roll, Michael returned his attention to his friend, ending the hug and simply held the sphere in his lap. The initial spark in Michael’s eyes dulled with a pang of sorrow. He couldn’t look at Jeremy the same way after what he had learned. The innocent look Jeremy was giving him hurt, if Michael was to be honest. However, he knew it wouldn’t compare to when they would have to strip Jeremy of that precious innocence. Michael absentmindedly rubbed his thumb against the shell, reminiscing all his friend had lost.
“You ok?” Jeremy asked.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just thinking.” Michael answered before turning to the others, “So, uh, what's the plan for once we’re back upstairs? You know, after we take care of you know what .” His index finger lightly tapped against Jeremy’s shell. It was unnerving that soon he would have to face the SQUIP one last time…for better or worse.
None of the AI immediately spoke up. Instead, they looked at each other as if expecting someone to speak up. Their lack of confidence was really assuring, really. Michael didn’t blame them, even though he had already faced the SQUIP twice, he had no idea what to do either. He had always winged it, Jeremy was the one with all the plans. Everything they did would be a huge gamble, they needed to be prepared for anything. This was the end game now.
Eventually, it was CHRISTINE who broke the silence, “We have some ideas, but we should probably discuss them once Jer’s…fixed up.”
Jeremy squinted at CHRISTINE before looking back at Michael, “W-what is she talking about? I-is there something wrong with me?” His anxiety was apparent as he spoke.
“Nothing,” Michael assured, “Nothing at all.” He offered a smile, but it was clear Jeremy didn’t believe him as he glared with a skeptic eye. Michael didn’t blame him, he wouldn’t have believed himself either.
Despite the mistrust, Jeremy didn’t protest as he steamed in his skepticism. It hurt Michael to do this to the core, but it was for the best. The matter of returning his memories was a delicate matter. CHRISTINE and the others clearly had a plan to break the news, so Michael just had to trust them. However, despite the deceit Michael could recognize a sense of blind trust within Jeremy still, bringing him some ease.
It was a while before they took off. All the AI ran final diagnostic tests to make sure nothing would go wrong while Michael took the time to eat and drink. With the preparations made, they were just about to leave until the AI walked over to a small corner of The Hub with JAKE carrying Jeremy and BROOKE carrying JENNA. Michael followed suit, finding himself at a small tribute composed of a small table adorned by long-withered flowers and a few candles, which RICH gently lit with his index finger. All the AI bowed their head respectfully, and even though Michael didn’t know anyone who died here, he found himself bowing his head as well. His thoughts soon turned to his moms. If they were dead, he hoped they were watching over him and proud of him. After a moment, CHRISTINE led the group away from The Hub. For the AIs, they were leaving behind a home, for Michael and Jeremy, they were leaving behind their safety. There was no going back.
As they walked, RICH attempted to keep the situation light, but no one was in the mood to talk. He immediately stopped after JAKE simply rested a hand on his shoulder. Everyone was justified in feeling uneasy, no one quite knew how Jeremy would act once he was himself and the tremors had since evolved to mini earthquakes. Every time one stirred, they would have to halt as dust and rubble rained down around them. Luckily, these were less frequent than the tremors, but still foreboding nonetheless. It wasn’t long until they were walking down a fancy looking hall lined with expensive looking paintings that had been left decay and red carpet thickly caked in dust, all of their footsteps leaving fresh red prints wherever they stepped.
“Does any of this look familiar, Jeremy?” CHRISTINE didn’t make an attempt to look at Jeremy as she spoke, “Anything at all?”
Jeremy looked to her worryingly, “No. Should it?”
“No. Not now, at least. I was just hoping something about this place would…never mind. It was a long shot, anyway. Michael mentioned that you sometimes remembered stuff that you shouldn’t have been able to.”
“Remembered? What have I been remembering?”
Jeremy’s question would remain unanswered as it was BROOKE’s turn to speak, “When you were young, you used to come up here all the time. Even when you weren’t supposed to. You always had something to show your dad like a drawing or tell him about something you saw. Strange thing was that no one ever tried to stop you.”
“I don’t-” Jeremy didn’t even have a chance to finish before RICH cut him off.
“Your dad always told you it was because you were a cute kid, but we all knew it was because they were afraid of being fired if they did. Same went with the rest of the facility. Anywhere you wanted to go, you went. Definitely led to a lot of interesting stories of you getting into mischief. Of course, none of them rivaled my antics, but I am hard to live up to.”
“We were all made to serve Aperture, further science, or whatever junk they tried to shove down our throats. It sucked being treated like that’s all we were good for, but then you came along and changed that.” JENNA continued, “You used to drag us everywhere, showing us new things, giving us stuff, or just taking the time to talk to us. Wouldn’t even let a single one of us be shut down either, even if we were old,” CHRISTINE sheepishly averted her gaze, “or wreaking havoc,” RICH smugly grinned, “or because of budget reasons.” JAKE and BROOKE ever so briefly glanced at each other.
It was JAKE’s turn to speak, “I used to ask you to teach me how to do all sorts of things like archery and soccer, even when you knew nothing about them.” Imagining that scene play out brought a small smirk to Michael’s face. It made him happy to hear how Jeremy impacted the others, “I know it’s strange, but we were kinda a family in a weird way, y’know?”
Just as everyone said their peace, they reached the end of the hall and stopped in front of a closed door, “I don’t believe you. Whoever you think I am, that isn’t me.” Jeremy adamantly denied.
“I know this is hard to accept, but everything will be ok.” CHRISTINE said softly, attempting to reason with the distressed core. Everyone knew it wasn’t his fault for reacting this way, but his cutting words didn’t hurt any less.
“No!” Jeremy protested, “I was abandoned before I was even tested. How would you know who I am?” He turned to Michael, “Tell them.” He pleaded. It broke Michael’s heart to see the core in such a state. Jeremy was trying so hard to cling onto one of the few things he really had, his identity as an untested science project.
A mark of dread washed over Michael as he rested a hand on Jeremy’s shell, “I’m sorry Jer, but it seems like we have more things in common than we thought; we both have terrible memories.” He choked out with a solemn, yet encouraging grin before turning to CHRISTINE and giving a simple nod, trying to ignore his friend’s look of betrayal.
“It’s funny how much faith you have in Aperture, but somehow it’s not all that surprising.” CHRISTINE mused as she finally opened the door and walked inside and switched on the light.
Just beyond the entrance was a fairly big office and stepping inside felt like entering a fresh tomb. Typical features of an office were present: computer, bookshelf, cabinets, pile of papers, and a metal name tag engraved with “Paul Heere” sat undisturbed on a grand wooden desk. However, the most prominent feature was a large portrait hanging on the far wall, one portraying a father and his son. Paul had clearly aged since that one portrait Michael had seen on the lowest levels of the facility, but he still held that loving grin as he proudly stood next to his son while resting a reassuring arm around the teen’s back. Jeremy looked uncannily identical to his AI counterpart, standing slightly hunched under his father’s arm while donning a shy smile. It truly was a raw moment perfectly preserved in paint. While his father was wearing formal wear, Jeremy was wearing casual clothes—a striped shirt, jeans, and cardigan—almost as if Jeremy was a last-minute addition. The thought made Michael smile slightly. For all of his faults, it was clear Paul loved his son. A part of Michael felt like he shouldn’t be looking at this portrait, but he couldn’t deny how cool it was to see what his friend used to look like, even if it was only a painting.
Jeremy was silent as he stared at the portrait for several moments. It seemed like it was hard for him to process. “But…but…” was all he managed to utter before falling silent once more. Everyone looked at him uneasily, none knew what to say to comfort him. Instead, CHRISTINE reached into a jacked pocket and pulled out an ancient looking tape recorder.
“We have been waiting to give you this message for so long, Jeremy. Our only regret was not getting to you sooner, but everything with the SQUIP and being stuck down here...” CHRISTINE didn’t finish that thought, “Please don’t blame Mr. Heere for what he did. You should’ve seen him after you were put away.” Without hesitation, she pressed play.
“Look, Jeremy, by the time you listen to this, I’ll be gone. It’s been a few days since I had, well, you locked away, both physically and mentally. I’ll admit it wasn’t my proudest moment. I’ve lost a lot the past few years, my reputation, your mother, and to some degree even myself. On that day, I thought I had lost you as well. Having to say goodbye to their only son is something no father should have to deal with. Maybe you’ll understand that when you’re older.” A bombardment of harsh coughing could be heard, it sounded extremely painful, but it seemed Paul wouldn’t let that stop him so easily, “I know this lunar poison causes people to act wildly, but I am still the one who hurt you and Erik. I couldn’t accept that you chose this path, and I thought by locking your memories away, it would be easier to live as you are without the knowledge of who you were. I was wrong. You are my son. Human or computer, muscle or metal, and I’m proud of you for stepping up to try and fix my mistakes. I only hope Erik also learns to forgive me in time, but I’ll die a little happier knowing I tried.”
