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The Team Fortress Testing Initiative

Chapter Text

“And that's what that book ‘The Metamorphosis’ was about; a human who was so stupid that he turned into a bug, so his brain would fit properly into his skull.” Wheatley said to Scout, who was listening with rapt attention.

 

“Damn. Heavy’s always sayin’ it's a metaphor about how change affects people or somethin’ like that.” Scout responded, bouncing a tennis ball against the wall.

 

“Well, what would he know? You know what a PhD is? It's a form of self-validation. And his PhD is in Russian literature, isn't it?” Wheatley asked.

 

“Yeah,” Scout said

 

“Well, the original text was in German, and you don't hear that doctor saying anything about redemption, do you?” Wheatley pointed out.

 

“Yeah… yeah !” Scout said, standing up. “You're right!”

 

“Of course I’m right,” Wheatley said. “Now―”

 

“I don't know what he’s talking about, but he's definitely incorrect.” Spy said, walking into the room, making Scout jump.

 

“What are you doin’ here?” Scout was indignant.

 

Spy sighed. “I need the thing,” he said, gesturing to Wheatley.

 

“Well, what happened to your old sapper?” Scout rather liked hanging out with Wheatley. He was a goldmine of information, and he wasn't condescending about sharing it.

 

“It’s in the repair shop. Having to disable dozens of level three sentries will do that to a machine.”

 

Wheatley’s eye widened.

 

“Thank you,” Spy said, snatching the robot from the floor.

 


 

“Are we sneaking?”

 

“Alright, I'm disabling this machine now…”

 

“Act natural, we’ve done nothing wrong, right?”

 

“Why don't you just stab him, that way we can eliminate the need for hacking?”

 


 

After seventeen trips to respawn, the battle was over, and Spy didn't hesitate to follow their Engineer back to his workshop.

 

“Can you find some way to remove the speakers on this thing?” Spy asked, holding Wheatley up on the air.

 

“What? Hey!” he said as he was being waved around in the air for emphasis.

 

“Uh…” Engie really wasn't prepared for this debacle.

 

“If you removed my speakers, I would be a living, sensory being, with no way to communicate to the outside world. Do you know what that is? That is torture . Literally. Philosophically, that is one of the worst forms of torture a being can experience.” Wheatley said, still held high in the air.

 

“Y’all know I don't do philosophy.” Engie said. He’d met the “Ap-Sap”― Wheatley― once before, when handling the calibration settings, but he’d been programming the device at the time, so he’d never heard it talk.

 

“Well―” Wheatley began, but Spy cut him off.

 

“Please, just disable it.”

 

“Tell ya what, I’ve got your old sapper,” he handed it over. “Right here. That oughta do ya.”

 

Spy frowned at it. “True, but if I ever have to use this thing again…”

 

Even though Engie didn't do philosophy, and he didn't really think the robot was sentient, he didn't feel comfortable taking away its ability to speak. “Look, even if I would shut this thing up,” he said, taking it from Spy, “I don't know if I could. This ain't like any machinery I've ever seen. Hell, the bolts alone don't match any of my wrenches.”

 

Engie turned Wheatley around in his hands, analyzing the core-turned-sapper.

 

“I feel this is a violation of my personal space,” Wheatley protested.

 

“Aperture Laboratories― that was all the talk at my class reunion, shame it was just a myth.” Engie said all to himself, looking at the logo printed on the metal.

 

“What do you mean, a myth?” Spy said, raising an eyebrow. Normally, he would have just prodded Engie back to the present, but that sapper had caused much more trouble than just shoddy fieldwork.

 

“Well, the factory creates sappers and other specialty devices, apparently Pauling got this sapper from the place.” Engie murmured. “But the story is that the place is actually some messed up research facility. People trapped there as human guinea pigs, technology unlike any ever seen― stuff that would put my teleporters to shame. And actual AIs. This thing,” Engie gestured to Wheatley. “Is likely just a context-stimulated response generator. A box that pretends to talk, in layman’s terms. Probably why Pauling never got any more sappers from the company.” Engie said.

