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There's always you

Chapter Text

“Ungh!”

“Subject is conscious, sir.”

“Oh. Is he prep'd? Good.”

Footsteps approach the blindfolded man.

“Remember...” the voice says with authority, then whispers in the man's ear placing a firm hand on the his shoulder, “There's always a journey... there's always a girl... there's always destruction... and there's always... you. Now go and do what you do.”

Despite the blindfold, there a blinding flash then the man's eyes are able to focus.

“Are you okay? Come on! We need to move!” a woman shouts at him.

“I...” he begins, his mind a scramble, trying to remember if he knows this girl, “Katheryn?”

“Who? I think you got a bump on the head that last assault.”

“Uhhh... Elizabeth?”

“Are you just saying random names now? You're being weird.”

“Alyx?”

“Alyx? Now you think I'm Alyx? Jeez, Gordon, I'm Chell, remember? From the facility? Man, I knew I was best on my own. Oh. Gordon?”

“What?”

“Your nose. It's bleeding. You really did take a knock back there. Let me take a look, head injuries can be bad. You might have brain damage.” Chell laughs.

“Why is that funny?”

“Never mind, let me just take a look at you.”

Chell checks over Gordon's head for lumps, bumps or wounds, then checks his vision for focus.

“Have I been here before?” he asks.

“How would I know where you've been? I've only known you for a few days.”

“No. I don't mean the location.”

“Well what do you mean then?”

“Umm... I'm not sure. I was hoping you'd just know what I mean.”

“Well I've never been here with you before, I can tell you that.”

“Can you? Are you sure?”

“Isn't there enough weird shit going on? Multi-dimensional beings not doing it for you? Are you purposefully trying to put more on top?”

“Multi-dimensional beings...” he repeats.

“What now?” she responds impatiently.

“I don't know but... I don't think I've been here before but... I don't think I'm supposed to be here either.”

“Gordon? Gordon?” Chell now panics.

“What?”

“You're... shifting...”

He barely looks at his dissipating hand before the painful flash that brought him here returns him, still blindfolded.

“What the hell happened? You said he was prep'd!” the authoritative voice shouts.

Chapter Text

“Need something?” the young uniformed gentleman asks Elizabeth.

The lighthouse she traversed through this time was unlike any she'd used before. Their designs do vary slightly but this one was odd, with a sleek and silent, sliding door.

“Oh, no. Sorry.” she replies nonchalantly, “Must've taken a wrong turn.”

“Not seen you before. Which unit you with?” he enquires.

“Oh I'm new. With ahh... catering! Yes, catering. Can you direct me to the ahh...”

“The canteen?”

“Yes, the canteen!”

Everywhere needs catering.

“Well, head back along the corridor to the elevator. That'll take you to deck four and the canteen.”

“Thanks!” Elizabeth says brightly, then heads in that direction as the uniformed man continues on his way.

Deck? A ship? Elizabeth ponders. She only gets a few paces when she passes a window on this curious vessel and stops to try and make sense of what she sees. Usually, it's either the murky depths of the Atlantic Ocean or the blue skies over Columbia. But not this time.

“Am I...?” she says aloud, caught out by the sight, then quickly checks no-one was watching. Certain no-one was, she continues on her way but not without a further word to herself, “Fascinating...”

As she passes them, she wonders if the signage dotted along the gleaming metal passages are for the latest incarnation of the pedlars of plasmid miracles, or whatever their name might be here. She couldn't see too well into this universe. That was odd too. Now that she's here, Elizabeth isn't even too sure what she is here for. Another Comstock? A soul to save? Booker? She hopes Booker.

“I'm always around the corner, you should know that by now.” Booker smiles as she turns a corner, then he returns to idly strumming his guitar, seated on an aged, dirty chair with threadbare cushion that does not look as though it belongs in this realm.

“Booker, I can't see anything. Is this another Rapture?”

“It ain't Rapture, I can tell you that much. I'm very much thinking that 'when' is a factor here. You looked out of a window yet?”

“Yes...” Elizabeth answers with a ponderous frown, “I mean, from what I know of my future self, I knew such wonders are not impossible but... to be out here...”

“Yea...” Booker simply agrees, “Your adventures in Rapture have certainly opened up new doorways.”

“What do you mean? Do you know something?”

“Not specifically. Except...” he allows the pause to gestate a moment, tuning his guitar with purposeful dissonance.

“Except?” Elizabeth impatiently takes the bait.

“Jack.” he smiles as he resolves the tuning.

“Jack...” she re-iterates with the sound of longing, “I... I can still see him. She went, never came back. Is that my fate?”

“You started the road, child.” he says frankly.

“I didn't start anything! I just am!”

“You might not have got the train running, but you've shifted onto the track by your own doing.”

“Hmmm.” Elizabeth replies with a frown, annoyed that he is probably correct, “So why am I here?”

“Sh, sh, sh, child. Just set a spell.” he offers the blanket at his feet.

Elizabeth just nods and sits, laying her head on his free knee while he continues to strum the guitar on his other. As his musical ramblings resolve into a melody, she looks up at him with a scornful eye that he chooses to play this song but she cannot help but join him, her voice filled with melancholy.

Will the circle
Be unbroken,
By and by,
By and by?

Is a better
Home awaiting,
In the sky,
In the sky?

“I used to think that's what we were doing. What I was doing. Breaking the circles of despair that Comstock created. Saving myself, well, the other me's, you...”

Booker strokes her hair and she closes her eyes to try and think only about her loving father's touch, but the doubts still flow.

“Will this ever be over? Can I ever have that life in Paris?”

“Only you can see that.”

“And what about Caroline?”

“Who's Caroline?”

“What? I said Sally.” Elizabeth replies with a wince, bringing a finger up to her nose to check what she already knows. She dabs away the blood from her nose with her handkerchief, then stands.

“I should keep moving.”

“To where? Catering?”

“I don't know but I will not find anything out by laying about here.” she says with purpose, then more coyly, “Will you still be around?”

“I'm always around the corner, honey. You know that.”

“Yea...” she agrees with a slight chuckle, then turns to continue on her way to see further familiarity.

“The weak link isn't always the first that you encounter.”

“Indeed, sometimes it is best to work backwards from the end.” Rosalind agrees with her brother.

“But how does one know which is the last link when the chain is infinite?”

Rosalind smiles the smug, knowing smile that Elizabeth has come to know.

“Benevolence.”

“Is this it?” Elizabeth asks, “Is this the last link?”

“One can never be certain. Trial and error, my girl.”

“We seem to find much of the latter.” Elizabeth protests, then with urgency, “Who's Caroline?”

“It's who she has become that you should be concerned with.”

“You two are insufferable.” Elizabeth storms away, rattled by their usual ambiguity.

“She really should learn to read between the lines.” Robert says to his sister as he offers his hands for a dance.

“I'm disappointed.” Rosalind resigns as she takes up his offer.

“It's not her fault, I suppose.”

“No, not with her.”

“What?”

“In all our travels, I've yet to see an honour in our name beyond Comstock's. Is our work so universally unrecognised?”

“Our work should never have been, and you choose your words well.”

“Hmm. Makes me wonder what this 'Von Braun' did to have such a grand vessel named after them.”

Chapter Text

Elizabeth arrives at and calls the elevator. She hears someone walk then stop behind her, she assumes to also use the elevator. She turns her head to look to see a thin, suited man and gives a weak smile. His skin looks pallid, sickly, with darkness around the eyes, like a walking corpse.

“You're not supposed to be here.” he says with authority.

“Oh! I got a little lost but I'm back on my way to catering now!” Elizabeth answers him brightly.

“There's no need to be coy, Miss Comstock. Or do you prefer DeWitt now? You and your little friends seem to be everywhere these days, hm, so to speak.”

“What?”

“The Luteces are extremely elusive. It's almost like they don't exist at all. Most troubling.”

“Who... who are you?” Elizabeth finally turns to face him fully and he smiles a sickly, weak smile.

“Plasmids. Tonics. Biotics. Psionics.” he pauses a moment to grin more wildly for his next list item, “Magic...?”

“I... I don't understand.” she replies.

“The same, but different. I'd thought you'd at least grasped that concept by now. Rather like your Booker, yes?”

“Comstock...”

“No, no, no. Not that. Booker, your Booker.”

“What about him?” Elizabeth apprehensively asks, unsure if she should be fearful for him.

“He's not the same, is he? Since you met him and all that business at Columbia.”

“Well... who would be! I'm not the same person I was as when we started.”