It was then Jeremy began to spazz out desperately, “Dad! Dad! I’m here! I’m safe! Don’t leave me! Please, dad! Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” He cried out like a child. Michael saw JAKE hug the distressed Jeremy even as the core frantically tried to reach out to a person that wasn’t there. It was clear it pained everyone to hear the message—even Michael, who had just realized he had been crying.
“I’m giving this tape to those friends of yours to take you out of storage and fix you up. Guys, if you’re listening, good work. Keep an eye on him for me while I’m gone. We all know he’ll still get into mischief, even if he is a computer. Jeremy, I understand if you’re angry or if you never forgive me, but know that I love you son. You’ll always be my little Jer-bear.” More coughing could be heard as the tape finally ended.
Jeremy suddenly stopped his squirming as his pieces slowly shifted to their default position, “INPUT ACCEPTED.” He relayed in a robotic tone.
Chapter 22: The Prologue
It was like a light switch was casually flicked on. A cacophony of memories, emotions, and thoughts flooded Jeremy’s mind. He couldn’t move as a slideshow of his life rushed past him—goofing off in Aperture as science was created around him, CHRISTINE’s obsession with Shakespeare, trying to sate JAKE’s endless curiosity, RICH’s antics, his long talks with JENNA, CHLOE’s attempts to get him to dress fashionably, Erik counselling him when he felt like he had nowhere to go, his dad teaching him what it meant to be the leader Jeremy feared he would never be. It was all clear now. He knew who he was: Jeremiah Heere, heir to Aperture. Even with this knowledge, there was still a small part of JEREMY that wished he wasn’t—a distant yearning for simpler times.
When it all began to settle in, he still didn’t dare look up. He didn’t know what to feel as a turmoil of emotions brewed within. How was he supposed to feel? Happy? Sad? Angry? Bitter? Dread? Regret? Instead, a hollow feeling rooted within him, the glow of his iris had noticeably dimmed. His audience gathered around him as they stared in a long-awaited anticipation, but he had nothing to say, not after his dad’s tape. What could he say? He briefly considered apologizing to them for not believing them earlier, but it felt too awkward to say. What was he supposed to say? I’m sorry for doubting you, I’m back now? He briefly cursed to very concept of communication before returning to the situation at hand. It was then he noticed something off about CHRISTINE, one of his oldest friends. He turned towards her, and there was no going back.
“Why aren’t you wearing your scarf?” At this, CHRISTINE instinctively reached for her throat, but only grasped air. Michael was still wearing her iconic pink scarf, “You’ve almost lost it so many times already, I thought you’d be more careful about giving it away like that. Remember that time at the park?”
CHRISTINE’s eyes widened with recognition before softening with remembrance, “Yeah. You had to run all the way back and search the entire park for it. When you came back, your face was so red I thought you’d pass out.” She was so overjoyed that she dropped her portal gun and scooped Jeremy out of JAKE’s arms, hugging him as tight as she could, “Oh Jeremy, I thought I would never see you again, but it’s really you. I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, CHRISSY.” He looked at the others, his iris shrunk as he briefly looked over everyone in the room. Someone was missing, “Wait. W-where’s CHLOE?”
CHRISTINE looked to BROOKE, who immediately walked over and bent to be at eye-level with him, “She didn’t make it, Jerry, but you should’ve seen her. She put up a good fight and knocked that awful SQUIP down a peg.” She spoke in a soft, motherly tone, but she couldn’t hide the slight cracking in her voice. The white-eyed AI and BROOKE had always been close.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back as he remembered all the security footage and the disaster that unfolded after he had been shut down, “This is all my fault…” Jeremy whimpered like a scolded child, feeling the faint sting of tears welling up though he could not cry.
“No, no, no, no, Jerry. It-“ BROOKE stopped when JAKE gently covered her mouth.
“C’mon, let it out.” JAKE urged.
“I t-thought it would work, t-that dad would…but I…I…dad…a-and Erik h-he…” Jeremy couldn’t even finish the sentence.
RICH had been uncharacteristically quiet this entire time, but finally he spoke up, “Hey, don’t rush it. You got this.” The irony of RICH of all people telling him to slow down was not lost on Jeremy.
The AI all tried to console the distraught Jeremy, but it wasn’t working. Jeremy desperately tried to speak, but it all his words came out as unintelligible and incomplete. He was trying so hard to finish a single sentence, but it wasn’t working. In the corner of his eye, he saw Michael back away a little, creating a small distance between him and the rest of the group. It was clear the teen felt alienated, but no ire was present in his actions. Seeing this unfurl only made the situation worse as he began sobbing even louder. Jeremy had unknowingly lied to Michael and dragged him into all of this mess. Why was he such a screw up? It seemed like messing up was the only thing he was good at. All he wanted was a chance to save Aperture, now look at it: he made everything worse. Why was he like this? He didn’t want to be this way. The fluctuation in Jeremy’s mood clearly caught Michael’s attention. He seemed unsure at first, but a spark shone in his eyes as he walked to join the group and ushered the core into his spare arm.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m still ... I-I promise. I can’t…I can’t….” Jeremy pleaded.
“Shh…” Michael soothed, “It’s alright. Memories or no memories, you’re still my favwite person.”
“Oh god, you’re never letting that go, are you?” Jeremy croaked, a bit of playfulness returned to his voice. As embarrassing as it was, it made him feel at ease.
“Nope,” Michael said, “You’ll have to kill me first, but even then, I’ll still be saying it from beyond the grave.”
Jeremy turned to CHRISTINE, “If we make it out of this alive, think I could invent a time machine stop myself from saying something stupid?”
“Not unless you want to create a paradox.” CHRISTINE returned.
“I’ll risk it.”
“Hold on a minute, I’ve GOT to learn the story behind this.” JENNA said.
Jeremy swore his metaphorical heart stop when he saw Michael eagerly grin and turned to face the gossipy JENNA, “Well, you see-”
Before Michael could even finish, Jeremy began to yell, “No! No! No! You’re not telling them! I won’t let you!
Jeremy began reciting Aperture’s rules and regulations verbatim as loud as he could, drowning out Michael until the teen finally stopped, “They don’t need any more excuses to tease me, they already have enough ammo as is!” Jeremy exclaimed.
RICH shrugged, “Eh, that’s true.”
Michael snickered at that and seemed to drop the subject, much to Jeremy’s relief. The teen turned back to Jeremy, “You calm now?” The question caught Jeremy off guard. Yeah, he did feel better, so he nodded, “Good because I think I know five AI and a random teen who would like to know what happened to you.”
Jeremy eyed his friends perplexedly, “Wait. Dad didn’t tell you?”
JAKE shook his head, “He said it’d be better if you did.”
Jeremy sighed. He really should’ve expected this. It would’ve made everything easier, but they deserve to know the full story. He just hoped they wouldn’t be disappointed in him for the choices he made, that they understood none of them were easy to make.
“Alright,” Jeremy began, “Let’s just sit down and get comfy ‘cus this might take a while.” Immediately everyone sat down and formed a small circle with Jeremy laying on Michael’s lap. Once everyone seemed settled, all of their eager eyes on him, he began to weave his tale.
Chapter 23: The Past Part 1
This story could start in many places: the proposal, after the procedure, his dad’s reaction, but Jeremy chose to start a bit earlier than that. It was a week after Jeremy’s dad had been first hospitalized. He was 14 at the time, and he was not handling it well. He just lost his mom last year, now this? It felt like the climax of the whole disaster that had been the past few months. His dad was fired from his position as CEO, Aperture was struggling to find its footing, and it seemed like Black Mesa was only getting more and more demanding in trying to buy them out. Things were not looking bright, and Jeremy could tell how all of this was impacting the employees. There was no fun in their work, just science. In his dad’s absence, Erik agreed to take up the role of CEO—at least until Jeremy was a bit older. While Jeremy had no doubt the man would help put the company on the right track, the fact it was a temporary arrangement did nothing to soothe his nerves. It only further reminded the teen that he would have to take over the company someday. Jeremy never wanted this, yet it was what everyone wanted of him. It was as if this was his only purpose in life: to be his father. It hurt to find his voice lost in a sea of thousands, but else could he do? His future was engraved in his name.
Jeremy had taken refuge in his dad’s old office, which had been left untouched since the firing. It may’ve been the most obvious place to find him, but he didn’t care. It was quiet, away from most people, and very few people could get to him. When Erik took over, he had sealed off the lower levels of the facility to cut costs and start with a clean slate; however, Jeremy had admin access, so nothing could really stop him from going down there whenever he pleased. The only restriction Erik had given him was not to go any further than the office area since the old facility hadn’t exactly had the best upkeep, meaning he could easily get stuck down there if something broke. Speaking of Erik, it wasn’t long until Jeremy heard the door open. With his head laying on the desk, he couldn’t see who entered, but he could practically feel the stern disapproval, so he knew who it was. The man said nothing as he simply passed judgement upon the teen, remaining unmoving like stone. Jeremy lifted his head to silently returned the glare while a small pout graced his lips.