 

“That’s not true!” Wheatley protested, but it was lost amidst the conversation.

 

“Why do you care?” Engie asked Spy, puzzled. “Normally you just try and stop me from yammerin’.”

 

“I think I've taken a tour of this facility you are talking about. It’s not just a factory. And I have some questions you might know the answer to.” Spy was calm.

 

Engie was not. “You’ve ‘taken a tour’? Wait, wait― does this have anything to do when you had to find Scout about a week ago? And y’all missed dinner?”

 

“To all of those questions, yes.” Spy said.

 

“Well, then, bring him in. If this is anything like you're implying, I need to hear more about it.” Engie was leaning forward on his desk chair now, animated with curiosity.

 

“For scientific purposes or so you will be the center of attention at your next class reunion?” Spy questioned him.

 

“Probably both,” Engie replied.

 


 

By the time they had finished the story― Scout and Spy rushing to cut each other off whenever they could― it was not only Engie, but all of the mercenaries, who were gathered around the workshop table.

 

“Interesting,” Sniper said.

 

“So ‘interesting’, I find it hard to believe it happened. Especially considering that we’re only hearing about it now.” Medic chimed in.

 

Nobody noticed Scout leave the room.

 

“Why would I lie about this?” Spy addressed Medic, but it was Heavy who answered:

 

“Shame. You were lost.” the words were short, but they carried weight. Spy, lost and scared in the middle of nowhere? Unthinkable, but more likely than the other story.

 

“First of all, that is not what happened,” said Spy. “And, secondly, if it had― which I again will remind you it didn't― you really think that going along with a story that Scout made up would be my course of action? Of course not. The sheer ridiculousness of the event proves it to be true. There was simply no point in saying anything earlier, especially since I knew the credibility of this story is doubtful at best.”

 

“Well―” Demo said, but he was cut off by Scout slamming the door open like a drama queen on a reality T.V. show.

 

“If I were makin’ this up, then where did I get these ?” he planted a foot in front of him― a foot encased in a Long-Fall Boot. He'd been set to wear them everywhere, right up until he’d caught himself in the mirror after he’d come home. He’d stowed them in the back of his closet and never put them on again.

 

Well, until now.

 

It was impossible to tell who burst out laughing first. Engie calmed down the soonest, chortling until he looked closer at the sleek quality and careful design of the boots. “Come over here, boy,” he said, a grin still tugging at the side of his mouth. “Lemme see that.”

 

Scout bounced over― literally; these things were like springs for his feet― and  raised a foot, trying to keep the awkwardness to a minimum.

 

Engie could see the purpose of the boots, the way they were structured so a fall would never hurt the wearer, so long as they landed feet-first. He tapped his chin, Newton’s laws and energy equations swirling around in his mind.

 

Engie said, “Boy, I need you to walk around. Need to see more of it. How it works and such.” Actually, he didn't. But when would an opportunity like this arise again?

 

Scout blushed, but it was for the best. He paraded around the room, slowly walking heel-to-toe as he watched Engie watching him.

 

Engie did his best to keep a straight face. “Alright, now walk backwards.”

 

“Wha―”

 

Engie snapped his fingers. “It's important, boy.”

 

Everyone had caught on, and as Scout walked backwards― and straight into the wall― Demo had to hide his laughs in a round of fake coughing.

 

“These ceilings are high, boy.” Engie said, and it was all he could do to keep the smile off of his face. “Jump.”

 

“Did― didja say ‘jump’?”

 

“Yup. You have to jump.” The ceilings were tall, but if Engie’s guess was right, they weren't tall enough. “Just once.”

 

Scout was scarlet now. But it was okay; it was to prove it happened. And Engie was a total genius at these things.

 

He sprang up and collided with the ceiling, hitting a light fixture with his forehead and landing on the floor with no dignity whatsoever.

 

“HAH! HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!” Engie cried, slapping his knee. The rest joined in for another fit of laughter. “Holy hell, that was funny, boy. But in all seriousness,” he said, seeing the red mark on Scout’s head and feeling bad, “All I wanna see now is the gun.”