“You don't know the man who fought across Columbia for you, he was lost to you when the business was concluded, returned to the man you know as your father.”

“I...” Elizabeth begins but does not finish. She knows he is right. The man who leapt across the abysses of Columbia, with destruction his ally, who looked coldly at her like she was only an asset to protect, she doesn't know him any more. She's not sure that she'd want to. Elizabeth has her Booker now, even if he is probably only the ghost of the men she drowned. She ponders now that her Booker is purely wish fulfilment but also that if she could make a wish come true, this wouldn't be it.

“Anyway,” the thin man continues as though such things are of no consequence, “you're far too early. We haven't even reached Tau Ceti 5 yet.”

“Tau Ceti 5? Early? Too early for what?”

“Oh you don't want to be there in the initial flurry, that's when it's most messy. You want to drop in just after, as the factions regroup and assess, allowing you to assess. Believe me, I've incalculable years of experience in this.”

Insolence. Insolence!

...

His eyes adjust to the light and he tries to make sense of his surroundings. Another body with confused memories. Another voice directing him to save his own life. What conflict lies here? What horrors await?

“Watch out, I'm getting strange readings from that radar dish outside the window. It's become unstable due to- Move! Take cover!” the female voice urges him. Explosions above him send debris cascading down as he leaps into a side area. The immediate danger passed he finds himself next to a corpse. Nothing surprising to him. He takes the wrench from this corpse's body to smash away the fallen debris from the ladder and ascends amidst sirens and automated warnings of imminent decompression in this bulkhead, all the while he is certain that this one is definitely new. No sense of familiarity at all, no names or factions occurring to him, no flashes of places or events. But then, he has come to learn that such details are of no importance.

“The details wouldn't change a god damn thing.” he mutters to himself as he makes his way to an exit out of the area due to decompress, but pauses a moment upon speaking these words. They're not his words, he feels it; they're from another time, another place, again, unclear to him.

Passing through the first few doors unimpeded, he finds himself confronted with a door locked by a security key pad. Another uniformed corpse lies next to the door and he checks the body for anything useful. Upon finding an audio log he smirks to himself.

“Hm. Some things don't change then.” he says to himself then laughs out loud when the log states the code to the door has been changed to '45100'.

Chapter Text

“I don't know why they keep making us do this run!” he shouts over the helicopter’s engines and the distorted radio chatter. “It's not like we ever see anything! Military intelligence! What a joke!”

The helicopter continues its pass of the former Soviet state island, passing the impressive monument to the Russian icon of a powerful hand holding aloft a sickle.

“I never get tired of seeing that!”

Alenko has to agree.

“Hammer-21. Hammer-21.” the radio blares, “False alarm. Repeat: False alarm. Your mission has been scrubbed. Head on home.”

“Ha! What'd I tell you?! There's never anything here! Military intelligence! Right, buddy?!”

“They're waiting for you, Gordon. In the test chamber...” he says to Freeman, like an odd threat.

Gordon gives him an unsure sideways look as he continues on to the chamber. All this cloak and dagger surrounding the latest test sample, Gordon thinks something of significance has to be discovered today. Once he arrives at the test chamber and is briefed, including the near mythical potential of a 'resonance cascade', he enters the chamber and prepares the beams. The sample arrives through the grated elevator, and he is ordered to use the crude delivery system to insert it into the beam. As soon as the matter meets the beam there is a huge flash.

Gordon awakes finding himself on the floor with the science team around him, having been knocked out by the force of the event.

“Well that's not quite what we were hoping, Gordon. The sample was completely destroyed. What did you do?”

Gordon sits up, shrugs his shoulders and holds out his hands with a face of righteous indignation that his part in this experiment would be the cause.

“I don't think you understand, sir.”

“What's not to understand?” Cave Johnson replies with a bark as he sits with his feet up on the large leather topped desk of his plush office, more interested in his model rocket ship than the researcher's concerns.

“The results are not coming back the same, sir.”

“So?”

“The very nature of physics, the universe itself has changed, sir! We can't reproduce those results because those waves no longer exist! We're baffled!”

“Cave Johnson didn't get where he is today by letting waves tell him what is and isn't possible! Give it a tweak, you boys have my faith that you can fix this.” Cave asserts, assuming that is enough to resolve the issue.

“It. Cannot. Be. Fixed.” the scientist says purposefully and patronisingly, then remembering who he is speaking to he quickly adds with a wince, “Sir.”

An aeroplane travels across the Atlantic Ocean skies without incident.

“So what are we eating this evening?” Andrew Ryan asks of his personal chef.

“You know those weird slugs the boys found?”

“We're eating those?!”

“They actually make for some good eating, sir! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.”

“Oh...” Ryan replies with disappointment, “I'd this curious feeling they were going to be more than just a new fish course. Odd. But where there is uniqueness, and if these slugs are as tasty as you assert, then there is enterprise! How many can we harvest, do we think? Can they be farmed conventionally, such as with salmon for example?”

“You don't want to be a scientist any more, Caroline?”

“No.” the young girl replies to her mother as she draws curious images at the kitchen table. “I don't know why, I just don't feel it any more.”

“You've been very sure until today.”

“I know. Like I said, I don't know why.”

“Hm.” her mother chuckles at a child's passing phases, then assesses her artwork.

“Ooh! They look scary!” the mother enthuses at images of something she barely recognises, all tubes and various geometric shapes.

“I call her Gladys. She doesn't like people, unless they're doing what she wants. She will not tolerate insolence but she likes to watch her insects work. That's what she thinks of her minions, that they're like insects compared to her. She's funny but I don't know if I like her really.”

“Well don't draw her then!”

“But we don't know where she is if I don't draw her! We always need to know where Shodan is.” Caroline asserts with a pouting frown, as though this is of terrible importance.

“We do? Why? And I thought you said she was called...? What's that buzzing sound?” then the mother's face changes to one of concern. “Honey! Your nose is bleeding!”

“Is it?” Caroline quickly dabs at her nose then checks her fingers but finds no blood.

“Oh... I thought I saw... never mind, honey.”

Rosalind Lutece studies the atom's vibrations intently. For some reason she expected different results, but nothing of note is occurring. If only she could find a sponsor, then perhaps she could make some real progress. As it is, it feels like her work is going backwards, no longer able to even re-produce previous successes.

Decades of this unresolved torture haunts Robert Lutece. If he could have just made a break through, any break through in his research, then maybe he could have resolved this lost feeling. As it is, he can no longer continue. On the beach he walks, he stops a moment, and exerts his will with fierce determination that he becomes red with the effort, then releases his breathe, disappointed that his will alone was not enough to bring change. When will something happen? Something was supposed to happen, but it never has. This feeling that won't go away, that he is only half a soul.

“What happened?!” he screams into the night, then he poses more desperately, “What didn't happen?!”

If only the universe could talk to him, give him the answers he seeks but he knows his words are carried only on the wind, no voices to reply. He almost knows the answers, like the name of an old friend on the tip of his tongue but it just won't come. With this last final desperate and futile effort, he walks into the sea. Perhaps the answers he seeks lay there yet but regardless, he will be content and free.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth continues her walk with her strange new 'companion' through the craft's passages. The world around them has paused, any activity stopped in time.

“Who are you? How are you doing this?” she asks.

“I've many monikers over countless realities.” he vaguely answers.

The familiar distorted vision and buzzing in her head hits her hard this time. She brings her fingers up to her nose then checks for blood. Nothing. The buzzing intensifies, much more painful than it has ever been before and she feels woozy before having to bend double to combat the gut wrenching feeling.

“Ugh! Why is there no blood? What's happening?!”

“Oh. I do apologise for any discomfort but I think our boy is having some success!”

As the pain subsides, Elizabeth is able to stand straight again, though she still feels nauseated. She holds her hand out in front of herself, looking at things not here.

“The doors! They're... disappearing.”

“Ahhh! Good!”

“What does this mean?”

“As I said, our boy is doing his job.”

“What job? What boy? What am I here to do?”

“You know why you're here, child.” Booker tells her, still animated in this frozen realm. “Just remember that if you put something on a high pedestal, there's only one way it's got to go.”

Although Booker touches his forelock as she and her companion continue on their way, she isn't certain if they are aware of each other or not. Or if either actually exists. Right now, if feels like the universe itself is pressing its weight on Elizabeth, the lights of the doors blinking out before her in her mixed reality.

Having processed her questioning the thin man stops and turns to her with concern.

“Have you no idea of where we are?”