“What?” Jeremy bluntly asked, breaking the tense hush.
“Oh nothing, just pondering the future of humanity using you as a sample.” Erik casually returned, “So far it looks like we won’t last much longer.”
“Hey!” Jeremy protested.
Erik swiftly bent down so he was eye-to-eye with Jeremy, electric blue eyes sharp with authority, “Prove me wrong.” He challenged.
“What?” Jeremy looked at him skeptically.
“Prove. Me. Wrong.” Erik repeated, “Jeremy, you are gravely underestimating the position in which you are in right now. You are going to be taking over a very large company that employs thousands of workers and is a leader in the field of innovation, yet here you are moping like a child.” Erik walked around the desk and laid a firm hand on Jeremy’s shoulder, “Look, I know a lot has happened lately and that it’s been hard on you, but a part of growing up is moving on despite hardships. Otherwise, you’ll just get stuck in the past and life will go on without you.” He paused for a moment as if trying to find the right words, “Take me for example. I’m trying my best to salvage a struggling company. Would you say this task is ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’?” Jeremy hesitantly nodded his head, “And has that stopped me from doing my job?”
Jeremy answered with his silence, but then looked up at him pitifully, “But I don’t know what dad wants me to do. I-I mean he-”
“Isn’t here.” Erik interrupted, making Jeremy flinch slightly, “ You are here. What are you going to do?” Dread pooled in his stomach. His dad always had an idea on how to improve the facility, what research to focus on, how to improve relations with other companies, yet Jeremy had nothing—no ideas, no plans. Defeated, Jeremy returned to looking at the desk, his posture hunched in shame. This didn’t bode well with Erik as he swiftly grabbed the scruff of his neck and dragged him out of the office, “That’s it, you’re coming with me.” Jeremy dared not protest, the man had a glare that could rival Medusa.
From then on, Erik dragged Jeremy everywhere, treating him as basically a personal intern and teaching him the ropes of running a company. Erik would even frequently test the teen while they were out and about to see how well the teen handled certain tasks like talking with clients and leading staff meetings. Needless to say, Jeremy was…rusty at first; sometimes it was to the point Erik’s patience ran so thin he’d lightly smack the teen upside the head or place his head in his hands and let out an exhausted sigh. However, over time, Jeremy got better—not perfect, but better. Together him and Erik found ways to cut spending in unnecessary purchases, promoted the development of systems that would put their resources to better use, and funded a very promising project involving turning excessive carbon emissions into solid matter. Jeremy would never forget the day he proposed a system that could rearrange and move the testing facility tiles, which would reduce construction and production costs as well as conserve space in the newer and smaller facility. It felt nice, like he was actually making a difference. After a couple years, things were starting to turn around, and it relieved Jeremy to see Aperture faintly resemble the facility he once knew.
However, not everything was perfect. His dad was still constantly going in and out of the hospital with his stays only becoming longer and longer as time went on. The illness made him weak and in constant pain, but the worst symptom was the frequent bouts of madness. Every so often his dad would rant without the barest hint of logic or act without thinking things through. There were even times he yelled at Jeremy such as the time he blamed his son for The War of 1812. The first time this happened, Jeremy didn’t know what to do. He remembered standing paralyzed as he choked on the fear rising in his throat, tears burning fiercely in his eyes. It hurt, yes, but his dad always apologized afterwards, more often than not crying himself. Eventually Jeremy had even given the condition a name: Lunacy.
Jeremy could never forget the day everything was truly set in motion. Him and Erik were in the latter’s office; the teen was lazily lounging upside-down on an armchair with his legs propped over the headrest casually. The office was quite luxurious and breathed quality, so he was quite comfortable despite the slightly awkward position. It had been a long day for the both of them, but Jeremy was the only one relaxing as he waited for Erik to be done with some last-minute paperwork. By this point, his dad had lost custody of his son as a direct result of his frequent (and sometimes violent) insanity and indefinite stay at the hospital. With no other family willing to take Jeremy in, Erik had agreed to keep an eye on the sixteen-year-old. Needless to say, it was nice to see where his family’s priorities were. Not that Jeremy really cared. If they didn’t care about him, why should he feel guilty about returning the favor? He was more worried about his dad. At this point it seemed like any moment he could be gone, officially making Jeremy owner of Aperture. The reality was bitter on his tongue. He always imagined inheriting Aperture as a passing of the torch moment, something he had to earn. It felt like cheating this way, like he hadn’t earned it. It made him worry that he wouldn’t live to his dad’s expectations.
Jeremy was so lost in thought he almost missed what Erik said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but why exactly are you here?” The man inquired, “Don’t you have friends you could be hanging out with or something? I may be your guardian, but that doesn’t mean I’m legally obligated to keep you entertained.”
“I know that!” Jeremy sputtered out before shifting so he was sitting properly in the chair, “There’s just been, uh, something I’ve been meaning to ask you.” This seemed to pique Erik’s interest as his brow arched curiously. Jeremy took a deep breath, “How bad is our financial situation?” After the moon rock incident, his dad always refused to speak about it, still acting as if everything was fine. Erik, however, seemed shocked and maybe even a little bit proud that Jeremy had the initiative to ask him such a question.
Erik leaned back in his chair, his eyes pinned to the ceiling in thought while he fiddled with the pen in his hand, “The answer’s…complicated. On one hand, yes, we are, in fact, making progress. However, I’m afraid that this hasn’t been enough to reassure our clients Aperture is a worthwhile investment. If we don’t do something quick, we will be in serious trouble.” Erik revealed, “Luckily, suing our biggest rival for thievery has definitely given us some stable ground for the time being.” He smugly added.
Jeremy lightly snickered at the memory of the Black Mesa lawsuit. All of Aperture threw a huge party to celebrate and mock their rival that took an entire month to clean up. Even Erik—infamous stick in the mud—got in on the fun and got so drunk he began rambling in fluent Japanese. No one could understand him, but everyone just ran with it. However, the levity of the comment didn’t last as his stomach suddenly churned with anxiety, “Is there anything else we can do?”
“Innovate, find willing investors, fund promising investments. That’s all there is to it.” The answer stung, but it didn’t surprise him. However, Erik’s eyes suddenly lit up as if something just clicked in his head. He looked down at Jeremy with a confident smirk, “I know just the project.”
Chapter 24: The Past Part 2
Jeremy remained silent. What Erik proposed seemed impossible, but intriguing all the same. The mind was nothing more than a complex organic computer, constantly producing and processing electronic signals at an efficient and masterful rate. This project presented a method of copying those mental patterns and transforming it into a computer algorithm, effectively turning a person into an AI. In his disbelief, Jeremy personally checked the math and calculations only to find no flaws. It could work. Silence lingered between the two as the teen toiled with his thoughts while the other patiently waited for a response. There was no rush, only contemplation.
“And you are sure this will work? T-this doesn’t seem like a good idea.” Jeremy’s voice wavered as he spoke. His reservations were understandable; the results were quite permanent. In the process of mapping out the brain, the mind is overloaded to the point it stops working.
“I understand your hesitation, but the portal project is too far behind schedule to present to our clients just yet. Think about it, all we need is one successful run to keep people interested in the company and reinforce Aperture’s technological prowess.” This was true. While the portal gun worked, it was too limited and situational for practical use. No one would buy it in its current state.
Somehow, this did nothing to soothe Jeremy’s nerves. Jeremy knew Erik’s heart was in the right place, but something felt off. Yes, the very concept was truly a marvel, only further blurring the lines between reality and fiction; however, it would be stealing a life away in more ways than one. Whoever the subject was would become a display piece and could never live a normal life again. Jeremy wouldn’t stand for it, not unless there was more of a purpose, not unless…
“I’ll do it.” Jeremy announced.
“Excuse me?” Erik asked, disbelief shone in his features. He began inspecting the teen as if looking at the faintest mark of hesitation.
“You need a willing subject, and you’ve got one.” Jeremy reaffirmed, a bit louder this time, “If you really think this will work, then you’ll let me do it.”
“Jeremy, I highly advise against this. Think about-”
“I know.” Jeremy’s statement made Erik fall silent, “I want to do this, and maybe a bit…more? Remember Project Advantage?” That was a name no one had spoken in many years. Project Advantage was a plan to design an AI-run control room that would maintain Aperture’s internal systems. The project fell through, but the chamber was mostly complete and could easily be moved up to the new facility.
It didn’t take long for Erik to put the pieces together, “Are you sure about this?”
Jeremy expression was unwavering, “My father always said he wanted me to run the facility. He didn’t specify how.”
Everyone else had a life outside of Aperture: a family, friends, aspirations. Jeremy had none of those outside of the facility. He was practically invisible to everyone at school (except for the bullies, of course), his future was determined for him, and his dad…well, didn’t have much time left. In the end, his life was Aperture. If anyone was going to be stuck here, then it should’ve been him. Jeremy wouldn’t deny that he was a little scared, but if this would help the company, then it was worth it. And if it didn’t help, at least he could say he tried (plus, his inner child couldn’t deny it sounded pretty cool to be in a robot body either way). It felt odd being so confident for once in his life, especially for something as serious as this, but it didn’t feel bad either. He couldn’t ponder if this was what being a leader was like? He supposed it was. His dad always taught him that being a leader was thinking about those he led and earning their trust while Erik advised that leading meant others would look to him to have thought-out, decisive actions. The prospect made him feel more at ease.