 

“The… gun?” Scout asked.

 

Engie put his hands on the table. “This could make teleportin’ on the field revolutionary. If you can give it to me, within a week, I can give a working model to all of us.”

 

“Um, I don't have it,” Scout said, avoiding his gaze.

 

Engie straightened up. “What do ya mean, you don’t have it ?”

 

“Uh, I think I dropped it somewhere after we left the place, before we got back in Spy’s car. It's cool, though,” Scout said. “I like the teleporters we have now.”

 

Engie leaned in closer to everyone gathered around the table. He had a fire in his eyes― and as everyone would soon find out, enough metal detectors to go around.

Chapter Text

“Why did we all have to come out here again?” Sniper asked.

 

“I told y'all, it'll be faster if it's nine of us. And I am not cookin’ dinner until we find this thing.” Engie replied. That alone was enough to get everyone moving through the field faster; out of all of them, Dell was the only one who could make food that no one would complain about.

 


 

It hadn't taken GLaDOS long at all to undo the hack that had disabled her. It was meant for simple sentries and dispensers; it had only barely paralyzed her, actually. After she’d regained full control of the facility, she had set straight to multitasking, cleaning up the facility and running through old data she had from when there were multiple test subjects.

 

Cleaning the facility was a major job. Between that mute lunatic’s antics a while ago, and her frantic attempts to get at Wheatley by shaking the place apart, the whole place had to be scrapped. And as she deployed nanobots for deconstruction, she found a basis for a new procedure of testing; when she looked at the data, she realized that tests could be sorted into grades of difficulty. In an “easy” test, nine out of ten test subjects would be competent enough to make it. Then, if she made a slightly more difficult test, the percentage of success would drop.

 

She constructed the new testing centers based on this theory. Ten “beginner” chambers, but one subject would most likely fail anyway. There would be nine chambers after that, then eight after that. She rigged an elevator system so that each test subject was automatically delivered to an empty chamber― no talking, no cheating, no wasting time in halls exchanging pleasantries. If one more person survived than what statistics expected, they could wait their turn. Or, depending on how many test subjects GLaDOS could find, just be… removed… from the course anyway.

 

She loved this system. A mathematical simplicity, yet it involved the ferocity of Darwin. The only flaw― the flaw in all science, in her opinion― was that she needed human test subjects. The day that humans made good test subjects was the day she died― in other words, never.

 

And construction was nearly finished. It was expensive to pump in air from the outside, but it was necessary in this case; the air pressure levels were simply wrong for human testing down in the chambers. Not too hard to fix, though. Just open up the pipes on the surface for a few seconds.

 


 

 

“It’s getting dark, man. We should just go home.” Scout aimed his words to Engie.

 

“Oh, hush, kid. The sun dippin’ behind a mountain doesn't count as it gettin’ dark out.” Engie hadn’t lost his vigor in searching for the portal gun. This, this could change everything .

 

“I see it!” Heads whipped around. “No, no, wait, that’s just grass.” Wheatley corrected himself. At Engie’s insistence, they’d brought the sapper― though Spy had insisted Scout carry him. But seven false alarms later, it was starting to seem like a mistake.

 

Everyone continued waving their wands through the grass in silent frustration.

 

“Wait, wait, I actually see it!” Wheatley said.

 

“Where?” Medic asked, full of hope that he’d be able to go home and feed Archimedes― he had insisted on coming along and would be starting to get irritable soon.

 

“It's right― no, no, sorry, that’s just grass.” Wheatley said. The sad part was, every time Wheatley called out to the team, he really did think he had found the gun.

 

Heavy noticed the glare in Medic’s eyes and put a hand on his shoulder, which he shrugged off easily. Medic held his metal detector like a golfer about to take a shot. “Drop it on the ground, Scout, I’m going to kill this machine.”

 

“No!” Dell said, even as the others looked on, quite happy. “It could possibly be sentient!”

 

“Even better.” Medic grinned.