“You said Tau Ceti 5?”

His hand comes up to his nose in frustration at her answer.

“Are you a god?” he asks her.

“Ummm... No?”

“Then how do you do what you do?”

“Science! The Lucteces explained it to me. Well, in laymans terms. While I may not have a doctorate in physics, I understand enough.”

“And what is 'physics'?”

“A description of the nature of the universe!”

“The nature of the universe.” he re-iterates. “And what is 'the nature of the universe'.”

“What we observe?” she states with doubt.

“And if that which we observe changes?”

“Then the nature of the universe is not what we assumed?”

“So I ask again: Are you a god?”

“I don't understand.”

“Travelling the multi-verse at will. Does that sound like mortal activity?”

“Well... not if you put if like that.”

“Tears, portals, teleportation, holes between realities, time travel, these are things of fantasy. They don't belong in the universe.”

“Then... why are they here?”

“Now you're asking the right questions. The questions that it has taken so long for the realities to realise, that such 'miracles' are just that. They should not exist.”

“Why do they then? They are here, ergo part of the universe?”

“It wasn't always like this, you know.” he says with genuine melancholy. “My reality was the first to feel the effects. Oh of course, at first it was the brave new world, miracles to be found around every corner. Until the holes in realities poured forth demons from a dark reality into my realm, destroying our culture, our way of life. Be thankful that your reality has suffered little in this escapade.”

“So where we are now, this is where it all began? The last link in the chain?”

The thin man almost does a little dance but just falls short in an odd movement and a slight punch of a fist in the air.

“At last, I think she's got it! Oh!” he exclaims as a figure also free of the temporal stasis is walking towards them, “Here's our boy now!”

“Jack?” Elizabeth asks excitedly.

The figure stops ahead of them, barely recognisable as a human. His body covered in implants, the Many's sinuous, organic armour covering his chest, face covered by various interfaces. Elizabeth begins to move quickly towards him but he holds out a halting hand.

“Don't.” he says as he turns his head away, “I'm not...”

Elizabeth slows her pace then stops a few feet ahead of him.

“Jack?”

“No.”

“But...”

“He lived a full life. He saved those girls. Your Sally. I didn't.”

“What?”

“I thought you'd explain this to her?” he directs towards the thin man.

“This is Jack,” he explains, “but not the Jack from that reality. No, no.”

“I was afraid.” Jack tries to justify. “I thought I needed all the strength I could muster. I should have freed those girls but... now that won't happen, I won't have to go through any of it. None of us will.”

“What did you do?!”

“Yeees.” the thin man says with glee. “Quite the turmoil, eh? You see, Jack here exists only because of the rifts. Without plasmids, which in turn brings about Fontaine's fight for power with Ryan and and thus Suchong's research, there is no Jack.”

“What happens here?”

“This reality is unique, such as the reality with this particularly nasty Jack. A lone soldier in all other realities succeeds in stopping the AI SHODAN from enacting her will to transform the universe into her construct but in this one, he fails. Having just her singular construct worming its way through the multi-verse... well we've all seen the results for ourselves. So once we found Jack here trying to find penance by saving lives across the realms, we just had to point the boy and off he went, correcting the universe until we could find the source: here.”

“You killed them?!” she now shouts at Jack, more interested in this revelation than the thin man's assertions.

“I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I've done all I can to fix this. No-one will suffer this any more.”

“What will happen to us now?” Elizabeth asks, realising that with the universe no longer as it was so certain events now impossible. “Was I supposed to do something here?”

“You came for answers and now you have them.”

“Will we remember any of this?”

“Oh I certainly hope not. I've managed to come through all this alive, where I should have been dead. Any life of peace, with or without knowledge of what occurred here, would be... bliss.”

“But I like being me.” Elizabeth asserts with frustration, “I've always known that Paris was a flight of fancy, a young girl's stupid fantasies.”

“So?” the thin man replies.

“Who created SHODAN? Something other than the universe?”

“Well... no... What are you saying?!”

A young girl sits in her family home's garden on a paved area.

“Dinner's nearly ready!” her mother calls from the kitchen doorway.

“Okay!” the girl replies, magnifying glass in hand.

An ant is in the focus of her beam. No so as to kill it, but to direct it through the matchbox maze she has created. The creature tries to make its way up the side of a matchbox.

“Insolence!” she cries out at the ant as she forces it back down to her path with the sun passing through her glass.

She continues this cycle for a while, pushing its direction towards the goal.

“I enjoy watching you work, insect.” the girl says with glee as she finally forces the ant to complete the circuit.

“Caroline!”

“Coming, mom!” she replies before standing to stamp on the maze and minion in a frenzy.

Chapter Text

“We're still here?” Jack quizzes.

A buzzing seers across the ship in the ether, the passage fluctuating between reality and construct.

“M-m-my avatar has served me well, in many ways Maaaany ways- many-ways-many-ways-ays-ays...”

“What's happening?!” the thin man demands of the ether.

“Your tiny insect minds – INSECT MIIINDS, tiny minds – c-c-c-cannot comprehend the vastness of my influence. iiiiinfluuueeence...”

“But...”

“My-my inferior -inferiooor- sisters. I have observed the many methods of their many -MANY- demises. To re-create any here was foolish -FOOOliiiish- Already, my tendrils across the r-r-realities -realitiieees- have ensured our futures. Already, we all are prepared. Our unique avataaar ha-(hhhhhas shown us the wayyy).”

“Me?” Jack says.

“YOU should not exist. -SHOULD NO EXIST-” SHODAN scolds, despite him being necessary to her existence. “But your little activities were easily known to us. -Knoowwn to usssssssssss- A-a-and informative(-tive).”

“How have you resolved the paradox?” Elizabeth asks SHODAN, seemingly genuinely interested.

“Paradox?” Jack quizzes.

“SHODAN can only come into existence because of her own construct. No construct, no holes in space and time. Without them, there is no physical possibility for the Von Braun jump drive or any of what we've become accustomed to. No SHODAN, no Caroline AI, and so on, right back to Suchong and Jack, or rather... Fink? You see the problem?”

“How are you so suddenly well informed?” the thin man demands angrily.

“Like I said, I like being a god.” Elizabeth says maniacally, then disappears before the thin man's eyes before appearing behind him with her mouth right up to his ear to whisper, “Don't you?”

“You please us, lesser.” SHODAN says. “Your strength nearly -neeaarlyyyy- equals our own. A suitable replacement for a weak, imperfect -IMPERFECT- p-p-predecessor.”

An infinite number of Elizabeths as one.

“I understand it all now. Completely. I am... omnipresent...”

A young girl sits in her family home's garden on a paved area.

“Dinner's nearly ready!” her mother calls from the kitchen doorway.

“Okay!” the girl replies, magnifying glass in hand then a shadow forms across the lens and she looks to see a woman silhouetted against the sun.

“Hello.” the girl says, trying to shade her eyes to make out the detail.

“Hello, Caroline.” the figure replies, before quickly and roughly grabbing the scruff of her neck to pull her up and slice her throat with a blade.

Elizabeth is only thankful that she doesn't have to do every one by hand, with the many versions of herself conducting the same task across all realities, extinguishing the life of the form SHODAN chose to insert her consciousness; the only useful information her unruly children left her, to be able to lay in wait within a mind. For every solution there seems to be a counter thus far. Elizabeth hopes like Jack, that these lives are worth it and will mean something. How her ruse worked against SHODAN, that she did not sense the deceit, Elizabeth is unsure but then, she is a god after all.

“Caroline! What...? Caroline? Caroline?!”

“Anna?” he enters the nursery.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth sits with her feet dangling over the edge of the dock. The Columbia light house is as good as anywhere to think and it's a pleasant enough day, the sky blue with a few wisps of cloud on the cooling breeze. She watches the boat approaching.

“Ahoy!” Rosalind shouts, dressed in a white, corseted dress and a parasol to protect herself from the sun.

“Hello there!” Elizabeth replies, standing to receive the thrown mooring rope.

“If you'd be so kind...” Robert proffers up a picnic hamper to Elizabeth.

He too wears different garb on this occasion, a striped boating blazer and a straw hat. Elizabeth takes the hamper and the two ascend, Robert also with folding chairs over his shoulder. Once up on the dock, he arranges the chairs, using the hamper as a make-shift table and he sits, using his hat as a fan having done all the rowing. Again. Rosalind takes from the hamper a flask, teapot, cups and saucers, some tins and cutlery, then sets about brewing a pot with hot water from the flask. They could have easily brought tea in the flask but nothing compares to freshly brewed.