“Alright.” Erik finally relented, and thus setting Aperture’s fate in stone.
Over the course of a couple months, a small group of scientists worked tirelessly to construct a new body for Jeremy and refurbish the abandoned chamber. The people chosen were individuals who had proven themselves to be able to keep a secret and, more importantly, not ask questions. They were people who were in it for the science, even if people didn’t come out the same after a test. It was determined it would be best to keep the project secret lest word get out to the public. For this ploy to be effective, the project needed to be shrouded in mystery and create suspense; well, at least according to Erik. During that time, Erik and Jeremy tried their best to figure out how to break the news to Paul. However, no matter the angle they tried to tackle the issue, it was clear that Paul would not react well to the fact his son was turned into a computer. In the end, all they could do was prepare for the worst.
The day before the procedure, Jeremy went to go visit his dad. Erik insisted he have the day off to relax. He would’ve liked to have split it between his dad and friends, but the ragtag group of AIs were nowhere to be found and a small fraction of the staff were scrambling around to find them with JENNA only providing vague instructions as to their whereabouts. While the teen would’ve like to have helped in the search, he didn’t know how much time it would’ve eaten up. They were in the facility somewhere, so they were at least safe. Besides, his dad was more important at the moment.
The hospital always put Jeremy on edge despite the fact he had been there a million times. It looked like what bleach smelled like and felt so hollow and lifeless despite how busy it was. It really was no wonder why his dad hated this place. When Jeremy finally reached the entryway of his father’s room and gently knocked on the door frame, the man didn’t seem to take any notice. His dad seemed lost in his own world. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an uncommon sight. The man looked sickly with clammy skin and his hair was no longer a healthy gray, but something more akin to the light shadows of a passing cloud. The sight made the teen’s heart lurch as he choked back his sorrow. He needed to be brave for his dad.
Even without a response, Jeremy still entered and walked over to the side of the bed and sat slightly on the edge of the bed next to his dad. His dad still showed no response. It seemed he would have to take matters into his own hands. Jeremy tried everything from poking the man’s shoulder to waving a hand in front of his face to even pulling his arm. Nothing worked. With every other possible option exhausted (that wouldn’t cause a commotion), he had no choice but to take drastic measures.
The brunet leaned in close and whispered into his dad’s ear, “Black Mesa is better than Aperture.”
The results were immediate, “AH!” The man cried, he jumped slightly away before clutching his heart instinctively. It took him a moment to realize who it was and what had just happened. Jeremy snickered at his dad’s reaction. It worked every time, “Oh, it’s just you, Jeremy. Didn’t see you there.”
“You and everyone at school…” Jeremy bitterly mumbled to himself.
“What was that?” His dad inquired with a small devious smile.
“Nothing!” Jeremy swiftly denied.
His dad swiftly caught him in a gentle headlock, “C’mon, tell your old man what you’re hiding. Is it a girl?”
The playfulness in his dad’s eyes was nice to see. Many days he would be too tired/in pain to do anything but sleep. On those days, Jeremy would stay by his bedside and write a million letters telling him about his day, his new ideas, and generally anything he wanted to talk about like how he thought stegosauruses were the superior dinosaurs. Even though the teen was never around while his dad read them, he knew the man appreciated the sentiment because he kept every letter at his bedside.
“Daaaaaad.” Jeremy whined all the while not even bothering to escape.
His dad ruffled his curls before finally releasing him, “Alright, alright. I see how it is. Every man has their secrets, and you are getting around that age where you’re too cool to tell your dad everything. I see how it is.”
Jeremy nudged the man’s shoulder lightly, “As if I would ever be considered cool.”
“C’mon Jeremy, you’re a Heere! Why wouldn’t you be? Everyone should be bowing at your feet at the chance of meeting you!” His dad hooked an arm around his neck just as he always did, “If not, just remember you’ll always be cool to me.”
Jeremy shot his dad a crooked smile, “Thanks dad.”
A horrible bout of coughing ruined the moment as Jeremy flew to grab his dad a glass of water and his medicine, but his dad waved it off, “I’m fine.” His dad managed to say in-between his coughs, and so Jeremy couldn’t do anything but clutch the glass and bottle of pills helplessly. The teen’s grip tightened slightly before setting both items back down.
If his father didn’t want the medicine, then he wouldn’t take it. His dad was a stubborn man whether he would admit it or not. Words of protest coiled in the teen’s throat, but died soon after. The man had always been like this. Growing up, sometimes it felt like all he could do was nod his head and hold his breath. This created some…complicated feelings towards his father. Jeremy sometimes wished that his dad would listen to him and acknowledge that he had his own thoughts and opinions. However, despite this strain, he still loved his dad—faults and all. The man had always been there for him and encouraged him to experiment and create. Unlike his mom, his dad was proud of him and only wanted what was best for his son.
It was then the coughing subsided and his dad gestured for him to sit down next to him. Once Jeremy was settled did the man speak again, “Jeremy, I am a man of many mistakes. You know that,” He began, his voice somber and eyes glazed with reminiscence, “The world has a way of making sure you don’t forget what you’ve done. I don’t want you to fall into the same traps I did. I founded a company, raised it from the ground up, worked hard to make sure everything was running smoothly on top of raising you, yet it seems all anyone is going to remember when I’m gone is my mistakes.” The hurt seemed to vanish instantly and brighten with his trademark determination, “In the end, I don’t really care. I know who I am and those who know me do too, but I don’t want the same thing to happen to you. Do you understand? I want you to promise that you’ll be smarter than me.”
For just a moment, Jeremy wanted to hug him and bawl and tell him everything like a child. He wanted to tell him what was going to happen tomorrow, how much trouble Aperture was in, how he didn’t want to say goodbye to his father, how he was terrified of the future. Instead, he said, “I’m going to make you proud.” Never truly answering the man’s plea.
When his dad pulled him in for a hug, it stung with betrayal. He silently prayed that his father would understand why things ended up the way they were. It was then the tears broke out. His dad comforted him as his son cried just like he used to when Jeremy was little. It hurt even more that the man didn’t know the real reason he was crying.
The day of the procedure, Jeremy found himself standing in front of a long, metal table where his robotic doppelganger laid undisturbed like a corpse with its long wires curling over the sides. All the many, many calibrations, measurements, and tasks the scientists the scientists had him do really had produced a perfect replica of him. It was dressed impersonally with matching while, circuit patterned pants and shirt while his name was neatly printed in all caps near the collar bone like a name tag. A bit of worry twisted in his gut. He knew he agreed to this, but it was natural to have some hesitation before a procedure such as this. Curiously, Jeremy began inspecting and moving the limbs and face curiously, the gyros softly churned with every subtle movement. It was surreal to think that in only a few hours this would be him. It really was something straight out of a sci-fi novel, but it was actually happening. Jeremy couldn’t quell his curiosity and wonder. He could just imagine the technology being used to preserve the world’s greatest minds or advancing research in psychology. There were so many possibilities swarming in his head, but he knew these ideas would never come to fruition, and so the thought was bittersweet.
Before he could finish that thought, Erik walked up beside him, his arms folded against his back, “You ready?” He prompted.
“Yeah, I’m ready. Little nervous is all.” Jeremy admitted.
Erik looked down at him sympathetically, “You can still back out. No one would blame you.”
Jeremy smiled slightly, “Thanks Erik, but I’m fine. Really.” He paused a moment, “Though could you promise me something?” He asked. Erik firmly nodded in response, “Promise me that this will be the only time this experiment will be performed.” This experiment really was incredible, but he had determined some things should stay fiction.
“Way ahead of you. I may or may not have put a clause in the scientists’ contract that breaking their secrecy or trying to replicate it with another company would create immediate grounds for legal action.” Erik’s statement made Jeremy feel more at easy, “Funny how even the world’s most brilliant minds don’t even think to read the fine print.”
Jeremy snickered at this, “They may be smart, but they’re all still human in the end, and I don’t think any sane person likes reading those things.” He cast his eyes down to his doppelganger, “What do you think it’s going to be like being in this body?” He couldn’t help but ask.
“Out of everything to be worried about, that is your main concern?” Erik teasingly asked only to be met with Jeremy’s stuttering protests, “Trust me, this body is accommodated with features that will be able to stimulate primal human needs, is custom made to your exact measurements and appearance, and it even has your own voice. It’ll be like being in your own body, only better. At least you won’t feel the pain of getting older.” That last sentence only seemed to punctuate the gray sheen that had dulled his ebony locks.
Even though it was scary, Jeremy reminded himself that he wasn’t changing. He’ll still be himself.
