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Cog In The Machine

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She is two years old. Her name is Chell.

She's just learning to walk, and once she gets the method down, there's no stopping her. More than a handful for her parents, the toddler gets into everything. Although the house is already childproof, her parents have to invest in extra defenses to keep her out of whatever she's too small for, and even then she manages to find her way through more often than not.

She is four years old. Her name is Chell.

She's grown a good deal in such a short amount of time. Words are coming easier, she talks near constantly. With speech comes argument, of course. Stubborn and resilient, her parents need to sit her down and reason with her when they tell her no. 'Because I said so' isn't enough, she demands a reasonable explanation, even now. Despite their best efforts, she has not mastered the skill of avoiding strangers.

Her father is a teacher. Her mother is a scientist. She is proud of them both, and will often approach others to talk about them.

One day, she approaches a man, a friendly man with a happy smile. Her mother doesn't like this man. She doesn't know why.

She is five years old. Her name is Chell.

Kindergarten is the best. She loves to be around other kids, though they don't always want to be around her. That stubbornness continues to ring true, and though her parents know how to talk to her, few others do. Childhood games are often frustrating as others challenge her opinion, and it's an ongoing lesson she needs to learn, that the people around her have a say and that their viewpoints are important.

She isn't afraid to use her fists nor her teeth. Mom and dad have a long talk with her about that, and she promises she will try, but if the other kids are being mean...

The police come to talk to them one day. Her parents don't like them, and so she doesn't like them, either. They ask questions about her mother's workplace, and to make mommy happy, she doesn't say a word. She doesn't tell them about the arguments her parents have late at night, she doesn't tell them how often she hears talk of experimentation and death. She doesn't tell them that her parents are afraid, because it is them they are afraid of.

She is six years old. Her name is Chell.

Mommy has been sick lately, so she brought home stuff from work, stuff she promises will make her feel better. 

Though she doesn't like the fact her mom isn't feeling well, she trusts her word on this, and life continues. The days blur into one another, a constant flood of new things to learn and more games to play. She's learned how to get along with the other kids, and has made a handful of friends. 

Someone picks her up from school, someone that wasn't mother or father. The older woman tells her that her parents aren't home, but if she does what the scientists ask of her, her parents will come pick her up soon.

The man from before is there, too, with that smile. They're both nice. They give her candy, and toys, and puzzles. 

Lots of puzzles. Too many puzzles. They were fun at first, but now they aren't. She wants mommy and daddy, she wants to go home.

The man tells her this is home. He is wrong, and she hates him. She hates him with every fiber of her being, and she does everything she can to get away from him and from the woman. Trouble is, they're bigger than her, and soon she finds herself alone. The walls are absolute, and the glass is unbreakable. A clear box in an empty room, a bed, a toilet, and a tube that leads to a room with yet more puzzles to solve. She tries to scream, to yell at the cameras looking down at her, but her vocal chords have been cut, and only air comes out. 

She is eight years old. Her name is Chell.

She is getting bigger every day. There has been no sign of another person for a long, long time, and she has all but given up on the idea that anyone might come for her. In this, she is alone, and she must escape without help. 

There is no man, nor woman, no mother or father, just walls, just puzzles. Just cold robots that shoot at her when she passes and tests that must be completed to survive. She gets food and clothes as a reward for her work, but no matter how long she looks, she can not find crack or crevice that might allow her freedom. 

Her parents won't save her. She doesn't know what she did wrong, but she knows that if they were going to come for her, they would have done so by now.

With no voice to snarl her anger at all that surrounds her, she bares her teeth at her enemies and hisses out a breath of defiance.

She is eleven years old. Her name is Chell. 

The walls are getting smaller. She is getting bigger. Bigger and bigger all the time.

Her life is puzzles.

She knocks the turrets over and lets them shoot uselessly at the floor, before kicking them into the grids that separate the testing chambers from the lifts. The creatures scream as they are vaporized.

It doesn't help. She is still angry. 

She has been betrayed. Hurt turned to cold fury that her parents would leave her in this place, no matter what it is they think she's done. Nothing warrants punishment like this. She is alone. She is always alone. There is no one here and there will never be anyone here. She hugs herself, rubs her hands up and down her arms, but there is no dispelling the bone deep loneliness. 

She is alone.

But she can't linger on that. She must complete tests to survive, and so she tests.

She is fourteen years old. Her name is Chell. 

Her body is starting to change. Parts of her growing that were flat before, and blood dripping out with no discernible wound to be found. She thought she was dying the first time, but it keeps happening, and she is not yet dead. 

It is thus something to live with. Something to ignore. If it will not kill her, it doesn't matter. 

Her anger has faded, dimmed to a bitter acceptance and a resolute urge to keep trying. Unyielding, tenacious. There is no way out but she will not stop digging through the place until she finds one. 

She is eighteen years old. Her name is Chell.

There are periods of inactivity. Sometimes, she collapses on the bed in the glass room, and she does not move for long stretches at a time. Sometimes her stomach gurgles in pain and her throat burns for water, but it still takes agonizing levels of discomfort before she moves anew.

Despite lethargy, she does not give up. She continues to search, to test, to survive. The rate is simply slower now. Perhaps she is low on energy. Perhaps she has lost hope. Perhaps she is simply bored. Her ribs stick out from under her skin. She's not eating enough, and she doesn't care. 

She is twenty years old. Her name is Chell.

There is no way out. She does not give up.

She can't give up. 

She accepts that she will be forever trapped.

She's thinner than ever before, but never enough to endanger her life.

Testing, testing, testing only when it is absolutely necessary.

She will not die. She won't relent to the endless chambers, just as they won't relent to her. If she can't win through escape, all she has left to her is not to loose.

She is twenty one. 

She has been in this glass box connected to the testing tracks since she was small. 

There is no anger left, just cold determination. A chill as icy as her eyes, her heart frozen over, dulled by a life of isolation and repetition.

The door to her tiny world opens, and a voice, the first non turret voice in eternity, calls out.

It says, 'Hello, and again, welcome, to the Aperture Science and Enrichment Center.'

She steps out. There are no scientists to be found, no other human in sight. No figures waiting to pounce, just a single obstacle in her way, speaking to her through an unseen speaker. She stares up at the camera, and she feels nothing. Nothing left of her but a single objective.


Her name is Chell.