That was not her bedroom ceiling.
Sitting up, she found she was in some kind of infirmary bed-capsule...thing. It immediately reminded her of Hollow Earth. Except, she appeared to be in the SHU. Kate stood and nearly slipped on the strange mechanical contraptions strapped to her legs. They looked like something Henry was trying to make some kind of stilts? Was this all a short joke? Why was she wearing this orange jumpsuit? Where was everyone? Why was there a suspiciously counting clock on the wall?
Why wouldn't someone turn off the damn radio?
Kate froze. "Doc?"
"Welcome to the Sanctuary Enrichment Center." Something was...wrong with her voice. Kinda like someone had recorded Magnus speaking and was sewing the words together, like those computer voices on automated systems.
Kate looked around. It really was like the SHU but...not. "We remodel recently?" she asked the disembodied voice of her boss.
"We hope your brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one. Your specimen has been processed and we are now ready to begin the test proper."
"Test?" Kate asked, looking around.
The voice continued on, uncaring or unaware she'd spoken. "Before we start, however, keep in mind that although fun and learning are the primary goals of the enrichment center activities, serious injuries may occur."
"For your own safety, and the safety of others, please refrain from-" The recording cut off, dissolving into static.
The door opened with a heavy clank and a musical chime. Kate got to her feet and peered into the dark corridor. Lights came on, each with a sound as if some sort of switch was being thrown. There were no other exits and this...was not the Sanctuary she knew.
"Magnus?" she called out, carefully stepping down the hallway. "Foss? Big Guy?"
The door at the end of the hall was of heavy brass. It clanked aside on pistons and gears.
"Please proceed into the Testing Chamber."
Seeing no other choice Kate entered the room. It looked like a basic SHU vault; one with no biome set up inside. The walls were grey concrete with heavy iron supports, the floor the same as the walls. There was an observation window high up on one wall. Kate peered at it as she entered the room. Was there movement beyond the glass?
"Haha. Really funny guys," she called out. "Come on who'd up there. Hank? Will?"
Silence. The dark window and whatever observers gave no answers.
Suddenly, the floor in the center of the room opened up and Kate jumped back. On a pedestal was a strange looking gun. Definitely something Hank would have made. It was, oblong shaped and steel with brass and gunmetal accents. The riveted case gleamed in the low light, and a heavy coil around a glowing element in the barrel cast blue glow on the floor.
The gun swiveled to Kate's left and fired at the wall. Just as fast it was turned around and fired again.
"Woah! Hey! Friendly fire!" Kate said, dodging out of the perceived danger.
The gun whirred on the gimbal and locked into place with a heavy thunk.
On the left wall was an orange ringed portal, on the right a blue. Kate peered into the portal and saw herself peering into it as if there was a camera on the other side of the room. She waved her hand and the image in the portal did as well. She turned around and saw the opposite view in the opposite portal. And the portal looked...remarkably like an actual hole in the wall. Kate wondered how they were doing the projection and reached out to touch the wall, only to have her hand pass through.
"Oh shit!" she exclaimed, looking at the other side of the room where her hand stuck out. She quickly pulled it back.
She looked at the device on the stand then picked it up before she could talk herself out of it.
"Very good," the disembodied and metallic voice of Magnus said. "You are now in possession of the Sanctuary's Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. With it, you can create your own portals."
"These inter-dimensional gates have proven to be completely safe."
"Okay," she said drawing the word out.
"The device, however, has not."
"Do not touch the operational end of the device. Do not look directly at the operational end
of the device. Do not submerge the device in liquid, even partially. Most importantly, under no circumstances should you-"
"Do not taunt happy fun ball," Kate drawled.
A wall she'd thought solid, moved on clanking gears and pistons, becoming a floor and revealing another corridor with a pit. Across the way was an open door.
"Please proceed to the chamber-lock. Mind the gap."
Rolling her eyes Kate hefted the gun. Clearly she was supposed to use it, so why not. She fired the gun and placed the orange portal near her then sighted across the chasm and found she could fire the blue portal as well. Then it was a simple matter of walking into one and stepping out the other. Freaky. Cool, but freaky.