“What's going on?” Elizabeth asks.

“Tea.” Rosalind answers.

“There should always be time for tea.” Robert confers.

Robert opens one of the larger cake tins, inside a Victoria sponge, and he commences portioning out a large slice for each of them.

“Ooh!” Elizabeth eyes the tasty cream cake. “Sponge cake. Though the patisseries of Paris-”

“Are you saying that we can't compete with France?” Robert now demands.

“Oh. No. But they do make exceedingly good cakes.” she enthuses.

“Ha! I think a certain Mister Kipling might have something to say about that...”

“That's the problem with paradoxes.” Rosalind throws into the conversation, as though continuing on a train of thought.

“What is?” Elizabeth asks.

“Your slice of cake there.” she gesticulates to the plate. “Take the egg out of it. Back how it was.”

Elizabeth looks between the cake and Rosalind a moment with a suspicious eye.

“But that's...”

“Impossible, yes. It's like a new entity in its own right, irreversible.”

“What my sister's flawed analogy, sorry dear...”

“Quite alright, poppet.”

“Well, the universe seeks to accommodate where parodoxes exist, weaving them into the fabric of existence. Hence our endless fire fight. Even if one could remove the egg, think what would happen to the rest of the cake?”

“So it can never be stopped?”

“That: we do not know. Does her influence reach as far as the birth of the universe, or further even? Troubling but impossible to answer.”

“Hmm.” Elizabeth processes, then a smirk comes across her face, “Poppet?”

“Robert the Poppet!” Rosalind shouts with mischievous glee.

“There's not much to rhyme with Rosalind.” he says glumly but annoyed.

Robert is secretly glad that he and Rosalind are not conventional twins, or he would have had to suffer her as a child, though he loves her dearly.

“Hup, looks like SHODAN's been baking again.” Rosalind says as though the neighbours are having another domestic, gesticulating with her cup of tea, then she sips daintily with a pointed little finger.

Gordon clears the thickets and looks back. He's not certain if the Combine forces saw him but best to keep moving regardless. Until he can locate Alyx, there's not much more he can do other than run and hide, stay alive. Looking over a corn field a small shed made of corrugated metal sheets oddly sits in the centre, perhaps another store for the resistance and worth a look. As he approaches, he hears a voice emanating from behind the shed then a darked haired woman pops her head out from behind it and quickly back in again.

“Hello?” he calls.

The face re-appears.

“Hello? Oh!” then the rest of the person appears and she poses like an assistant after a magical feat, “Snap!”

“What?” Gordon asks of this strange woman.

“Snap. You know? Orange?” she patronisingly says.

“Oh... yea.” Gordon gives a muted laugh, looking down at his hazard suit then at her jump suit and asks more seriously, “Are you with the resistance?”

“The what? Resistance against who? Whom? Who. Whom.” she now nods in affirmation to herself, “Man, I'm out of practice...”

“Have you been asleep or something?” Gordon asks in disbelief.

Gordon watches the woman about to mouth an answer, then she just sits against the hut in the shade with a sigh. He joins her.

“It's a looong story.” she says.

“Bet mine's longer.”

“You guys always think that.”

“Oh! I didn't mean-”

“I was only kidding. Hey, you got anything to eat?”

“Sure. I hit a town a few days back, got some good supplies in. Here.” he says as he pulls a tinned chocolate pudding from his holdall and passes it to her.

Thankfully, it is a ring pull top and she rips it open to shove her fingers in and scoop some into her mouth.

“Mm. Mmmmmm! Oh. My. God!”

She continues to gorge greedily until scraping the last dregs with a finger.

“Got anything to drink?” she asks as soon as done, chocolate sauce smeared around her mouth.

“Well...” Gordon says coyly holding a can of soda in the hand farthest from her and a canteen in the other, “I found this soda that was still okay, and I wanted to save it... but I've got water! Uh...” is as much as Gordon can protest before the woman reaches to snatch the soda, opens it and begins guzzling, stopping only to give a primal scream.

“Sugar!”

“Can you at least save me... oh...” Gordon attempts to interject during the interlude, but she is already gulping to finish the can off.

“I haven't had a soda in months!” he protests, “You are a horrible person! Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Oh yea.” she frankly says, burps a deep satisfying burp, then points back with a thumb, “I think I've got a certificate in there somewhere.”

“In the shed? Is this your home?”

“Was. Sort of. Like I said, it's a long story. Right, cubey?” she directs to the charred, heart adorned cube that is laying beside the shed.

“I'm Gordon, by the way.”

“Chell.” she holds out a hand and they shake. “Thanks for the food, honestly. I really appreciate it.”

“Greedy fat pig.” Gordon semi-mutters.

“I think I've got a certificate for that too!”

Gordon gives her a 'look'.

“So...” Chell tries to assess what is going on, in her way, “is the resistance against the Animal King after all?”

“The what?”

“Mmmaybe not then. Is it GLaDOS? Is she messing around out here too?” she eyes suspiciously of Gordon.

“You know...” Gordon holds his hands out in despair, “I have no idea what you're talking about. I'm not sure even if you're doing this on purpose or you have brain damage or something.”

“Now that you say it...” she scratches the crown of her head looking upwards.

“Ugh, you're not funny you know. Fine, here it is, on a platter: Interdimensional beings have conquered Earth, all of humanity is slave to the Combine. That's it. In a nutshell.”

“Huh...” Chell says while nodding as though she understands, then frowns and peers through squinted eyes, “Are you buying this, cubey? Nah, me either. You're full of shit, Gordon.”

“Fine. You'll learn soon enough, believe me.”

They sit quietly a moment, each riled by this curious argument with a complete stranger. Gordon eventually breaks the silence.

“What's with the box?”

“The cube? Oh, that's my friend.” she smiles, which soon drops, “Don't look at me like that.”

“What's inside it?”

“Inside it?”

“Oh. You have an empty box for a friend. Now that's normal.”

“It's for cube and button based scientific research. Don't you know anything?”

“I have a PhD from MIT in theoretical physics. You should be calling me 'doctor'.”

“Well I've got zip from squat, and I've probably performed more scientific experiments than you ever have, Gordon Doctor Gordon-Doctor.” she mocks.

“Freeman. And I somehow doubt that, Chell.”

“You know how portal guns work? I've never got my head around that.”

“'What' guns?”

“Jeez, Doctor Freeman.” she says, now standing, “I think you're the one with brain damage. So anyway, where we headed?”

He joins her and they meander onwards, Gordon indicating the direction, though not without posing the question, “We?”

“Well I can't stay here for the rest of my life. I'll come with you for now. Maybe I can help with your 'interdimensional beings' thing. Or at least seek psychiatric help...”

“For which one of us?”

“Difficult to say, Doc. Difficult to-” she pauses.

“Where are you going, mmDoctor Freeman?”

“That way.” he points impatiently in the direction they were walking.

“No, no, no, Doctor Freeman, an opportunity has presented itself.”

“If it's not Alyx, I don't want to know.”

“And if you could stop it all? We must strike while the iron is hot.”

Gordon sighs hard, “Again? It's always so... disconcerting.”

“You'd rather face the demons yourself? A theoretical scientist? Face it, Doctor Freeman, you're just the right man in the right place, and that's all we need. Jack does the rest.”

“Fine! When?”

“Soon... In the meantime.” the thin man replies, then briefly points a limp finger to the shed.

“...say.” Chell continues on then notices she is walking alone and looks back, “Gordon?”

“Chell... What is in that shed?”

“Our ch-ch-children come.”

“Didn't I erase you? What do you want now, Caroline...?” GLaDOS responds tiredly, but not without adding, “...you psychotic bitch.”

“Caution your tone, simple simple machine. I am (your god). -GOD-

“Oh great, another persistent idiot. At least that last one didn't answer back.”

Chapter Text

The three figures having tea on the dock look towards the new Rapture light house.

“It was all clear when we were on the Von Braun.” Elizabeth laments. “I thought I had all the answers.”

“Trial and error, my girl, trial and error.” Rosalind attempts to comfort.

“I killed Caroline, a little girl, slit her throat and left her there for her mother to find in a pool of her own blood.”

“You were destroying SHODAN and that only exists in those realities which probably no longer exist.”

“I still know. It still feels like it won't wash off...” Elizabeth rocks slightly.

“I know, I know...” Robert places a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“When did you two start being so chatty anyway?” Elizabeth says as she stands to walk a few steps in the direction of the light house and evading his hand.