 

“Aye, you know you want to take that thing apart, so just let him smash it to bits and that way it's not on your conscience,” Demo said in a surprisingly well thought-out argument that made Engie pause.

 

Wheatley was hooked around Scout’s neck. “Scout, drop it on the ground or else your sternum is shattering along with the machine.” said Medic.

 

“Yeah, do what the doc said!” Sniper had been annoyed by the robot since he’d first it speak. He was almost never vindictive, but in this case, he wanted to see the little bugger shatter into pieces.

 

He was working further away from everyone else, as he generally did, and he took long, fast strides, wanting to get there before Medic took his swing.

 

He didn't realize he was still clutching his detector until it started beeping. Everyone froze in place, looking at the source of the noise.

 

Dell was the first to break the spell, running towards the spot while waving his wand furiously.

 

Verdamnt, ” Medic said, but he followed his lead. Soon, everyone was elbow to elbow, the air filling with the pings of activated metal detectors.

 

“Where is it?” Demo asked. “I don't see it!”

 

“Of course you don't! And it's not because you're missing an eye! Someone obviously buried it!” Soldier belted out. “You look like a pirate, you start digging!”

 

“Ya don't tell me what to do!” Demo grabbed Soldier by the lapels.

 

“Whoa, fellas, break it up,” Engie tried to separate the two.

 

“Yo, it's your fault that we’re here in the first place, hardhat!” Scout retaliated

 

“As though you dropping the gun had nothing to do with it,” Spy snapped.

 

“Oy! Watch your elbows, spook!” Sniper shoved Spy’s arm from where it was invading his field of vision, and it became a full-on battle between the tense mercenaries. Only Pyro was calm, looking through the grass carefully for the portal gun, as though there weren't eight men (and a robot) trying to wage war in the immediate vicinity.

 


 

System pumps were online, and the test chambers were all set to receive air. GLaDOS would mind the dirt that came in from opening the field’s tunnel, but that's what nanobots were for.

 


 

A rumble from beneath them made everyone pause. Archimedes clung fiercely to Medic’s lab jacket, because whatever happened― and he was sure something was going to happen― he didn't want to be left without him.

 

Without warning, the ground around them gave way.

 

In a split second, Dell looked up as they fell, and he saw the vent― the large, metal vent that they were standing on― closing above them.

 

“So that’s why we couldn't find it,”  he thought.

 

Chapter Text

There was an error with the pipes, and GLaDOS noticed. One, two… a total of nine humans falling in. So close to perfect, really. People almost never came around, but all of a sudden… whatever, it was convenient for a test run.

 

She analyzed the heat signatures and discovered that the outline of two of them matched the two people she had to deal with just last week. How absolutely freaking delightful.

 

Oh, they were nearing the bottom. A sharp blast of chloroform-infused air aimed upwards both saved all nine of them from death and knocked them out.

 

Testing was important. She had been losing her focus on science. She could deal with the two people after they’d completed the test, and she could do so quietly and with absolute calm. Even if they brought the moron. It didn't take her long to undo the code, and she even plugged in a new antiviral wall. If he tried to hack her again, he’d end up disabling himself . Violently.

 

Nine. So close. She instructed the Party Escort Bots― she didn't know who dubbed them that, but it was an ironic name― to drag each person to their own starting chamber.

 

“Runners, take your places,” she thought, and laughed to herself. Human sports were nothing compared to this.

 


 

Small, sharp talons woke Medic up.

 

“Augh― Archimedes!” he chastised the bird, who was stark white and nearly invisible tucked against the collar of his lab coat. His words echoed around the testing chamber. He raised an eyebrow. “Any idea where we are, Archimedes?”

 

A moment passed, and then Medic said, “No, I don't either, that’s why I asked you.”

 

Archimedes nestled into his favorite pocket. There were cameras. Archimedes always avoided cameras. They hadn’t caught sight of him, he was sure.

 

A recording clicked on.

 


 

“Hello, and welcome to the Aperture Science Testing Center.” The message was broadcast to all nine rooms, but Soldier thought there was someone in the ceiling addressing him directly.