"The Sanctuary Network is committed to the well being of all participants, Humans and Abnormal alike. Cake and grief counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test. Thank you for helping us help you help us all. "
"Whatever," Kate muttered looking for the exit. She grinned, seeing the elevator. Stepping inside she hit the button for the ground floor and studied the gun. The elevator dutifully shuddered to life as it always did, but didn't stop when she expected it to. The main lab and SHU levels weren't this far away. Hell, even the lowest level wasn't a long elevator ride, even on this ancient thing. The elevator slowed to a stop.Wary, Kate hefted the gun. Maybe she could drop someone on their head or something. Or hit them upside the head.
Warily, Kate stepped into the next hallway, which didn't resemble anything she'd seen in the Sanctuary before. The walls matched the lower levels, but this was nowhere Kate had ever been. None of the rooms below ground ended in the soft wood and plaster that the upper levels did. Nor were any of those rooms three stories tall.
"Once again, excellent work. As part of a required test protocol, we will not monitor the next test chamber. You will be entirely on your own. Good luck."
Looking around, suspicious and beginning to become a bit more than freaked out, Kate eventually solved what appeared to be a puzzle on how to get to a door high up on a platform. By flinging herself through parallel portals until she built up enough speed she could fire the gun and get tossed out and up to the platform as if shot by a canon.
"Spectacular. You appear to understand how a portal affects forward momentum, or to be more precise, how it does not."
Bruised and annoyed Kate glared up at the ceiling. "Seriously, what the hell!"
The voice over continued, unabated. "Momentum; A function of mass and velocity; is conserved between portals. In layman's terms: Speedy-thing goes in, Speedy-thing comes out."
A door shuddered open and Kate dashed through. She ended up in what looked like a normal upper-floor corridor...except for the lack of windows or any adornment at all, really. She expected some kid to come riding down on a trike next.
"As part of a required test protocol, our previous statement suggesting that we would not monitor this chamber was an outright fabrication. Good job. As part of a required test protocol, we will stop enhancing the truth in three, two, o--" the voice cut out with an ear-splitting shriek of static and interference.
The door behind Kate clunked closed with disturbing finality. Kate pounded on it but it was solid. The wood appeared to be unable to make the neat portals so she couldn't escape backwards either. Unable to go back, she went forward, ending up in a disturbingly sterile little alcove at the end of the more organic wood-paneled hall. The door clunked open, revealing a heavy glass viewing platform. There was brown sludge on the floor below.
"The Sanctuary Enrichment Center promises to always provide a safe testing environment. In dangerous testing environments, the Sanctuary Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it. "
Kate gave the room beyond the glass a flat look, shoulder's slumping. "What."
"Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record, followed by death."
"WHAT?" Kate looked around, trying to find who or what might be viewing her. How the hell had she come to be here in the first place? Was she dead? Was this hell? "Seriously! What is going on here?"
"As part of a previously mentioned required test protocol, we can no longer lie to you. When the testing is over, you will be . . . missed."
"Fuck my life," Kate muttered.
There was a rumbling in the distance. Kate waited to see what else would happen but there was nothing. After another five minutes of waiting Kate went about trying to resolve the puzzle. The fumes from the floor of goop were disgusting and acrid and she had no desire to touch it even if she hadn't been warned off by Robo-Magnus.
It took some doing but she managed to cross the room and unlock the door and not die horribly. Panting in a heap on the other side, the room shook and shuddered again. Kate braced herself against the wall and got back to her feet. the hidden speakers hissed with static and Kate winced.
Robo-Magnus' voice echoed oddly in the hall as a door at the end was illuminated by a light. "Due to mandatory scheduled maintenance, the next test is currently unavailable. It has been replaced with a live-fire course designed for military androids. The Sanctuary Enrichment Center apologizes and wishes you the best of luck."
"Okay you know what? No. Fuck this! I am sick and tired of these little tests! Do you have any idea how much it sucks to jump down into a portal so you can be flung across the room 'cause it's the only way to get there, only to miss and end up sprawled on the ground? That is not on!"
The rumbling happened again, closer this time. The floor shook under Kate's feet then further down the hall, the wall exploded. Kate ducked away, covering her head. When she looked up there was a floating, jellyfish-brain-thing. It pulsed as it turned, evidently trying to figure out where to go. Then, of course, it saw her.
"Shit." Kate said, scrambling backwards. She didn't know what the pulsing, floating, jellyfish thing was, but it could be assumed it was not good. It also had friends. The swarm of beach ball sized jellies floated towards her, somehow extremely menacing despite lacking vertebrae.
