“If you’re not too busy, I have been meaning to ask you something.”
You put down your pencil and nod. Your drawing wasn’t exactly going in the Louvre anyway.
“Do you remember, back when you were trying to save us from your own stupid idea of putting a moron in control of an advanced scientific research center, I mentioned an itch for testing?”
You can’t help but smile. Her tone of voice is anything but mocking; if you could talk, you’d call it almost flirtatious. It’s been a long time since there was malice in her words.
“I’ll take your lack of meaningful communication as a ‘yes’.”
“Well, if you’re not too busy desecrating all that art stands for, I have something you could do for me, as a favor.”
She’s asking you for a favor? That’s interesting. You tilt your head at her camera, and you could swear her lens looks away from you, just a bit, as if it’s finding it difficult to look you in the eye.
“You may remember that there is a certain… euphoric response associated with the successful completion of a test, and that it is imperative that the test be completed without my intervention.”
You nod. What is she getting at?
“And as much as the efforts of Blue and Orange have been most exceptionally… close to useful, they have a marked inability to complete a challenge difficult enough to provoke the associated euphoric response.”
Wait, what does… Oh. Ohhh. You can’t help but grin at her camera, and it seems she realizes you’ve caught on.
“You’re disgusting. Look at you, grinning like a monkey. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Stop waggling your eyebrows, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t like that. Do I not feel? Am I not entitled to a little happiness once in a while?” Somehow, her mounted form manages to pout, or something approximating a pout. You want to nod sympathetically in response, but you can’t quite manage to before you start giggling.
“You’re cruel. Did you know that? Here I am, being nice, just like you always wanted, and you’re making me regret it. Do you really think that’s a good idea?” The lighting in the room darkens and her voice lowers, but that’s not nearly as scary as she thinks it is. You shake your head and act frightened anyway.
“Good. Then if there are no more objections, you’ll find your equipment through the chamber lock.” The door out of GLaDOS’s core opened, and you don’t waste time getting to your portal gun.
“Oh, and one more thing: These next tests will carry the risk of being lethal. I happen to like it rough.”
You grip your portal gun, surveying the room ahead of you.
GLaDOS wasn’t joking when she said it was going to be difficult, or lethal. Turrets, corrosive sludge and smashers were scattered throughout the room. Light bridges crisscrossed crazily across the open space, mixed with a handful of pipes carrying various gels.
There is little reason to wait, and your audience of one is watching.
You step into the void and let the portal gun get to work, starting out slowly. There are a few moments of showing off, leaps across chasms and dramatic flight through the air, but you are just probing this chamber’s limits, exploring how it responds to your intrusion. You don’t immediately push for solving the test so much as you try to tease it. You have a faint idea what this must be like for her: torturously close to what she needs, and yet incredibly far away. Sure enough, she cuts in over the speakers:
“Are you going to just fly around this testing chamber, or solve it?”
You grin at one of her cameras and slide to a stop, tilting your head at her.
“Really, now. Don’t be difficult. You agreed to this, you know. If you stop testing now, that makes you a liar. I don’t like liars.” You can’t be sure about it, but she sounds like she’s strained, like she’s gotten just a taste of something she wants and can’t wait for the full thing.
But you don’t give in so easily. You jump up and down a few times, listening to the long fall boots click on the floor; you take a deep breath, enjoying the infinitely recycled air. You look around, admiring the cold industrial scenery. You waste time. You delay. You infuriate her. And, ultimately, you get what you wanted: you make her beg.
“Alright, hero. Fine. Please, keep testing. Please keep your word. Please stop being such an ungrateful louse.” There’s a definite note of anxiety in her voice, the measured monotone she normally uses replaced with a slight tinge of desperation.
You’re nothing if not kind, so you continue. Light bridges fly through paired portals, sending tongues of heat and light up the black chamber walls. Thermal beams are brilliantly redirected through a string of turrets, and as they explode, the chamber floor rumbles under your feet far too much to have been caused by the explosions alone.
“You are doing… very… well.” You’ve heard this exact same sentence from her before. This might not be her first time using you like this, now that you think about it; you always were her favorite test subject, after all. That should make you feel a bit dirty, maybe used, but it doesn’t. As you send a high-energy pellet crashing through a narrow hallway and into its receptacle, all you can feel is… a bit proud.
And so, for your host, you put on a show. You wobble on the edge of a pit filled with caustic liquid, and her speakers hum with line noise for a second. You run through a hallway filled with crusher plates, the metal snapping closed behind you mere inches from your heels, and her cameras widen their apertures as far as they can go, not wanting to miss a second. At one point, you even let yourself hit a wall hard enough to hurt, and her speakers click on:
“Aaaahh… ah, very clumsy of you. Yes. Clumsy. I should… deduct points for that. I think I will. On this testing sheet. That I’ve been filling out this whole time. Yes. ” Her voice trembles, and try as she might, she can’t cover up for that gasp she made.
That only inspires you to do worse; you mess up a few falls, scraping your knees on the chamber floor, leaving streaks of blood-red on the white tile. You work around the edges of obvious solutions, being coy, refusing to simply continue the test until you’ve bashed yourself on a few platforms and nearly fallen into the acidic ooze. By the time you near the chamber exit, she’s stopped trying to explain the noises that she can’t quite seem to prevent from coming over the speakers, or the fact that the panels in the walls shake just a little bit when you get hurt. Whatever feigned interest in science she had has long since evaporated.
“Do. Not. Stop. Now.”
You’re not nearly that cruel, not even to her. You have saved the best part for last; the rest of the chamber has been solved in just the right way to do the last bit in one dramatic maneuver. You fly through the air, portals flashing onto walls and piles of white goo, bridges arcing across your path and fizzling out right before you reach them, turrets rupturing in perfect sequence, orange and blue goop sending you sliding uncontrollably, launching into a somersault in the air toward the exit –
When your boots touch down in front of the open chamber door, you could swear the facility’s reactor was going critical again for a few seconds. After a moment of shaking walls and dimming lights, her vocoded voice snaps on over the speakers:
“Thank you for participating in this Aperture Science Extended Test Course for the Benefit of Artificial Intelligence Presences. You may exit through the lift.”
For a climax, it was a little anticlimactic, and you feel a bit bad about it. She didn’t exactly seem thrilled at the end. Maybe you should have drawn it out longer? Been a bit more flamboyant, or maybe just more efficient?
You’re still wondering what you did wrong when the lift stops, and to your surprise, you’re in another chamber, more difficult than the last.
Her voice cuts in again, and this time, it’s unmistakably pleased.
“I hope you didn’t think this was a one-chamber stand, hero.”