 

“Hello to you, too! Now release me, or you will face charges. And more importantly, you will face the sheer power of a member of the military of the United States of America!”

 

GLaDOS knew when to give up. She just let the recording play over him in a loop as he shouted. Perhaps he’d figure it out eventually. Or else, maybe he’d die there.

 


 

Spy groaned when he saw the Long-Fall Boots the announcer was talking about. Even if he believed in karma, he’d been a good person as of late.

 

The announcer was frank. “Attempting to leave this room without the Long-Fall boots will not work, and even if you manage it, attempting to complete the tests without the boots will result in your amusing death.”

 

“Did they just say ‘amusing’?” Spy thought. He took off his leather loafers. The world was certainly not right.



 

 

Sniper had always tended towards the tall side, and standing up, he remembered what had happened with Scout. He took his first steps very carefully, eyeing the ceiling. The boots didn't betray him… yet.

 


 

Scout was already making his way through the first test. He’d shouted and shouted, but the lady seemed determined to not talk to him. He’d find a way out of here again, he knew it.

 


 

Demo had never regretted wearing a kilt on his off days until now. It wasn't just that he was embarrassed about the whole “heels-and-a-skirt” vibe he now had about him, but from the way these things bounced… his kilt was likely to fly right up in his face.

 

He hoped no one was watching, for both his sake and their own. He looked around for the gun.

 

Oh, great . Did it have to match the boots? He knew he looked more ridiculous than Scout ever did.

 


 

Accomplished through the use of a blowtorch to metal, the Long-Fall boots were stretched over the boots Pyro already had on. It was impressive. Even GLaDOS didn't understand how the design of the boots allowed for such manipulation. She considered removing the apparent firebug from the chamber immediately, but decided she’d wait until they tried to cheat before terminating the test.

 

They holstered the blowtorch and took the portal gun. Good for them.

 


 

There was a large man struggling to get into the boots down there, and it took all of GLaDOS’s willpower to not say something.

 

Heavy stood up in those awful, awkward shoes.

 

They didn't break. Good. Time for a new gun. Small, lightweight. It looked delicate. Definitely not Heavy’s favorite. But, their Engineer was a smart man, and if he would spend a whole day looking for something like this, he supposed it had its redeeming qualities.

 


 

Dell could have spent hours studying the gun. The boots were nothing compared to this.

 

GLaDOS, watching, was intrigued. This man, according to her files, was brilliant. So why wasn’t he testing? Oh. Curiosity factor. Damn.

 

The pre-recorded message switched to a different track. “As of now, you have five minutes to begin attempting the test. If, after those five minutes, no viable attempts have been made, you will be executed.”

 

A red laser sight made itself clearly visible on Engie’s torso, and a large countdown clock appeared on the wall.

 

He gulped, and fumbled with the triggers of the gun.

 


 

GLaDOS was pleased at the progress with everyone. Even the crazy man had stopped yelling at the recording. She was less pleased when they started making their way through the first test chambers.

 

According to the math, at least one of them should have gotten stuck. But they were solving them. Obviously that Scout, the one that had tried this before, would be successful, but the man in a skirt? The one in a gas mask? The one who was yelling at a pre-recorded message? How were they succeeding ?

 

GLaDOS took a closer look at all of them. For a second, she thought she saw an odd spot on the heat signature readings of the so-called “Medic”, but switching to regular camera feed, she saw nothing odd, just a clean white lab coat.

 

She saw that Scout had brought the moron. “Let him try to disable me again,” GLaDOS thought. “He’ll just explode.”


It was an oddity, for sure, that they all succeeded, but like any good scientist, she stepped away from the situation.

Chapter Text

A problem arose. More test subjects than there were chambers. She’d done some more digging on their files. These weren't ordinary people, and by extension, they weren't ordinary test subjects. The science was off.

 

She ran all of the factors of the situation through her analyzer. It was like a calculator, in that she would put in information and it would spit the answer back at her. It worked off of her power supply, but it took away the bias of her sentience.

 

The results came back. “Cooperative testing. Collect data on atypical subject interactions.