A dude in bulky yellow, red and orange power-armor stepped out of the hole, took aim at the jellies and blew them away with a hefty arm cannon. They spattered to bits on Kate and the walls, but she wasn't gonna complain. It was highly doubtful whatever those abnormals had been, they'd been looking for cuddles.
"Hey, thanks," Kate said, grabbing her gun and getting back to her feet.
The green visor swivelled her way and the warrior reached up and took the helmet off. Kate blinked.
Ashley Magnus shrugged, the motion becoming exaggerated in the huge power armor. "I'm glad to see someone else I know here."
"Where is here?" Kate asked. "Behind you!" she pointed. A small jelly had crept up on Magnus.
Ashley whirled around and pointed the arm cannon at the jelly, then relaxed. "Oh, that's just Bob."
Magnus shrugged again and the jelly bobbled around in the air by her shoulder. "I was running from this guy's big brothers," she jerked the thumb at Bob, "and I came across this egg. Bob hatched. I think it likes me."
"The evil flying jellyfish thinks you're it's mother," Kate smirked.
"Says the person who was imprinted on by the two-hundred-pound sabertoothed bunnysaurus rex."
"Point," Kate accepted. "Any idea how to get out of here? Or where here is?"
"Not a clue. I've been blasting my way through sewers. You?"
"Creepy test facility that's like someone grabbed pieces of the house and rearranged them like Legoes. Also I think your mother is trying to kill me."
Blondie's head whipped around. "What?"
A tone sounded from the door on the other side of the rubble. Robo-Magnus's voice filtered in from wherever. "Due to mandatory scheduled maintenance, the next test is currently unavailable. It has been replaced with a live-fire course designed for military androids. The Sanctuary Enrichment Center apologizes and wishes you the best of luck. "
Kate silently pointed at the ceiling, arching a brow at Ashley. The other woman made a face.
"I know right?" Kate said, gesturing broadly. "But check this neat gun out! oh wait. it doesn't like wood or something. Hang on." She leg Blondie and the still floating Bob through the next door then promptly fired two portals into the wall and stepped through. "Cool, huh?"
"Why do I know this?" Ashley said, stepping through the portal with a frown. She examined the edges and stuck her hand through. Bob seemed content to bobble through the portals in a little circle.
"Beats me. Something Hank made?"
"Maybe?" Ashley said.
Both girls turned around. The speaker, if it could be called that, was an oblong on three legs with a red glowing light beam coming out of the center. The sides of the oblong opened.
"Preparing to deploy product."
"That's not good," Ashley said.
"Shit." Kate launched a portal at one wall, then another under their feet. They tumbled out onto a platform out of the range of the turrets and their bullet fire. "Ow! Geez, Blondie."
"So sorry. I'll be sure to wear the squishy power armor next time you fall on me," Ashley said, getting back to her feet. Bob the jellyfish floated down, none-the-worse for the hail of bullets apparently. Maybe the thing was bulletproof. "The hell?"
"I don't know. Hey, uh, that cannon thing. Think you can blast through the wall?"
Ashley shrugged. "Let's see," she said, tapping the helmet. The green visor went opaque and Kate took cover behind Ashley.
Magnus took aim at the wall, there was a whine as something charged up then a ball erupted from the cannon, smashing into it in a colossal explosion. Kate peered around Ashley's side. Amid the falling debris and cloud of dust and wooden splinters, there was a green forest and a furrow in the earth about three feet wide. An unlucky tree had caught the brunt of what was left of the blast. Fire licked the edges of the hole and the whole tree shuddered with a crack as it fell over.
"Well," Kate said, "that works."
"Where are you?" Called a mechanical turret voice from behind them.
"The Sanctuary Enrichment Center once again reminds you that Android
Hell is a real place where you will be sent at the first sign of defiance," Robo-magus said.
"Time to go?" Ashley suggested.
"Already gone," Kate agreed, sprinting for the forest.
"No idea where this is," Ashley said when they'd run clear of the structure they'd left. "Maybe North America?"
The women looked at one another.
"SHUT UP, JUST SHUT UP OKAY?"
"Henry?" Kate asked.
"Henry," Ashley confirmed, racing into the forest.
"Seriously can you just shut up for one minute?" Henry snarled at the floating glowing pixie.