Chapter 25: The Past Part 3
Waking up felt…odd. There was a noticeable weightlessness in his body, almost as if he were floating. He was too tired to open his eyes and just wanted to go back to sleep, but then remembered the procedure. Immediately, he shot up and…everything was blurry, but a thin blue box framed his vision along with details such as time and temperature. The feeling cool metal under his fingertips brought him comfort, reassuring him that he was fine. Slowly, but surely everything came into view. The room was small and blindingly white. Around him were three of the five scientists assigned to the team. As he looked, a bent line appeared next to each of them followed by their basic information like their name, level of access, and job title. They all seemed to look at him with baited breath while passing whispers between them. Should he say something?
“Umm…hi?” He even waved, which felt uncannily smooth. Power of advanced robotics, he supposed.
Without another word, they scurried out of the room, leaving Jeremy alone with his thoughts. Jeremy began experimentally moving around: wiggling his toes, flexing his fingers, looking around, etc. He didn’t quite know how to adequately describe how it felt to be in this body. Everything felt natural, he supposed. He had all of his senses and the artificial lungs did a good job of stimulating breathing so he didn’t freak out about not being able to breathe. He attempted to not breathe, and yes, he survived, but he didn’t like it. Once you grew up with something, it was kinda hard to stop. After he was done with his testing, he was bored. Waiting for whoever to show up was something akin to waiting for a doctor to show up: long and why did he even have to wait in the first place if it was a scheduled appointment? Maybe he should ask the scientists to program some games into this thing because that would be cool. It took about 15 minutes for Jeremy to hear the door creak open. Looking up, Erik entered followed by the scientists, but they were quickly ushered away with a wave of his hand.
“How’re you feeling, slugger?” Erik asked.
“Alright, I think? It’s just a bit…overwhelming” Jeremy sheepishly admitted, shrugging his shoulders halfheartedly.
Erik gestured to the door, “C’mon, staying cooped up in this room won’t do you any good.”
Jeremy took a deep breath and hopped down from the table. His legs felt weak to the point he was afraid he was going to fall over as they lightly rattled under the force of the new weight they had to support. Anxiety once again found itself rising in his chest as he moved his arms in a small attempt to maintain his balance. Tentatively, he attempted to start walking slowly. but steadily. To the outside world, he looked like a toddler taking its first steps. Jeremy managed to cover about a couple feet before he stumbled, the dress shoes this body had been fitted with screeched against the tile harshly. Luckily, he managed to regain his footing before he fell. Erik made no attempt to help him, but the teen knew it wasn’t out of malicious intent. Jeremy knew Erik long enough that he was the kind of guy who let a person learn through practice, someone who helped when absolutely necessary. He wasn’t someone who held a person’s hand, but instead let them figure it out on their own while offering guidance when needed. The thought encouraged Jeremy because it meant the man trusted him to learn, adapt, and overcome. When Jeremy resumed walking, there was more confidence in his footsteps. While not perfect, it was definitely a start.
For the first few days, it was nothing but basic tasks like walking, speaking, using additional functions his new body possessed. It was standard AI-testing routine; though, Jeremy had to admit he still had to get used to all his new capabilities. The plan was to slowly introduce him to the essentials of running the facility through a variety of simulations before hooking him up the main mechanism in the central chamber. Even then the machine—dubbed the Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor—would only be able to control a small fraction of the facility until the scientists gradually gave the teen more and more access to the facility and its systems. Jeremy wouldn’t lie in saying that he was afraid of messing something up, but he was thankful for the slow process and caution they put into this whole project. However, with a process so intricately planned, it was only natural for something to go wrong. In this case, it came in the form of Jeremy’s dad.
It began with one of the scientists bolting into the testing area, her appearance thrown into disarray as she had clearly run a far distance in a short amount of time. The sudden interruption garnered her the attention of everyone in the room, “Sir! Sir!” She desperately cried as she bolted over to Erik in her panicked state. When she stopped, she took a few desperate breaths, “I-It’s Mr. Heere…he’s here, sir.”
The color bled off of Jeremy’s skin as his body rattled with tremors and the teen found himself hyperventilating. Without missing a beat, Erik set his hands on the teen’s should, “Jeremy, look at me.” He commanded with his signature composure, “I know you’re scared right now, but we need to keep focused and stick to the plan. I’ll stall for time. You stay here and practice what you’re going to say.” Without another word, Erik barked a few commands at the scientists and sped walked out of the room.
Paul was aimlessly wandering around the facility when Erik finally found him. It was clear he had no idea where he was going as he stood in the middle of a hall, his hefty figure hunched over a simple looking cane. It really wasn’t surprising that the man was lost. The Aperture the man knew was far below their feet and what was left had been refurbished to the point was unrecognizable. Everything was clean and sleek unlike the rustic charm of the old facility. Erik had to admit he missed the old facility in some regards, but it was more for nostalgia’s sake. While the memories of Aperture developing and expanding from its humble beginnings was sweet, bold strokes were what would keep the company afloat. The past was gone, this was the future. Erik slowed down his pace and fixed his appearance to make it seem like he hadn’t just made his way across the entire facility in 10 minutes. It took a minute for Paul to notice his old business partner coming to greet him.
“Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.” Paul greeted as they both briefly side hugged as two friends often do.
“I presume that’s quite literally in your case. I heard from Jeremy your sight is starting to go as well.” Erik smugly returned.
Paul heartily laughed, “You aren’t wrong. It seems like the only thing I still have is my sense of humor. Anyway, I know my visit is on short notice and the doctors told me to stay, but I couldn’t stand being in that hospital another minute and went ahead and checked myself out. The way I see it, I’m sick now and I’ll be sick in the future. I’d rather be out and about than staying in bed all day bored out of my mind.”
“Well this definitely throws a wrench into the betting pool.” Erik commented. It was true that Aperture employees had put together a betting pool about their former boss. Some had said Mr. Heere would attempt to sneak out of the hospital, some said he’d simply walk out without telling anyone, some said nothing would happen among a few other very radical predictions, but no one participating had even entertained the thought the man would simply check himself out. Clearly it was going to be very interesting to see how the participants would react when news goes around.
“They were betting on me?” Good men!” Paul exclaimed before finding himself having a coughing fit. With a shaking hand, the man dug into his pocket and dug out a bottle of pills and swallowed a couple pills. Not long after, the coughing subsided, “Where’s Jeremy, by the way? I tried asking people, but they say they haven’t seen him.”
“Jeremy is wrapped up in a test at the moment. I can bring you down to him if you would like. He should be done by now.” Erik smoothly replied before gesturing to Paul to follow as he walked back down the hallway he had come from.
“Jeremy? Testing?” Paul asked as he rushed to keep up with some minor difficulty, his eyes gleamed with shock and worry. Paul knew better than anyone how badly Aperture tests could go.
Erik did not look back or slow down as he reached into his suit jacket, pulled out a folded piece of paper from the inner pocket, and handed it to Paul, “It was determined he was the best candidate for this particular experiment. You should be proud of him. It took a lot of courage for him to do this.”
Paul unfolded the piece of paper. It was a waiver all test subjects had to sign before the experiment(s) could begin. Glancing over all the legal text, his eyes scrolled to the bottom where his son’s name was scribbled on the dotted line. For some reason, seeing this reminded the old man how much his son had grown in such a short amount of time. It seemed like yesterday Jeremy was eight years old and befriending CHRISTINE behind the scientists’ backs, completely ruining the data they had collected. It brought a small smile to the old man’s face, “I’m always proud of him.”
It was a long walk down to the secluded area of the facility where Jeremy was being held while the preliminary tests were conducted. When Erik finally reached the room, he stopped in the middle. The area had been prepared exactly as per Erik’s instructions: dark shadows edging the back of the room while everything else was lit normally. He said nothing as Paul finally caught up with him, who was heaving heavily by that time.
“Couldn’t you have slowed down a little?” Paul asked as his breathing started to even out.
“I was walking slow. You just couldn’t keep up.” Erik bluntly replied, not a speck of remorse on his face.
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s all make fun of the old man here.”
Erik chuckled, “It’s not my fault you’re such an easy target.”
Paul laughed as well, “It’s no wonder where Jeremy got his sarcasm from. You’re corrupting him.”
“I prefer it to call it educating.” Erik looked at the shadows draped against wall. It was now or never, and there was no delaying the inevitable, “Speaking of whom. Jeremy, why don’t you come out of there?”
Two glowing blue irises pierced through the darkness and then a foot stepped out. Slowly, a form pulled itself out of the shadows and made his presence known. Jeremy’s movement was confident, but his posture and expression were as clear as day. He made no attempt to move closer, allowing his father to process his new form without overwhelming him any further.