 

It made sense, logically. This was the largest amount of “atypical” subjects she’d ever had at one time. Observing their interactions might bring about some good. But, she couldn't shake the feeling that it’d be better if she just cut off their oxygen rather than let them share test chambers.

 

That's why she had a situation analyzer, though. She didn't need a false sense of instinct getting in the way of science. Cooperative testing. So be it.

 


 

Medic didn't understand why Archimedes was suddenly so clingy, refusing to take off into the air, but he was fine with it. He was rather protective of the bird, and having Archimedes close meant he could focus less on keeping him safe and more on these tests. Quite interesting logic puzzles, they were.

 

It was quite disturbing, the way the turrets said, “I don't blame you,” or “Goodbye,” as they shut down. As he rode the elevator up, he made a mental note to tell Engie to add that quality to his sentries.

 

He was greeted with a surprise as he exited the elevator. “Heavy!” he called out. “You do look a sight in those boots,” he said, walking towards him.

 

The large man nodded. “I do not doubt this,” and Medic laughed.

 


 

 

“Well, this is not our usual setup,” GLaDOS heard Medic through the microphones. “But I am sure we will find some way to make this work to our advantage.”

 

An unlucky service bot took the brunt of her frustration, getting pummeled by a crusher panel so she could vent and calm down. They had worked together before! This would ruin the data! She knew she had to keep the Scout and Spy separate, but this, this was annihilating what little she was salvaging from the experiment.

 

She fed this new information into the situation analyzer. The results came back: “Error. Error. Error.”

 

And now they were laughing some more. Great. She was done watching from the sidelines.

 


 

“Hey fatty, stupid-hair. Stop talking and start testing.” The woman’s voice came out of nowhere.

 

They glanced at each other. It was the woman that Scout and Spy had talked about.

 

“I said move it. Or did you not hear me? Did the fat take up so much space it had to go into your ear canals, baldy?”

 

“Wow, she truly is mean,” Medic murmured, resting a hand on Heavy’s back. Medic could care less about the jab at his hair, but the fat jokes at Heavy’s expense? The woman was definitely not on Medic’s good side.

 

Heavy huffed through his nostrils. Scout had mentioned that the woman liked to take shots at people. She didn’t seem very original; he’d gotten more comments on his weight than he could count. But she did seem to get straight to hitting where it hurt.

 

Heavy exchanged a glance with Medic. He was sure that a few more jabs at the doctor would have him responding; Medic was more of a hothead than people pegged him for. But for now, neither of them responded, instead choosing to look over the room’s test.

 

“Not too difficult,” murmured Heavy.

 

“No, not at all.” Medic responded.

 


 

Sniper was alone, but not alone.

 

“Go on. Incinerate it.” GLaDOS was having fun. “It wants you to incinerate it. It knows you need to incinerate it to go on with the test.”

 

A so-called Weighted Companion Cube. It was just a heavy box, with stupid hearts painted on the side. He had to lug it through a horribly long test, and he was finally near the end. Just incinerate it, and…

 

But he’d had to carry that box for what felt like forever. And now that… Woman? Robot? Well, she was practically taunting him with this.

 

“It’s glad it's been able to help you through the test. It needs you to do this. Listen to it. You've been calling the shots this whole time. Don't be selfish.”

 

Sniper tried to tune the voice out. He smacked the incinerator entrance open and dropped the heavy box in before he could dwell on it.

 

The door opened.

 

“I was lying.” she said. “I can't believe you believed me. You know what it actually wanted? It wanted to stay with you. It thought you were smart enough to save you both. It had faith in you. And you destroyed it. But don't sorry, I'm sure it was calm, with all of its misplaced trust in you, until the very last second.”

 

Sniper didn't say anything, but he banged the glass of the elevator with his fist, resting his head against the wall and wishing the woman would shut up.

 

GLaDOS chuckled. Such a sensitive man, for an assassin. She looked through his file.

 

Sniper would soon find out that that cube was much more preferable company than his next “Companion”.

 


 

“Ayyyyy!” Demo greeted Soldier.