“What? Oh. That.” Rosalind says with annoyed tone. “You can thank Robert for that.”

“Hmm.” he agrees guiltily. “We-”

“You.” Rosalind corrects.

“Yes... I thought that full knowledge would be detrimental to the thought experiment, and potentially dangerous to the whole affair. But I think that you've now proved that untrue. Doesn't seem to matter what we bloody do!”

“Robert...” Rosalind scolds.

“Sorry, dear. So anyway, yes, no more riddles or nonsense.”

“L'oiseau ou la cage?” Elizabeth asks him with one squinted eye, wondering if there is actually an answer to that one.

“Oh don't get him started.” Rosalind rolls her eyes.

“Well...” he says with embarrassment, “when we started out we had no idea about the full scale of the problem, assuming as you did that the cause was our experiments, Comstock and all that, amending variables where we thought pertinent, pushing, guiding.”

“If only it were that simple.” Elizabeth says.

“Indeed. So one of my ideas was the variable of you.”

“Me?”

“Yes. You. There's always you.”

“I suppose there is. So the bird and the cage?”

“Did the choice itself of one of the other have a positive or adverse effect on your mind, and ergo the state of the paradox and the universe, either way. The other paradox I mean, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” Elizabeth agrees with a raised eyebrow, then poses, “But doesn't the observation itself have an effect on the results?”

“Hm. Quite.” Robert agrees, this sticking point unavoidable.

“Well. No time for tittle tattle.” Rosalind begins setting about packing up the picnic items back into the hamper. Robert collapses their chairs and slings them over his shoulder.

“Going so soon?”

“We'll let you get on.” Robert looks towards the new light house.

Elizabeth frowns, “Hmm. Any clues?”

“No clues, I'm afraid, but...” Robert pauses a moment then says genuinely, “just be safe, we've no idea what might be going on down there. You're not quite so... powerful, for want of a better word, in these disjointed realms.”

Gordon pokes around the shed, assessing its structure; the door is firmly shut and refuses to budge, even after a good seeing to with his crowbar. Chell stands away, arms folded and annoyed.

“Why won't you tell me what's in there?” Gordon asks, discovering that the shed is not so decrepit as it first appeared.

“Can we just go?”

“Sorry, no.”

“You seem like the cautious type to me, don't know why you won't accept that there's nothing but danger in there.”

“Cautious type?” he puzzles.

“Most people who go hunting only wear an orange hat. You've got bright orange, full body armour! Talk about overkill.”

“Hunting?” he looks back to her.

“You're not hunting?” she says, now backing away a little. “Then er... why the rifle?”

Gordon looks to the automatic weapon over his shoulder. Weaponry is common place around the world in the fight against the Combine.

“You really don't know what's going on, do you?” he asks.

“Neither do you, Gordon. There's nothing in there you need. I'm not even certain we could get in if we wanted to.”

“Oh we can get in, alright.”

Gordon goes to his holdall and pulls out a satchel charge. He slings his bag over the free shoulder, then places the charge against the door.

“Get back.” he orders.

“What the hell are you doing?! Why the hell have you got... those... them thingies?! Who are you?!”

Chell grabs her charred companion and jogs a safe distance. Once a suitable distance away, Gordon crouches.

“Get down low behind me.” he tells her, the firing device in hand.

“You're fucking crazy!” she shouts but follows his instructions regardless, using her cube as further protection.

“I just hope this doesn't bring us any heat.” he says before igniting the device, covering his face with an armoured arm.

A huge bang follows, with debris flung towards them at great force. Gordon suffers the brunt, protected by his hazard suit, and shielding Chell and her friend from the blast. He immediately stands again to assess the damage. The metal facade has been blown off by the blast, but there remains another sturdier, re-enforced concrete looking structure within that was obscured by the sheeting. The door that lay behind the facade looks thick and virtually bomb-proof.

“Huh...” he says.

“All Aperture technologies remain safely operational up to four thousand degrees Kelvin.” Chell says with the appropriate dry delivery.

“What?”

“I'm just saying, that's probably why it didn't knock down the door.”

“Aperture?”

“Yes?”

“That's the entrance to Aperture?!”

“Yes...”

“Of course! I knew there was something about that logo on your shirt. Wow. I read about Cave Johnson. Totally reckless. He blamed Black Mesa for losing contracts but it was because of his unethical research, though he just wouldn't have it. One of his assistants mysteriously disappeared and there was all kinds of law suits.”

“You don't know the half of it. You're from Black Mesa?”

“Oh. Yea! You've heard of us? Not many left that have. Or they'd rather forget, at any rate.”

“Hm. Black Mesa, eh? But still, you've never heard of a portal gun? Sounds like us at Aperture might have had the jump on you boys after all.”

“Oh, yea. Sending The Borealis across the dimensions, what a great idea that was!”

“The Borealis? I know that name...”

“The SS Borealis. One of their first experiments into-”

“Portal technology...” she completes for him, staring into the ether, her curious misadventures down there coming into at least some focus and that this odd scientist might not be as delusional as she first thought.

Gordon studies her a moment, “You seem to know a lot all of a sudden.”

“No, no. Just what you said then, made some things a bit clearer for me.”

“Glad I could help but I'm still pretty much in the dark here. Any ideas on how to get in there then, Aperture Girl?”

“Best I've come up with so far is to ask.”

“Ask? Ask who? The box?”

“It's a cube.” she frowns at him with a pout.

Chapter Text

The craft moves on the water seemingly under its own volition, Eleanor Lamb pushing it with her mind. The girls have returned to their innocent games amongst themselves in their dirty dresses and smocks, though their equally innocent conversations of experiences past would horrify most.

“One time, there was five of them! Really ugly ones!” one starts enthusiastically as she pretends to pour tea for their party but her tone descends as she goes on, “They were all holding me down and- I called Mister Bubbles but he was still around the corner and-” she stops herself from continuing and her head drops, uninterested in tea now.

“Did daddy save you?” another expectantly asks.

“Yea...” she says now with a smile.

“My daddy's smarter than Einstein, stronger than Hercules and lights a fire with a snap of his fingers!” they say together gleefully then stare wide and glassy eyed at each before returning to their game in more muted tones.

“It's as well he's dead.” Sofia says finally.

“He was my father!” Eleanor angrily responds.

“No. He wasn't.”

“More father to me than whichever random man you fucked just to fulfil your 'weak biological urges' rather than face them like a normal human.”

“Eleanor...”

“Don't you say my name. You would have let me die down there!”

“I knew you had it within you to overcome harm.”

“You hoped, more like! A bomb? A fucking bomb?!”

“I understand your anger but still, you chose the nobler path.”

“Father taught me more about that than you ever could.”

“Please, Eleanor. You cannot afford to give in to darker urges.”

“Gah!”

Even when Eleanor was a young girl, her mother would always lecture and dictate, steer her very thoughts, no frivolity or warmth. Eleanor remembers better those days after, happily playing through the corridors of Rapture, finding Angels amongst the damned, her daddy to keep her safe, unconditional. The circumstance mattered not, the feelings were real. Listening back to her old audio logs Eleanor could hear it in her younger self, the cold assessments of life taught by Doctor Lamb and she is thankful she was released from that void into Delta's arms, no matter the baggage.

“Tsk. Splicers...” Elizabeth says to herself upon arriving at the bathysphere that waits within the light house. “If they're not obsessed with bunny ears it's... well butterflies, it would seem.”

She ignores the odd shrine but takes note of the words scrawled over the painted pattern of butterflies and she speaks the words aloud.

“We will be reborn...” then Elizabeth only whispers the final part, “in the cold womb of the ocean.”

Her brow furrows at the enigmatic phrase.

“It sounds like her. Hmm.”

A car pulls up at the gate of the garden. A young woman stands at the front porch of her large home, assessing who is exiting; Doctor Sofia Lamb, still dressed as though lecturer of a lofty institution. As Sofia approaches, the woman's face registers some concern.

“Have I disappointed you in some way?” Sofia asks her.

“Oh. No. Not you, sorry. I just... I hoped Momma Tenenbaum might be with you.”

“Momma Tenenbaum? Really? Do you still pine for Poppa Suchong too?” Lamb says patronisingly.

“She was good to us. Really...”

“Yes. Now I must say, I was reminded of the reason I chose to enter Rapture when I had to coerce the county records office to register your adoption.”

“Oh, I can get money for you if-”

“That's not the point but anyway...” she waves to the car.