“Hi dad.” Jeremy shyly greeted. Immediately his dad’s cane slipped from his stiffened grip, his body wrecked with tremors and expression set in a horrified expression. Immediately, Jeremy tried to offer reassurance, “Dad, i-it’s ok. It’s me.” Jeremy cautiously moved forward as if approaching a startled animal, his wires dragging on the floor behind him, “I know this is shocking, surprising, and probably a million other adjectives, b-but it’s still me.” His father’s expression did not change while his body remained as stiff as stone. Jeremy tried again, desperately wanting to reach out to his father, “R-Remember that time with the propulsion gel in t-the break room? When the scientists told you w-what happened, you told me I was grounded for a month, but as soon as they left you took me out for ice cream instead. Remember that silly little song you used to sing to me when I was little?” I promise I’m still your little Jer-bear.” The use of his old nickname felt childish on his tongue, but he hoped it would break the man’s trance.
Paul’s expression trembled as it fell, but his eyes never parted from his son’s new form, “What did you do to him, Erik?”
“What did I do to him?” Erik’s voice raised drastically, clearly offended by Paul’s accusations. The man pointed at Jeremy, “Your son is the one who insisted on being the subject! I tried to dissuade him, but he wouldn’t drop it!”
Paul’s skin began to pale to an unnatural light blue tone. It seemed neither of the men took note of this, but Jeremy did. The teen’s breath hitched as he feared what would happen if the situation didn’t deescalate and fast. His father was in a fit of madness, “You’re lying. That signature was forged! You forced him to sign it!”” Paul adamantly denied.
“Dad, he isn’t lying.” Jeremy’s plea was ignored as his dad finally turned to Erik. It was almost as if he wasn’t even there.
“I trusted you to take care of him! You gave me your word!” Paul yelled.
“Dad, listen to me!” Jeremy was ignored once again.
“When I explained the project to him, I merely wanted a second opinion and further discuss its possibilities, I did not ask him to offer himself up! This was his choice!” Erik sharply barked, his eyes honed to a glare. His movement was minimalistic, but one could easily see the cracks in his patience form as the argument continued to escalate.
Jeremy said nothing knowing his voice was only a whisper in a maelstrom of fury. He didn’t know what else to do and resided to hugging himself in a meager attempt to bring himself a wisp of comfort. Memories of his mom and dad fighting played in his mind. He remembered how helpless he was then too. Many hours were spent cowering under the covers of his bed to try and block it all out, to forget it all. It didn’t work then either. He just wanted this to stop, he wanted to hide, but he couldn’t move.
“You took everything away from him! His future! His ambition! His plans!” Paul’s arms moved wildly as his gestures punctuated his speech.
And just like that, Erik’s restraint vanished.
“He sacrificed himself to save our company after you decided to throw money at any project thrown on your desk, almost bankrupted Aperture, and tarnishing its name! And why did this happen? All because you couldn’t muster a single spec of logic after your wife left!”
The room fell as silent as death. Erik’s chest rose and fell in his anger, the words he had been holding back for three years finally spoken. Erik’s anger faded to regret once he processed what he had said in his blind rage. It seemed only then did the man notice the deep blue tone brushed on Paul’s skin. Whatever happened next would not be good.
A couple tears pooled in Paul’s eyes, which he simply wiped away with a weary look in his eyes, “Irrational, huh?” Paul snapped his fingers and immediately four scientists were at his beck and call. It was clear where their loyalties laid. Erik may’ve been President and CEO, but Paul was the one who wrote the paycheck, “If you really want to save this company, then why don’t you help as well.”
Before Jeremy or Erik could process what that meant, the scientists seized Erik’s arms and began pulling him out of the room as the man fought to keep them off of him—a futile effort, “You’re going to pay for this! I’ll make sure of that!” Erik snarled.
It was at this moment Jeremy found himself finally able to move, a sense of duty burning within. Looking around, he spotted an open panel and bolted to it. The second he got in range, he pressed the button that closed and sealed the door, “No!” Jeremy cried, his voice rang out loudly as his dad looked at him with an unreadable expression. For the first time in the teen’s life did it feel like his voice was properly heard, and Jeremy couldn’t deny the pain that it had to happen on this occasion, “I won’t let you do this. The procedure can’t be performed on an unwilling test subject. Mental resistance conflicts with the procedure, corrupting the product as the mind fights against it. Erik isn’t lying. I chose this, and those scientists know it too. If you can’t accept that then…then…” In a moment of raw frustration and desperation he blurted out something he didn’t really mean, “Then you just lost your son!” Jeremy’s voice echoed around him, the reverb powerful and strong. Despite the anger and steady expression, he wanted to cry, but he couldn’t anymore. Water would short circuit his mechanisms, Erik had explained. All he could feel was the phantom stinging in his eyes. He never thought crying was something he would miss.
Only as those words were spoken did everything seemingly freeze. There was no movement from anyone in the room as they attempted to comprehend what Jeremy had bellowed out to the world. It was only briefly broken when Erik took the opportunity to break free only to be pinned to the ground and sedated with a syringe one of the scientists had apparently been carrying. It was almost as if they had expected something like this to happen. Jeremy’s determination faltered briefly as he saw this happen, but he remained firm in his position as he stared down his father. His father looked absolutely heartbroken, yet he still began to slowly approach his son. Jeremy took a step back in an attempt to better guard the panel. When they were finally face-to-face, the sorrow his father possessed made Jeremy’s metaphorical stomach churn uneasily. Before Jeremy knew it, he was being hugged, his shirt quickly becoming spotted with tears. Jeremy’s resistance melted away as he hugged back.
“Dad, please don’t do this. Listen to me for once.” Jeremy desperately begged, voice cracking under the desperation he was trying so hard to convey.
“Shh…” Paul soothed as he rubbed his son’s back as he used to when Jeremy was upset, “Everything’s going to be alright. We’re going to fix this. You hear me?”
“Wait, what?” Before Jeremy could answer, his body slowly stopped working. His legs failed first as he collapsed in his dad’s arms, his arms fell limp at his side, and the feeling of nothing was quickly spreading throughout the rest of his body. Jeremy caught the glimpse of the fifth scientist standing behind him and the sight of the panel at the back of his neck open. Void began to swallow his vision and with the last of his strength he said, “I guess that was too much to ask, wasn’t it?” He choked out with a small grin on his face. The last words he ever said to his father.
Chapter 26: The Pictures (Announcement)
This is not the chapter you were looking for. Hey guys its Totebag, no new chapter this week or the next few weeks. I have the whole story planned out, but I need a bit more time to write and edit it. Writing block has been a pain lately and I have fallen behind on my writing schedule. This isn't an excuse, this is an explanation. I'm sorry, but I didn't want to force myself to write a chapter that I wasn't happy with to meet my deadline. I prefer quality over quantity so please forgive my small hiatus. I didn't want to leave you guys without notice. However, to make up for the fact that there will be no new chapters, I drew a few pictures and a one-shot planned that will be posted over the next couple weeks. Hopefully these offerings will appease you guys. The pictures aren't da Vinci, but my art program is evil (it keeps hissing at me), so they're hand-drawn. Thank you for your patience; you have no idea how much I appreciate your support. I know I'm not the most vocal person who writes paragraphs in the beginning and end of every chapter in the notes, but I do read every comment (even if I don't respond all the time) and I do appreciate all the kudos. if you have questions about the story, feel free to ask.
Thank you again, Totebag.
Chapter 27: The Pictures Part 2
Hey guys I'm still working on the story, but I drew a few more pictures for you. I may make a few more next week but we'll see. Hope you enjoy :).
Edit: I made 2 more pictures for you guys :)
Chapter 28: The Christineing (Bonus Chapter)
Hey guy's, so this is a one shot that I wrote over the course of around a month as a break from the main plot. I've had this idea for a while now but haven't had the chance to post it until now. The hiatus is still on going but I wanted to give you guys one more thing before leaving for a bit. I'm sorry for getting your hopes up for another chapter but these new chapters may take a while, so please enjoy this little short story I made as an apology. It is a prequel though, so for context: Aperture is still up and running and Jeremy is around eight.
As a robot, CHRISTINE couldn’t exactly die in the way humans did; she could run out of power, but she was always well-charged; something could break, but it would always be quickly fixed. However, there was a time when she would say she was close to “dying”. It was an early November morning, and it was uncannily calm in Aperture. By then, there would usually be an explosion, disaster, or general mayhem to spice up the day. Without it, the day felt slow. Sure, she was stuck in her testing chamber when they happened, but she felt the scientists’ boredom and it simply wasn’t Aperture without a dash of discord once in a while. All day she had watched mechanics and scientists come in and out of the room, never paying her any mind. Their expressions were weary and blank, movements practiced and precise without so much of an attempt of conversation between them. Sometimes they would take a few files or boxes, sometimes they would be surveying the room with a clipboard and pen in hand, but mostly they were dismantling. All the machines and control panels that filled the dull room were gradually removed with nothing taking their place. She was tempted to ask what was going on, but the words never left the tip of her tongue. When it came to the employees, she learned quickly never to speak out of turn, give them what they expected. It was something she learned quickly after her attempt at showing them her acting capabilities.