 

“You look stupid!” he replied.

 

Demo laughed. “I know I do, lad!” It was their thing. “How’s it goin’?”

 

“I haven't had anyone to kill. If this keeps going on, I will need to kill you. To keep my quota up. And I will have to do it with my bare hands, because this gun is a disappointment!” Soldier said.

 

Demo chuckled, but stepped away from the man.

 

“Oh, please do kill each other. I could film it, and sell the footage for profit.” They heard the woman’s voice speaking directly to them for the first time.

 

Soldier didn't miss a beat. “There will be no money made off of the death of a good American. He will die with honor, and with dignity, and with my own two fists wrapped around his neck!”

 

“He’s Scottish.” she said.

 

Demo looked up to the ceiling. “Oh, that little―” he thought, before Soldier started attacking him.

 

“Undercover agent! Undercover agent!” he cried.

 

“Hey, hey― you know who’s the actual undercover agent? The lady . And we have to do this test , so that we can find her. And defeat whatever agency she's working for. For America. Okay, boyo?” Demo said, hands in the air.

 

Soldier promptly removed his hands from Demo’s throat and stood at attention. “Obviously!” he said. “Let’s go!”

 


 

Overall, GLaDOS was pleased with how the testing was going. No one was causing trouble, except to one another, and the testing chambers were secure. Her “instincts” about the situation were still bothering her, but she ignored them.

 


 

 

Pauling had called the base eleven― eleven! ― times, trying to reach someone. Requisitions were taking up space in her office. Normally there’d be a scramble for the stuff they’d ordered. But there was a pile of American flags, cigarettes, beer, and animal organs that hadn't been collected.

 

The organs were starting to smell. She’d hopped on her moped, and understood the situation immediately; both Sniper’s van and Spy’s car were gone, meaning the whole team was out. They weren’t supposed to do that, without letting her know. And they certainly shouldn't have been gone for this long.

 

She followed the trail that the rarely-used vehicles left. Whatever they were doing, it had better be damn important, or else there’d be a bunch of requisitions that they simply wouldn't get.

Chapter Text

Sniper grumbled as he saw who got off of the elevator alongside him.

 

“And hello to you, too, my illiterate friend.” Spy used the word “friend” sarcastically. Of course, wearing these idiotic boots and having to go through tests like a lab rat wasn't enough. Judging by the appearance of the room, he’d have to use this man as a partner for this next test.

 

Sniper scowled. Spy scowled back.

 

GLaDOS watched them with interest. Objectively, they were some of the smarter ones― both could read, they had good common sense, not to mention driver’s licenses. Yet the man in the skirt and the so-called Soldier were already halfway through the same test these two refused to start.

 

“I realize that you two are overwhelmed with emotion at your unexpected reunion,” she said. “But you should get going.”

 

“Uh, excuse me?” Sniper lost the glare-off when he addressed the ceiling.

 

“You don't need to gaze into each other’s eyes anymore. I’m disgusted enough, thank you.” she said.

 

She taped their reactions. Even if she couldn't sell the video, it could certainly amuse her if things ever got dull in the testing center.

 


 

Scout and Pyro were in a chamber together. Scout had been worried that he’d have to talk Pyro through every step of the way, but now he was struggling to keep up.

 

GLaDOS could have poked fun at them, but that Scout was smarter than he looked, and talking would just inspire him to try and look for her. She was sure that the place was secure, but she didn’t want him to stop testing.

 

Instead, she switched cameras over to the most productive duo so far. It wasn't very interesting, how mechanically they went through the chambers. There was hardly any discussion, absolutely no argument. Humans didn't generally trust each other. But these two… did.

 

How long could they keep this up? She made a few alterations to the next test chamber they would enter.

 


 

Heavy and Medic entered a room that had pits of acid. It hadn't had acid until a few minutes before they’d entered, but they didn't know that.

 

Medic and Heavy got to work. The tests were logic puzzles. Increasingly complex logic puzzles, but they could be solved with patience, a few words and some nods.