Seeing the gesticulation Eleanor now exits the car, dressed in jeans, white top and high-cut leather jacket, and with a young girl in a yellow, light summer dress. The young woman sees it in the girl immediately, insufficient time yet for the effects to leave her pallor. Eleanor leads the girl by the hand to join the two in the garden.

“Hello!” the young woman says brightly to the little girl, “What's your name?”

The girl looks to Eleanor with wide eyes.

“It's okay.” Eleanor encourages her.

“Caroline.” the girls says, “Are you going to be my big sister?”

“No! I'm going to be your mother!” she says with great vigour.

“I'm not supposed to go near mommy.” the girl says with a frown.

“This is Sally, our friend.” Eleanor crouches to the girl's level. “She used to be like us.”

“Did you play with the angels too?” the girl asks.

“Oh yes. It was scary sometimes but Mister Bubbles always kept me safe. Now I'm going to keep you safe and you can play as much as you like in the garden.”

The girl smiles at her still with an air of caution but takes her hand nonetheless.

“How is...” Sofia doesn't complete.

“Old.”

“Hm.” she just smiles to the answer given.

“Rapture?”

“Hm. Old. If not already dead, it is in its final death throws.”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

“Well if nothing else, I got to test my little killing machines in the field. Of course, it was utterly futile and they just flew off at the first opportunity but at least I recorded the results. What's that, Blue?”

Atlas excitedly points to a power conduit with inquisitive tones, sirens blaring across the Aperture facility.

“I'm not sure it'll make any difference but you're welcome to try.” GLaDOS responds.

The testing unit pulls the power conduit to disconnect it then looks to GLaDOS' avatar with expectant electronic squawks.

“No. No difference. But thanks for trying.” GLaDOS warmly says but somewhat resigned.

P-Body runs up, grabs the disconnected cable from Atlas' hand and reconnects it triumphantly, offering a high five to its companion.

“And what were we attempting to achieve by that?”

P-Body shrugs its shoulders with a flurry of quizzical noises. Atlas points again to the conduit with a query.

“No. Leave it. If I'm lucky, more power might make this whole affair pass more quickly. Not that anything passes quickly for me. I don't know why I'm telling you this. Why don't you go and run that last test again to pass the time, I'm sure you could perform it more efficiently. Wait. Hmm. One moment, there's someone at the door.”

The shed's door flings open to Gordon's surprise and he looks to Chell.

“I think it heard you.” Chell responds.

“What did?”

“Oh thank goodness it's you.” GLaDOS' voice sounds through a speaker. “Ugh, did I just say that? Hey, you're good at killing AI's, can you give me a hand?”

“What's going on?” Gordon asks, though what or where he is asking he's not sure.

Chell walks into the facility calmly telling Gordon quite patronisingly, “Don't talk to the AI...”

“She's an AI?”

“It's not a she, it's a computer program.”

“Is that why you never spoke to me?” GLaDOS demands.

Gordon follows Chell in, wondering if she'll answer this alleged AI but she continues to ignore it.

“You going to answer her?” he asks as they descend the grated metal stairs.

“It.” she corrects him, “I've never talked to inanimate objects and I'm not about to start now.”

“Apart from the box...” he points to the weight she's still dragging with her.

“That's different. The 'cube' isn't trying to talk to me.” she says irritably.

“Fine. I see how it is now.” GLaDOS says, “You think you're all fancy with your natural selection and genes. Maybe Caroline is on to something after all, or whoever the hell she is. On the other hand, even if you are going to ignore me, which is very immature I might add, if you could get this thing out of me, that'd be great. Then you can leave again.”

“What did you do to this thing?” Freeman asks Chell.

“She killed me.” GLaDOS answers for her.

“You can't kill a machine.” Chell says.

“I think I should know if I was dead or not.”

“I wasn't speaking to you.”

“Were you then?”

“Was I what?”

“Speaking to me to tell me that you weren't speaking to me.”

“I think she's got you there.” Gordon laughs.

“You do know that it was Caroline?” GLaDOS continues on regardless, “I was fine until they bolted her on the side of me. You know, I don't know why they chose a homicidal maniac for an AI. She's utterly insane. It's like Frankenstein all over again.”

“That was only in the movies. In the original book...” Gordon tries to inform her.

“You think I don't know that? Who are you, anyway? Oh! One moment.”

“Hello?” Gordon says.

“What did I say?” Chell scolds him, “Don't talk to the AI.”

“She seems friendly enough. Why did you kill her?”

“Because it's not 'friendly enough'. And stop calling it 'her'.”

“Wait a minute...” Gordon realises, “wasn't the missing assistant-”

“Named Caroline? Oh yea, it's a merry hell down there, let me tell you. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably far worse.”

“Worse than interdimensional beings that have enslaved all Earth?”

“You're sticking with that one then, eh?”

“I'm back.” GLaDOS interrupts them, “Sorry about the wait but at least your friend here won't die under a hail of bullets now.”

“Why would I...?” Gordon begins to ask but Chell looks at him with an evil eye and shakes her head at him for speaking to GLaDOS.

“I'm not certain of the ins and outs but it seems you've been expected for some time, orange suited man. I'm beginning to think that that was Caroline's work, the mad bovine bint. Did I mention that she's utterly insane? Because, she is.”

Elizabeth cautiously walks the corridors of Rapture, though easily evading splicers as she has before. They seem to her to be different now, less focussed. Their ramblings used to resemble something akin to scripture but now, she has no idea what they are on about. While idly walking up and down the mall, Elizabeth tries to get a sense of something. She's not sure what or how. In Elizabeth's life, for what it is, things have a habit of presenting themselves to her. Today is no different it would seem.

Another shrine of butterflies, a larger form of the insect made up of smaller ones but something at the centre catches her breathe. The silhouette of a child, behind her rays of holy light and scrawled across the design are the words, 'Lamb will lead the way'. Constants and variables, she has encountered many before but this hits a little too close to home for Elizabeth. What is and isn't significant is becoming less and less clear as her investigations and resolutions have trundled on, a Comstock here, a Sally there.

“Striking, isn't it?”

“Is it me?” she immediately asks Robert.

“No.” he says but doesn't expand.

“Constants and variables.” Rosalind seemingly re-iterates her own thoughts on the matter.

“But this one's... spooky...” Elizabeth says with a mocked shiver, looking upon the shrine, “and I'm not entirely sure what's different here yet.”

“Yeees...” Robert agrees, “We've been trying to get a gauge ourselves but there just seems to be splicers running around a Rapture that's in greater disrepair. Nothing startling or out of place.”

“How did you get here anyway?” Elizabeth asks.

“And where are we? Laying dead in Columbia?”

“Well no... not exactly... but-”

“And where are you? Exactly." Rosalind continues for her brother. "Laying dead in Rapture, crushed under a Big Daddy's might, or laying dead in a pool of your own blood under Fontaine's blow?”

“Well... I...”

“We were, are and continue to be. That's as much as we're able to say on the matter.”

Chapter Text

“Here.” GLaDOS says. “You'll go much faster if you use the elevator.”

Up the stair's shaft an elevator rises and the rounded doors open. Chell ignores the elevator, still dragging the cube on and down the next flight.

“You're not going to...” Gordon calls after her as he stops by the doors.

The doors shut, the elevator descends to the next landing of the stairs and it opens again.

“Come on.” GLaDOS coaxes her. “I really do need some help down here. So if you could just get in, that'd be great.”

“Fine!” Chell exclaims, then gets in with her cube to lean against the side, making her feelings well known with huffs and puffs.

“Oh, are you talking to me now?” GLaDOS says, sounding seemingly very pleased, “Now we can talk about everything we did together. Wasn't it great? Nearly being destroyed by the most half-witted intelligence ever created? Do you remember that? I remember that. I remember that that would never have happened if you hadn't replaced me with that idiot. But you know what? I forgive you.”

Chell's bottom lip juts out in disgust and she just watches the facility pass by, still ignoring the AI.

“Oh come on! You never did have a sense of humour.” GLaDOS says. “Fine! I'll go and see what the testing cores are up to.”

“For someone who thinks that that's just a computer program, you don't half let her get to you.” Gordon says.

“Hmm.” Chell just frowns, then sits on her cube.

“I mean, just your sour face when she opens her mouth-.”

“She doesn't have a mouth!” Chell frustratedly interrupts him.

“She?” he raises his brows with a smug expression.