The last few employees slowly bled out of the now-empty room, leaving her to her thoughts. For a while, she kept expecting someone to come, but they were empty expectations. Temptation gnawed at her to just leave while no one was looking, but her programming prevented her from acting upon her desire. Instead, she unplugged herself from the wall and started to recite some Shakespearean monologues to pass the time. Proudly, she bellowed the coveted words, but then she was back to being bored. Faintly from the hall, she heard the clacking of footsteps drawing near. Immediately, she assumed her default position just as a lone scientist entered the room and began surveying the room as many before him did, occasionally writing something down on a fairly used clipboard. After casting a sideways glance, a small sneer grew on his face as she was finally acknowledged. Like most of the people who came into her chamber, she did not recognize him, but he wore a persistent angry scowl that put her on edge. He walked closer to her, eyes honed and sharp as a blade despite the large bags under them.
“Hmm…” The man lazily hummed as he keenly observed her, occasionally moving around one of her limbs or head, “Surprised you’re still up. Must’ve forgotten about you while taking care of the other equipment. Makes me wonder what we’re paying them for.” He seemed to mainly talking to himself than her, which she found extremely rude, “You really are an archaic thing, aren’t you? Mechanisms are stiff and haven’t been properly maintained, but not unsalvageable.”
She cocked her head to the side, “Excuse me?” It was hard to mask her offense.
The scientist gave an annoyed sigh, “Project’s being shut down. Starting over, or something like that. Probably want to create something more useful than a basic learning AI, not that I blame them. Seems like they got all they needed from you. Actually, I take that back. They may use some of your parts for the new one.”
Suddenly her chest felt heavy, limbs weak and malleable as she stared up at her mortality. She really should’ve expected this, but she supposed a part of her hoped that they were moving her somewhere else—a childish hope in hindsight. Her life from the moment she was activated was not her own. It was the scientists’. It was only a matter of time, but this was so soon.
Slowly, CHRISTINE clutched her left forearm and held it close to her to protect the control panel underneath, “But I don’t want to be shut down.” She softly protested.
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to be here. Life’s tough all over.” The scientist retorted.
CHRISTINE slowly backed away from the man like a cornered animal, her code screaming at her to cease and desist, but she ignored it, even as the need to obey etched at her mind. She didn’t want this. Jeremy had taught her that she was more than all her protocols and expectations. It was funny. She didn’t expect the tiny being to become so important to her when he first snuck into her room 10 months ago, acting as if she were the most amazing thing in world with eyes bright and energy seemingly endless. Strangely enough, it was the memory of that day that strengthen her resolve:
The hiss of the door unlocking dragged her attention upwards, but when the doors parted no one was there. Strange. However, after a moment a scruffy-looking child poked his head in and looked around for a moment entering. He stood in front of her, mouth agape and lapis eyes alight with awe and wonder. She looked at him curiously, but did not interact. Whoever he was, it was clear he should not be here as he was not listed in any of her employee data-banks.
“Whoa…” He finally said, “I knew dad said you were finally done, but this is amazing!” Still CHRISTINE did not respond, which seemed to disappoint the child, “Hello?” He asked cautiously, obviously worried by her silence.
Though she did not know this child, it would not hurt to talk to him, “Hello.” She curtly responded.
The child sharply gasped in excitement, making CHRISTINE worried that she broke him, “You really do work!” He exclaimed, “Oh, right. I should probably introduce myself. My name’s Jeremy—well, technically it’s Jeremiah, but I don’t really like that name. What’s yours?”
“My name is Charismatic Human Robot Invented Solely to Test Invented Neural Emitters, but you may call me CHRISTINE.” She answered in a default tone.
“I know I’m not supposed to be here, but I just had to see you.” Jeremy admitted.
This confused CHRISTINE, “Why must you see me? It seems like you are putting yourself at risk to do so. It does not make sense.”
“Why wouldn’t I? You’re so cool! I mean just look at you!” He proclaimed with a toothy grin, which was a slight oxymoron since he was missing a few teeth. Despite the strange request, she obeyed, seeing nothing that would stir such an expressive reaction. Suddenly that excitement melted to horror, “You’re not going to tell them, are you?” By “them”, she presumed he meant the scientists, “Please don’t tell them. My dad will kill me if he finds out.” He pleaded.
She felt conflicted. This should be reported to her moderators, but Jeremy’s actions were so innocent. She supposed it wouldn’t hurt to feign naivety on the matter if they were to ask, “I do not have to tell anyone if that is what you ask.” She reassured the distraught child.
Instantly the spark in his eyes returned, “Really?” Before she knew it, she was being hugged, “Thank you, CHRISTINE! You really are the best! I’m going to visit you all the time, I promise.”
A foreign warmth budded in her chest as she was riddled speechless by the affection—happiness, she figured. Though a strange feeling, it felt…nice. For the first time in her short existence, she genuinely smiled as she slowly and awkwardly returned the hug ever gently.
Speaking of the devil, it was at that moment a small clang was heard, dragging both her and the scientist’s attention to the adjacent wall where the door to the vent closest to the ground fell open. There was nothing for a moment until an ever-small and scrawny Jeremy began to crawl out with some difficulty—a strangely adorable sight. Despite how often he did this, the eight-year-old lacked upper body strength, so it was taking him a while to get himself out of there, “CHRISSY, I know I’m late, but you wouldn’t believe what I saw!” However, that initial gravitas vanished once he pulled himself onto his feet and saw what was going on. His face fell, “W-what’s going on?”
CHIRSTINE was horrified. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t see this, “I’m fine, Jeremy. Really-” She wore a faux smile even though its manufactured nature betrayed her.
The scientist swiftly interrupted her, “You shouldn’t be here. Go!” He sharply ordered.
Jeremy looked taken aback by the scientist’s tone, but he stood his ground while mustering up the bravest face he could, “Leave CHRISSY alone.” He demanded as he ran between the two, trying his best to protect her.
“This doesn’t concern you.” The scientist warned, patience wearing ever thin, “She is scheduled to be shut down today, and I am going to make sure that happens!”
“What?” He squeaked, tears pricking his eyes like thorns while a distinct red began to burnish his skin.
It hurt CHRISTINE that he knew the truth. In an act of comfort, she rested a hand on his shoulder, “Jeremy. Please listen. I can handle this.” She falsely promised. Maybe it was greedy of her to lie to him, but she couldn’t stand to see him upset, especially when it would be one of her last memories of him. It was at that moment she realized her mistake. She had shown affection, attachment, something she shouldn’t be able to do. Sure, occasionally acting out was strange to the scientists, but this was different. It was easy to act apathetic towards the scientists, but she simply couldn’t with Jeremy. He was Jeremy.
“Get behind me.” The scientist instructed with a serious composure, grabbing Jeremy’s wrist and swinging the boy behind him protectively.
Despite the good intent, Jeremy didn’t appreciate the gesture as he desperately tried to pull himself free, his shoes sliding, squeaking, and sliding against the tiled floor, “Let me go!” He demanded, the situation doing nothing to calm him down. The futile struggle produced a fountain of tears as he heavily wept. Then, he stretched out his free arm towards her, “CHRISSY!” He cried.
Before she realized what she had done, her hand was around the hand that held Jeremy firmly in place, a point of no return.; however, she didn’t fear the repercussions of her actions. Her friend needed her, “I believe the proper response is to obey his request.” The was a smidgen of satisfaction rebuking the man in such a way.
She easily pried the scientist’s hand from Jeremy’s twig-like wrist, shooting the man a glare that rivaled Medusa. The moment Jeremy was free, he clung to her for dear life, tears quickly bled into her shirt as he sobbed his little heart out. CHRISTINE gently lifted the frail-hearted child into her arms and pet his tumbleweed hair in an attempt to calm him. Like a mother, she softly shushed him and held him closer to which he continued to mumble unintelligibly into her shoulder.
“Put him down!” The scientist swiftly ordered as if she were some kind of dog.
By then her code was screaming at her to just stop, but still she ignored it. Her sole objective in that moment was to calm Jeremy down, and she would. With no other option, she ran.
The world blurred around her as she sped through the facility, rushing through passing employees, stepping over any furniture in her way, and not stopping for a moment. She looked briefly at the bundle in her arms, chest aching at the sight. She didn’t know what to do now that she had gotten this far. Maybe his dad could calm him down. Still, that would mean they would have to make it to his office before the new spread, which, knowing Aperture, didn’t give her much time at all. She could already hear the clomping of boots behind her and calls for aid muffled by a somber distance. Luckily, she had a master key to the facility in her arms.
“It’s alright, Jeremy. You’re safe.” She reassured, “I’m going to take you to your dad, but I’m going to need you to help me, ok? Can you do that?”