It was that same little dude who'd shown up with the other refugees when Kate had been new on the job. She didn't remember him glowing though. Hank was wearing a green tunic and hat. He carried a sword and shield and there was a boomerang tucked into the belt he wore. His shoes were some kind of leather boot. in all, it was a very high-fantasy elfy-ranger thing. Except for the opaque white tights on his legs.
"Nice tights, Hank."
Henry stood up, an expression of relief crossing his face as he hurried over. The relief turned to surprise, then recognition, then mischievous amusement.
"Oh wow," He chortled, taking in Blondie in the power armor. "Oh, wow."
"You're Samus Aran!" he said gleefully, giving the name the weightyness of meaning, though Kate still had no idea what he was talking about. "And you have a baby metriod!" he pointed at Bob who floated idly.
"And in English that means?"
"Ash!" Henry flailed, "You're only the most awesome and epic female video game character in the history of video games! Samus is epic even among the guys!"
"Even among the guys? Thanks." Ashley rolled her eyes at him.
"Not what I meant," Henry said, scowling. He was circling her, eyes roving all over the powersuit. He grabbed the canon and examined it, pulling Ash slightly off balance.
"This is so cool!" He frowned. "Rivets though." He peered closely at Ashley's suit. "Looks kinda like if Watson made it." His fanboy glee turned on a dime, becoming techie-hyper-focus. "Hey, can I see the cannon again?"
"And who are you supposed to be?" Kate drawled.
"Link. From the Zelda series," Ashley answered. "Sprained both ankles on a mission one winter. Wasn't much else to do," she said, shrugging. "Ocarina of Time kept me from going insane."
Kate laughed and shook her head.
"Oh. My. God."
"What?" Kate asked.
"You're Chell! Tell me you have the Portal Gun." Henry enthused. "Oh my GOD you do! Can I...hold it?"
"Uh, okay." Kate said handing over the gun. "So I guess this means you know why robo-magnus was trying to kill me?"
"Robo-what?" Henry asked, looking up from his study of the weapon.
"There was this voice. It sounded like they'd run mom through auto-tune. It was saying things like, we're sorry the schedules test course is down for maintenance. Have a course with live fire! And sounded like Mr. Moviefone."
"They made your mom, GLaDOS. Oh man. Did she try to kill you? That's so cool."
"How is that cool?"
"Right. Totally uncool." Henry said, trying very hard to suppress a grin. Ashley rolled her eyes.
"Come on, let's see if we can't get out of here."
They began walking through the forest. Kate found she could use the portal gun on any relatively flat surface, which was great as a way to escape from some egg-spitting dinosaur things that Henry seemed to recognize. Kate didn't really care as long as they could escape or Ash could blast them to pieces.
The forest broke into a clearing where there was-
"Uh, isn't that your house?"
Ashley peered at it. It kinda looked like the Sanctuary crossed with some kind of fantasy castle. "Maybe? Its more...castle like?"
"Maybe this is Castlevania!" Henry said, pumping an excited fist into the air.
"Which means?" Kate asked.
"Oh come on, we have to go see," Henry said. "Maybe Will's in there as Beaumont."
Ashley looked over at Kate and shrugged. Kate sighed and hefted her gun. Maybe she could launch some vamps into sunlight or something. Unless they were like real vampires.
The castle-cathedral loomed over the forest, dark and ruined. It was really creepy how much the main hall and bell towers looked like the Sanctuary though. A decrepit road wound up the side of the hill toward the structure at the summit. Henry started toward the road when there was a rumble and something large blotted out the sun.
"Uhm, guys," Kate said, looking up at the silhouetted figure.
Kate, Ashley and Henry drew together as a very large, very angry looking dragon fell out of the sky. It landed between them and the road.
Ashley let out a sigh and armed her weapon, while Henry drew his sword. Kate tapped her fingers on the gun then fired a portal at the side of the small nearby cliff. Ashley nodded at Henry and fired at the dragon. It dodged and the ball of energy ripped through one wing, but only seemed to make it angry. It took a step forward and Kate fired a portal at the ground. The dragon's foot fell through, coming out on the side of the cliff.
Laughing, Ashley ran forward and began to do battle. Henry looked at the hand sticking out of the cliff and quickly drew a bow. He fired through the hand and the arrow effectively locked the paw in place.
"Nice." Kate offered. Henry shrugged.
The dragon roared and beats it's wings. Then it drew a breath. Kate and Henry beat feet, trying to get out of the blast. Blondie fired at the thing's head dodged the claws. It blew a stream of fire at her. When it was done, it appeared angry that Blondie was still standing. She fired at it's nose and the dragon roared, rearing back, and finally snapping the arrow as it pulled it's leg through.