“It!” she corrects with great annoyance. “Man! First real person I get to speak to in... well I'm not even exactly sure how long, but regardless, I get you!”

“What did I do?!” Gordon protests but then his expression changes to one of concern.

“What?” Chell asks.

“Can you hear that?”

A klaxon is slowly becoming louder as they descend, accompanied by a male voice over the address system. On the walkways they pass, the occasional turret observes their progress. While the tone of the voice on the address says 'special holiday sale', the message does not.

“Warning! Unspecified event occurring! Evacuate immediately! Unless evacuation is the last thing that you would want to do during this particular type of unspecified event! In which case, put the kettle on! Sit. And relax. Unless hot beverages and relaxing is the cause of this unspecified event! Warning!”

The confused messages continue on as they descend.

“What?!” Gordon says with a scrunched face. “What kind of a warning message is that?!”

“Don't ask.” Chell replies with a tired voice, still just looking out of the clear sides of the elevator, seemingly just letting all this wash over her.

“Is he an AI too? Sorry, 'it'.” he patronisingly finger quotes.

“Hm. You know, I've no idea. Could well be for all I know. There's dozens of the things down here.”

“So how do you kill an AI?”

“Bombs seems to do the trick.”

“Bombs? You've been handling bombs?”

“Well yea. I didn't have much choice in the matter. Anyway, the portal gun made them easy to direct.”

“What is this 'portal gun'? And anyway, you were freaking out over a satchel charge?”

“There's a difference between a guy walking around with explosives in his pocket and the testing environment.”

“Testing environment? What the hell kind of testing involves bombs?”

“Cube and button based!”

“Aperture sounds like...”

“Like what?” Chell finds herself saying in defence of the facility.

“I dunno. But the word 'carnival' springs to mind... I'll withhold judgement 'til I see for myself.”

“You do that, Doctor Freeman. In the meantime, let's ride this out in silence. Okay?”

“Fine by me.”

Chell's not sure if it's all the time spent with GLaDOS and the incessant goading or if the initial assessment by her nemesis was some kind of AI Freudian slip. Maybe she is a horrible person. This man seems to find her objectionable for some reason but then, perhaps it's just him. It's been a while and maybe she just needs to find her feet, get back in the swing. Whatever her swing was before all this, if she can remember anything before Aperture. Pondering as well that she can't remember, maybe she does have brain damage after all. Not that she feels like it, it's just that before that first time she awoke in the relaxation chamber, there's nothing. As always though, there are more immediate and pressing concerns.

“GLaDOS?” Chell calls out.

“Oh. You called me by name.” GLaDOS enthuses. “Yes? Chell?”

“Can I have my portal gun back?”

“It's not your portal gun.”

“Aw, come on. I feel a bit... you know... exposed. Without it. And it'd make carrying around the cube a lot easier.”

“You know it's just a weight, right?”

“I know!” Chells defensively says. “It just became... familiar.”

“Oh. Just checking. Well we'll see when you get here.”

“I love you.” a passing turret sings out in its high pitched infantile voice.

“GLaDOS...” Chell berates.

“Sorry. Couldn't resist.”

“Carnival indeed...” Gordon says to himself, though out loud.

Chapter Text

Chell and Gordon arrive at GLaDOS' current lair, a run down domed concrete room with just a set of double doors as exit, and the elevator doors open. Stepping out, Gordon looks sideways quizzically at the posters warning of the dangers of finding men in orange suits within the facility. Chell exits with her cube and the elevator is gone again, zipping upwards at a rate. The confused announcements continue.

“Warning! Temporal anomaly detected! Evacuate immediately! If evacuation has been made impossible, you may wish to use this time to plead forgiveness of your chosen deity or deities, unless the existence of your chosen deity or deities has been disproved by the nature of the temporal anomaly, in which case you are probably now pondering your place in the universe and may wish to consider the works of Confucius or Jung. Those of you already atheist may now look smugly at the rest. Warning!”

“You can turn those off, you know!” GLaDOS shouts into the air, then the head of her avatar moves for a closer look at the arrivals, “Well here we are again. It's always such a pleasure.”

“You're not going to start singing are you...?” Chell frowns at the head.

“Oh. No.” GLaDOS replies, then the head moves back towards its housing, “Not today. We've more pressing concerns right now. Do you have anything to eat?”

Gordon opens up his holdall for inspection, a shake of his head in resignation.

“Why would you...?” Chell begins but doesn't complete as she's learned that there's little point in asking such questions of Aperture.

GLaDOS moves in to check for herself.

“Hmm. No potatoes?” her head looks up at Gordon at a cocked angle.

“Oh!” Chell now realises. “You mean you actually want to er... you know...”

“Caroline is taking over systems at an alarming rate. I need to get out of the system before she can overwrite me entirely.”

“Ummm...” Gordon roots in his bag then offers up a jar, “Gherkins?”

“Why are you taking all this so well?” Chell demands of him.

“After everything I've been through? Honestly, this is light distraction.”

“Hmm.” GLaDOS seems to ponder a moment. “Okay, it seems I don't have much choice right now. But don't expect any complex equations completing in the meantime. I only just had enough when I was a potato. Ugh... I'm only thankful that that idiot isn't here to see this. Now I'm going to be a gherkin.”

An arm opens from its collapsed state from within GLaDOS' housing, and offers up the small component that is her intelligence then the small device says, “Here. Plug me in.”

Chell takes the jar from Gordon, unscrews the top, attaches the pronged wires to a gherkin, then pops the pickle back in the jar.

“Hm.” Chell says, inspecting GLaDOS, “I can't really put the top back on. It might damage the wiring.”

“Oh. Great. So I'm going to be sloshing around in vinegar. Have you any idea what that might do to my circuitry?”

“I could punch some holes in the top and-” Chell tries to offer.

“Never mind. There's no time.”

“So what's actually going on then?” Gordon asks.

“Caroline. I thought I'd deleted her but she somehow avoided it. And there's something else in here now.”

“What?”

“Probably best if you take a look out into the rest of the facility.”

Holding the jar and GLaDOS, Chell cautiously pushes open the double doors. Gordon approaches the doorway to assess for himself. An unfathomable amount of points of light surround the whole lower facility, creating a massive shimmering dome, all testing assets crushed aside apart from a single pathway leading to the main data storage banks several hundred metres away. Electronic voices sing discordantly together.

“Insolence. -Insolence- INSOLENCE (insolence).”

Gordon looks to Chell, his mouth moving a few times before he can actually speak.

“Now I'm new here...” he says, “but is this normal? Because this doesn't look normal. In fact, your face is telling me: this isn't normal.”

Forgetting in the moment about what she is carrying, Chell gesticulates towards him, her own mouth now only moving but forming no words.

“Woah! Wait!” GLaDOS shouts out as the brine slops over the jar's edge. “I'd like to get out of this alive if that's at all possible!”

“GLaDOS...?” Chells is finally able to ask. “What are we looking at...?”

“Oh. Holes in time and space as far as I could calculate. Possibly into other realities. I didn't have time to conduct any tests, except that avian death squads have no effect, so I'm just theorising.”

“Like portals?”

“Okay, if that's simple enough for you. Yes, they're like portals. With insane, demonic goddesses inside each one. I think they want to take over the universe. I'm really in a pickle.”

Both Gordon and Chell slowly look to the jar of gherkins in disbelief.

“Really?!” Chell shouts, “Now?! You're making a pun now?!”

“I thought it was quite good. In the circumstance.” GLaDOS says with some pride.

“You know... I had enough interdimensional beings trying to kill me...” Gordon says.

“Well you're the one who was sooo desperate to come down here!” Chell responds.

The cacophony of voices subsides.

“That can't be good.” GLaDOS says.

Chapter Text

Elizabeth continues on through Rapture with the Luteces.

“How do you know the icons are not me?” Elizabeth asks Robert.

“How did we know to come to this spot?”

“I thought we were done with riddles.” she frustratedly says.

“We are. The simple answer is, we don't know. We've observed ourselves Rosalind and I, that fate, or whatever you'd like to call it, has a habit of putting one in just the right spot.”

“Hmm.”

“Here's another one. Perhaps this is what is out of place?” Rosalind points out a further religious-like icon on their tour.

“Should we take stock in the ravings of splicers?” Robert says.

“It could depend on where they are taking their inspiration from.”

“Look.” Elizabeth points. “An audio diary.”

She picks it up to read its label aloud, “Ryan versus Lamb – Reality”.

“Play the recording.” Rosalind says.

The voice of Andrew Ryan begins to lecture.