She felt Jeremy nod into her shoulder, his heartfelt sobs had simmered down to a dull whimpering, but still he clung to her like a life line, a powerful trust woven in his tight grip. Immediately he began mumbling directions to her, which she followed without question. This quickly led her to one of the lower office areas, which was hard to navigate through with all the people around, but somehow she managed to weave herself around the innocent bystanders. She still had no idea how many people were chasing her by then, but it was safe to assume it was a lot. Just as she turned a corner, two heavier set men stood in front of the only other exit out of this office area. It quickly became clear she wouldn’t be able to simply plow through them the second the came into view, so she skidded to a complete stop and no doubt streaking the floor as a result. It was only then did they approach, the wires of electricity tangled at the top of their stun batons creating a sickening glow against the walls. With no other choice, she began to back up, even with the stomping of her pursuers drumming louder and louder. Then she felt a sharp tug on her jacket, and when she looked down at Jeremy, he was pointing to a hallway to her right.
“There.” He firmly instructed, his voice slightly hoarse from his strained throat.
She looked at the hall strangely for a moment. Her internal map dictated a series of dead ends in that direction, but she immediately brushed those thoughts aside as she rushed in. From there Jeremy kept feeding her instructions as she navigated the literal maze that was Aperture’s hallways, which led her to a dead-end. The walls were blank, metal, and unfinished, but several shapes and lines were deeply engraved in it—something long abandoned, no doubt. Jeremy made no comment as he gingerly pressed a small square cut into the adjacent wall, which caused a small number pad to pop out. Jeremy’s hand swiftly danced across the number pad as he inputted a series of numbers: 43985983479. The panel retracted and the wall hissed, metal against metal loudly screeched as the large gash in the wall parted, revealing a massive, rusted stairwell. Wasting no time, she ran through the doorway just as shuttered closed behind her with a sickening stutter. Though safe of those chasing her behind the sealed door, she had to make it to Mr. Heere’s office before he was notified of the situation.
After ascending several floors, she cautiously poked her head through the doorway, scanning the barren hallway for anyone that may be looking for her. From where she was, it was a straight shot to Mr. Heere’s office. Though she had gained significant distance from her pursuers, there was no such thing as being too cautious in a situation like this. Deciding the coast was clear, she slowly crept out of her hiding space before dashing the last leg of the journey. Hopes were rising when the polished tile under her feet transitioned to an autumn-red carpet. However, in her rush forgot to slow down and accidentally rammed the door open, which produced a cacophonous “BANG!” as it sharply hit the wall. Mr. Heere visibly jumped in his seat before turning to face the duo, hand clutching his heart.
“Slow down, slugger. I ain’t getting any younger, you know.” It was at that moment he realized who he was talking to. His eyes widened for a brief moment before his face fell to concern when he saw his clearly upset son, “What…what’s going on?”
CHRISTINE didn’t answer. Instead, she gingerly set Jeremy down, who immediately stumbled over to his dad and clung to his arm, “Please don’t let them shut her down. Please, dad. She’s my friend, a-and I know I wasn’t supposed to, but please don’t let them.” His rhetoric was broken by desperate grasps, yet it didn’t take away from the passion he held.
Mr. Heere slowly pet his son’s hair, “Easy now, private. You gotta calm down ‘cus I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
CHRISTINE opened her mouth to speak, but she was interrupted by the arrival of a very exhausted looking scientist, “Sir, there’s an emergency downstairs.” She took a deep breath, “The CHRISTINE unit, s-she went all haywire. She ran off. She took Jeremy. They tried to catch her, but they lost her and-“ It was then the young scientist noticed CHRISTINE next to her, “Gah!” She cried, stumbling back slightly.
CHRISTINE felt bad since the young scientist was clearly only a messenger. Not knowing how else to respond, she waved at her.
With a tired sigh, Mr. Heere dragged his microphone closer to the and spoke, “To those looking for the AI CHRISTINE, go back to your posts. The situation is under control. I repeat, the situation is under control.”
After the announcement was made, the young scientist teetered in her spot, visibly debating whether or not to leave, but then Mr. Heere turned to her and she immediately stood as straight as a line, “Stay.” Mr. Heere instructed, “I want someone else to witness this.” With that, he beckoned CHRISTINE closer.
CHRISTINE obeyed without hesitation, “Yes, sir?” She asked.
“Why did you bring Jeremy here?” Mr. Heere spoke low with a serious tone, almost as if he were anticipating something to happen.
“Sir, I highly advise against this-“ The young scientist attempted to interject, but Mr. Heere rose a hand to her and she immediately held her tongue.
“It’s obvious to me that something happened downstairs that made Jeremy upset. Everyone’s jumping to conclusions that she up and kidnapped Jeremy, but nobody’s asking why it happened in the first place, so I am.” He lightly scolded the scientist, yet his gaze didn’t falter from the AI in front of him.
This was surprising to CHRISTINE, and maybe even a bit flattering. She wasn’t used to people other than Jeremy asking for her perspective, “Jeremy was upset, and as his friend I found it necessary to help him.” She answered simply.
Mr. Heere arched a brow at this, “Friend?”
If CHRISTINE was capable of blushing, she would be, “He’s been…visiting me while the scientists were gone, talking with me and taking to the park. He’s really sweet.”
The man glanced at his son in a contemplating manner, “Well, this would certainly explain all of the stories I heard about you: quoting Shakespeare, asking strange questions, and all that.”
Jeremy returned a wide smile as if that would get him out of trouble for compromising a few hundred thousand dollars experiment. To give him some credit, he was cute and very smart for using it to his advantage.
“As you probably know,” CHRISTINE continued, “I am scheduled to be deactivated today. Jeremy interfered, but when I tried to calm him down, the scientist viewed my actions as concerning and pulled him away. Then he began to cry to let go…crying for me to help…I had to protect him, get him out of there. This was the best place to bring him.”
When she finally said her peace, she stood tall (well, as tall as she could make herself). Even if the man disapproved of her actions, she had no shame and would accept her punishment with pride. However, it came as a surprise when Mr. Heere barked out a warm laugh.
“I like this one!” He declared, “She has a good head on her shoulders!”
“D-does this mean isn’t going to go away?” Jeremy cautiously asked.
Mr. Heere ruffled his son’s head roughly, “Of course not.” He pulled a couple sheets of paper in front of him and pointed his pen at the young scientist, “I want you to do something for me.” He said before beginning to write something down, “Tell the boys in charge of CHRISTINE the news; tell them she’ll be used to see how an AI develops independently of its creators. I also want you to go tell the people developing the new AI not to modify any code they took from CHRISTINE. I want him to be as smart as this one right here.”
“Sir, the new AI is a walking fire starter. Is this really such a good idea? If he acts out-“
The young scientist was quickly dismissed when Mr. Heere interrupted her, “Jeremy did a fine job with CHRISTINE, I’m sure he’ll do the same with the new one.”
“Really!?” Jeremy exclaimed, his voice sharply cracking in his excitement, “Can I visit JENNA too?” He was definitely trying to push his luck. Jeremy always said he always wanted to visit her, but couldn’t since she was always being supervised.
“You really are like your mother, you know that?” Jeremy gave a cheeky grin as his dad debated the idea in his head, “Alright, but only when she isn’t busy.”
“Yes!” Jeremy hugged his dad’s side as tight as he could, which…admittedly wasn’t saying much, “Thank you!”
Mr. Heere handed the young scientist one of the papers, and she left without a word to carry out her orders. CHRISTINE couldn’t see what was written on it, but she knew whatever it was was to be taken seriously. Usually JENNA was in charge of distributing messages to the different areas of the facility, so for it to be written and hand-delivered made it very important.
Just like that, it was only the three of them left, which gave her a few moments to contemplate her emotions towards these recent developments. She was elated, confused, and perhaps a bit scared. While she always wanted to be able to do as she pleased, she didn’t know what to do not that she had it. Jeremy would often ask her what she wanted to do whenever they hung out, but this…this was different.
Before she could ponder the matter further, Mr. Heere handed her the other sheet of paper, “Here. Just in case anyone gives you any trouble. Just don’t go wandering out of the facility, alright? “ He chuckled lightly, “This also means Jeremy can’t sneak you out whenever he wants. He’s going to need permission from now on. Right, Jeremy?”
“Yes, dad.” Jeremy responded in a monotone manner.
She took the paper and turned it so she could read it:
November 16, 1975,
As of this date, it it to be declared that the AI personality CHRISTINE has been given access the Aperture facility as she sees fit. Any personal who attempts to shut this unit down will be fired immediately.
She could feel her body shake and clack as she read it. She felt so happy, “I-I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve already done enough for me. I knew Jeremy seemed happier these last few months, and now I know why.” Just as he said that, Jeremy broke away and jumped into her arms, “Maybe now he’ll stay out of trouble.”
CHRISTINE laughed at that, “I don’t think that’s possible, sir.”
“Eh. You’re right.” Mr. Heere admittedly, “Now, I know you two want to go gallivanting off somewhere, but you might want to wait here for the heat to die down. In the meantime, I want to know how exactly Jeremy managed to get you past my security so easily.”
Just like that, CHRISTINE was given new life, new purpose. Though there would be some adjusting as she got used to her newly-gained independence, she knew she would figure it out. After all, she had Jeremy and, in time, other AI like her, so what could go wrong?