It thrashed it's tail and Ashley wasn't quite fast enough to dodge it. it caught her leg and she lost her balance, skidding to a halt near the boulders where Kate and Henry had hidden themselves. They reached around and dragged her back with them.
"Ideas?" Henry asked.
"Portal around it?" Kate suggested, putting action to words. Except the castle walls were too far away. She duked back behind the boulders. "Okay, that doesn't work."
There was a war cry, echoed by the sound of an angry bird and someone came running from the forest riding a giant chicken.
Kate watched the mounter figure dash past and held up a finger.
"Was that will on a chicken?" Ash asked.
"YES!" Henry held his arms above his head. "Chocobos!"
"What?" Kate and Ashley asked at the same time.
"Giant birds you can ride." Henry nodded, as if satisfied that explination would suffice.
"Again, what?" Kate asked.
There was a war cry and Will jumped off the bird, wielding a sword that was impossibly huge. He swept it down and neatly parted the Dragon's head from it's body. The creature fell to the ground and Will landed, several yards away, giant sword in hand. The bird trotted back over to him and he climbed back aboard, then directed it towards their boulder.
"Nice sword," Ashley commented.
"Nice hair," Henry smirked.
"Nice Chicken," Kate concluded.
Will's hair had gotten lighter and a lot more...spikey. It was gelled and defied gravity in the way only some kind of Anime could. He rolled his eyes.
"Man, am I glad to see you guys."
"Nice with the dragon, dude. Cloud Strife?" Henry grinned and reached up to do the manly arm-grab-fist-bump thing.
Will shrugged a shoulder. "Is that who I am? I saw Biggie walking around as Mario and there were some zombies duking it out with some Covenant about twenty minutes ago, so I figured video games."
Henry rolled his eyes. "You are all so lacking in education."
A chord of music resounded from everywhere and nowhere at once, putting everyone on alert. Kate looked around, gun at the ready in case...she needed a quick escape. Or something.
"Seriously?" Henry groaned.
"What?" Ashley asked.
"That's One Winged Angel."
"Eh?" she asked, arching a brow at Henry. "What's that mean?"
"Means our "Cloud" here is going to fight Sephrioth."
"Indeed, Heinrich," said a voice from above.
Everyone looked up and beheld Nikola Tesla. Well, it was Nikola, but he too was in some kind of costume. His hair had become very long and white and he did in fact have only one, big, black wing. He also had a really long sword.
"Compensating much," Kate called out.
Tesla scowled at her briefly, before turning his attention to Will. "I am informed there is a potent powersource around here, and that in using it, I will become a god."
He was hit in the chest by a blast of power that sent him spinning. Kate snapped a portal under where he was going to land and then dropped another on the ground beside her feet. Tesla dropped through, arched up in the air and landed in a heap.
They all wandered over and stood over him. Blondie tapped her fingers on the barrel of her gun, and Will and Henry held their swords. Kate grinned, daring him to try something.
"Well, perhaps not a god." Tesla acquiesced as he climbed back to his feet and brushed off his outfit - which really was the most emo thing Kate had seen that day, which was saying something compared to Will's outfit. Tesla ignored them all and adjusted his coat and flowing hair.
The sky grew dark and Kate closed her eyes and sighed. "What now?"
There was a pause.
"Space Invaders," Henry, Will and Ashley said at once.
Kate opened one eye then they other as she looked up. From space were giant alien elder-god... things. They moved in ranks upon ranks, neatly ordered as they moved in unison to the left. Then, upon hitting some agreed on location or perhaps after receiving some kind of signal, they dropped down, then started to slide right across the sky.
Kate closed her eyes and sighed.
Kate pinched the bridge of her nose. "Dude, I did not need this shit."
"Space Invaders? Really?" she asked, looking up.
The forest was gone. So was her neat gun and the chicken and Ashley's power armor and Henry's tights.
Kate jumped. "Don't kill me!"
Magnus tilted her head in question. "Are you feeling well?"
"Yeah. Bad tacos." Kate relaxed sighing. "I knew Filiburto's was a bad idea. What'd you need, Doc?"
"Oh, I merely wanted to let you know that there is cake in the kitchen." She smiled.
Kate eyed her, suspiciously.