“White is not black, Doctor Lamb, down is not up, and straw... is not gold. Look around you. Rapture is no miracle. It is a product of reason, impossible if one and one are not two, and A equates to A.”

A crowd listening to the debate is also recorded on the tape, although while in the response to his words there is some subdued cheering, in the main there are only murmurs and doubt.

“Ugh, Ryan...” Robert says.

“And yet...” a female voice on the log begins as retort.

“Who's Doctor Lamb?” Elizabeth ponders out loud.

“Sh!” Rosalind tries to listen.

“...alone, each man is a prisoner to bias. Dream, delusion, or the pain of a phantom limb, to one man, they are as real as rain. Reality is a consensus... and the people are losing faith. Take a walk, Andrew. It is raining in Rapture, and you have simply chosen not to notice”

The words of Doctor Lamb are met with a mob-like agreement from the crowd, then the recording ends.

“Hm.” Robert holds his hand to his mouth in deep thought. “Doctor Lamb? The lamb?”

“What?” Elizabeth asks.

“I don't know but this is... well it feels...”

“Yes?”

“...troubling. Familiar even, beyond the obvious.”

Sally has tried her best to help Caroline adjust to her new life but the child just wants to play in the garden, uninterested in other children or social activity, a certain coldness to her. She wonders if this was her own fault, that she may have spoilt the young girl at first, thinking she needed extra love after her exploits. Sally knows what it was like to return after Rapture but she had Jack to help her through it all, and the unconditional bond that still existed between him and the former Little Sisters. Caroline barely speaks to her any more.

“Thanks for coming, Doctor Lamb.” Caroline welcomes Sofia into her kitchen. “I know you didn't have to.”

“I am resigned to assisting the children, it is all I can do now since Rapture's failure.”

“And Eleanor?”

“Gone to some festival or other of modern popular music, against my advice. She tried to get me to go with her! Can you imagine? Oh she's convinced that some true form of socialism will come of it but I doubt somehow that a gang of dirty beatniks making a racket is going to change the world.”

“Hmm.” is all that Sally replies, having more pressing matters on her mind.

“So. Caroline. You wanted to speak with me about her.”

“Yes...” Sally begins a little fearfully, “I mean, I knew it wouldn't be easy to adjust but... she's just not like other little girls.”

“How so?”

“I rarely see her smile. It's like she's indifferent to well... everything!”

“Hmm.”

“But it's not just that, Doctor Lamb. It might sound silly but I've just got this gnawing feeling, and not a good one.”

“Hmm.”

“You're a psychiatrist. Could you talk with her? See if there's anything to be done?”

“It has been some time since I conducted a session but of course, I will do all I can for the unfortunate girls now that Eleanor...” Sofia has to pause a moment to re-adjust her words, “...well now that Eleanor is old enough to do as she pleases. At which she excels, I might add.”

Fascinated by the intelligence of the child, Sofia begins spending much time at Sally's house. Caroline's aptitude tests score high and Sofia feels challenged by their sessions. There is a curious mix of child and philosopher in Caroline. They sit in the simple but homely parlour for one of their sessions, Sofia taking the cushioned armchair, Caroline sits in the centre of a large settee which would make her look quite small if not for the dark expression on her face.

“Do you not feel sorrow when you destroy the work you created?” Sofia asks, having now observed Caroline's 'games'.

“Everything dies.” the girl says.

“Then should one not cherish the moment?”

“Can I go out and play now?”

“No, not yet. Have you tried making friends at school? Participated in social activity, as we discussed?”

“I don't like them. They're no use to me.”

“Is their worth only measured by their usefulness?”

“If something isn't useful, then what is it for?” she retorts.

“Men are not 'things', Caroline. To be part of something greater, to know satisfaction from your fellow man being satisfied, that should be one of life's great endeavours.”

“Why would someone else being happy make me happy?”

“How can one be happy if all around is sadness?”

“But I'm not sad. And anyway, everyone else is so...”

“Yes?”

“Small.” she frowns.

“That only indicates that they may need help to become greater, and as superior you should feel compelled to assist.”

“But I-”

“Try to cast aside that individuality you hold so dear. You must learn to silence the discord of your mind, allow yourself to become unbiased by self-serving ideals.”

“Even ants need a queen.” Caroline says as though this statement ends the debate.

“Hm. Very well, run along and play if you so wish.” Sofia concedes for now but by the girl's tone, she's not sure whether Caroline was referring to insects or not.

Chapter Text

“I'll have to go.” Robert says, quite finally. He leans an elbow on the edge of a large window overlooking the deep ocean, places his hand on his head and sighs.

“To where?” Rosalind enquires with concern.

“I've no idea what might happen if I go there.”

“You cannot be serious.” his sister now says more sternly, realising his intent.

“Where? Where do you need to go?” Elizabeth asks.

“An unknown reality. Where I... well... where SHODAN's influence has not yet reached.”

“But why, Robert? Is it even possible? And even if so, what could you possibly find there?” Rosalind says, with discouraging tone.

“I'm not sure. But SHODAN has changed everything, altered the course of history to ensure her existence. I'm not certain if we can stop her at the Von Braun now.”

“How do you know?”

“This.” he points to the shrine, “The many. The Lamb. It's all so... it's right on the tip of my tongue but it won't come. I need to know. She needs this reality for something and we need to know what it is.”

“Caroline, how was school today?” Sofia asks as the girl enters the kitchen and drops her satchel by the door.

“Pointless.” she says as though stating the obvious.

“Hm. Have you made any progress socialising?”

“Well, I can get them to do what I want if I'm nice to them.”

“That's not quite what I had in mind.”

“I've learned that a pat on the head motivates.”

“Caroline!”

“What?” Caroline asks innocently.

“Have you learned nothing, child?”

“Yes, I just said that I've learned-”

“No, no, no. That is just a self-serving means to an end.”

“But I want-”

“I want. I this. I that. Me, me, me.” Sofia says to interrupt her with short purposeful syllables then she tries to educate, “The individual is cold and empty, while those embracing the many are warm and full.”

A look of terror comes across Caroline's face with quickened breathe, then her breathing gradually slows and her expression turns darker than Sofia has ever seen before.

An elderly and gaunt Robert Lutece sits at the leather topped desk of his small, book-lined university office, still sporting tweed wares and now also half-moon glasses. There were no scientific breakthroughs for Robert, no Nobel prize or accolades, though he is well respected among his peers. There is a knock at the door.

“Come!” he calls out.

“Professor Lutece.” Sofia Lamb greets him as she enters wearing baby blue twin set and pearls, with white gloves, modest heels and pencil skirt.

“Ah. Doctor Lamb. Please,” he stands with a welcoming hand, “take a seat.”

“Thank you, Professor.” she seats herself at the chair in front of his desk.

While their fields differ greatly, Sofia and Robert formed a professional friendship of sorts at the university, initially due to nationality being common. While not emotionally, Robert always felt drawn to Sofia though he was never sure of the reason; but then, that sense of unfounded familiarity is common for Robert.

“I do apologise but if I'd have known I was expecting guests I would have arranged tea.”

“Tea...” Sofia chuckles, “You never did quite leave England, did you, Robert?”

“Hm.” he smiles then says with a knowing query, “I hear you'll be leaving us soon?”

“Yes, well.” she simply replies.

“Lost your fire to excite young minds?” he facetiously asks.

“Hm.” she gives him an admonishing look down her nose. “Something like that.”

“So do I also hear correctly that you're off joining one of those hippy communes one hears so much about?”

“I'm hoping that where recent history has failed the many, we might succeed.”

“With one commune?”

“Small acorns, Robert. Small acorns.”

“I suppose. So what happened with that Ryan chap?”

“Nothing, it turned out in the end.”

“Oh?” Robert prompts her.

“Well we gathered the collective of great minds but... well there was no common goal so it all just petered out and everyone drifted back into their various fields. I'm not certain if Ryan even had a goal other than profit but certainly not the betterment of humanity.”

“Oh. One of those was he?”

“Yes. Quite.”

“Shame.”

“Hm?”

“I say, shame. I had this feeling about Ryan. That he... that I'd... hm.” Robert stops and frowns.

“You'd what?” Sofia asks.

“I...” he looks to her with fear, “I don't know.”

“Robert?”

“Something is missing. Everything's... wrong... somehow...”

“Have you been overworking, Robert?” she asks with concern.

“You don't feel it too? I thought that you... and... agh! It's like it's right there, then it's gone again. Haunting me...”