 

In this test, there was a bridge that they would have to create. Medic would have to walk across it and retrieve a cube. The thing was, Medic could either make the struggle to walk back across the bridge, then make his way through the rest of the room, but it would be simpler if Heavy cut the bridge off halfway, and left the cube― and Medic― stranded on the button while Heavy walked through the test’s exit, alone.

 

Neither of them spoke. GLaDOS decided to talk for them. “It’s a dangerous game you’re playing, doctor. Why didn't you let the other guy walk instead?”

 

“I walk faster,” Medic responded, forgetting who he was talking to.

 

“Oh. Is that because you’re not fat, like he is? Did you hear that, guy? He just called you fat.”

 

Medic’s face turned red. He muttered something unintelligible to himself.

 

“It's okay, though. You shouldn't feel bad about calling him fat. I think he called you ugly a few tests ago.”

 

“I know that’s not true. Now, shut it!” Medic said. This stupid bridge was radiating heat, and he had to walk across it while wearing these twitchy shoes, all with a pit of acid below him. He did not appreciate this game. No, not at all, and he didn't understand why he was continuing with this nonsense.

 

“Oh, you're taking your time, I see,” she said to Medic. “You know, the other guy might be better off on his own. Even though you called him fat.”

 

Heavy looked up at Medic crossing the bridge. He had the same look he had when a game had gone into overtime, and everyone was calling his name at once. Heavy eyed the room carefully.

 

Medic had the cube in his grasp, spitting mad. Who did this robot think she was? She'd manipulated them into playing this game, was that not enough?

 

The floor dropped from underneath him, and GLaDOS chuckled.

 

Heavy grabbed Medic in midair, as the cube tumbled to the button. It was risky, he knew, to take that shot, but he saw Medic, staring at the ceiling and not looking where he was going, moments away from walking off of the bridge completely.

 

Medic found himself being hoisted by his elbow, toes dangling inches above acid. Then he was unceremoniously tossed on the floor next to Heavy.

 

“Found loophole,” Heavy said as he helped Medic up. “We should go.”

 

Medic marched indignantly towards the exit. Archimedes was shaken from whatever had happened― he couldn't see outside of the pocket. Heavy followed close behind. He paused for a second, finding a camera and eyeing it carefully.

 

GLaDOS could read his expression. Toying with them had its limits.

 


 

Engie had completed the tests, but he hadn't stopped being curious. He’d figured that there were microphones and cameras, and had been asking questions about the mechanics of every test. Even as a “High Energy Pellet” nearly collided with him, he shouted to the empty room, asking what energy was used, and how it was condensed.

 

GLaDOS refused to say anything to him. If he heard a response, he’d latch on to it and never let go. She busied herself, watching all of these humans make their way through the courses.

 

An alert popped up. Of course, she didn't clean up the dirt that fell in. She waved some nanobots to take care of the problem without thinking about it. She focused, instead, on the groups. Laughable, how the Spy and that Sniper attacked each other.

 


 

Meanwhile…

 

The large patch of torn-up field was a glaring neon sign to Pauling, saying: “THE MERCS WENT THIS WAY.”

 

She kicked around the area with her foot. Metal panel. Of course.

 

She tried prying it open. No luck. Theoretically, she didn't have to go after them; there were nine of them, all “grown-ups”. But realistically, they had gotten themselves in trouble that they needed help getting out of.


She pointed her gun at the edge of the vent. She’d shot her way through a few doors before. No problem at all.

Chapter Text

“I ain’t bloody goin’ on that bridge, you go on it!” Sniper yelled.

 

“If you think for a second that I would risk my life on your judgement,” Spy began.

 

“I’ve got better aim than you!”

 

“I have more sense! Aim doesn’t matter here, bushman!”

 

Sniper picked up a glob of white gel. “Seems it matters to me,” he said, as it landed with a splat right on Spy’s torso.

 

He didn’t know what would happen if he shot a portal on it. Now he was getting curious.

 

“Alright,” Spy said, looking at Sniper’s gun hand. He kicked up a pile of gel onto Sniper. “Be that way.”

 

“Oh my― what the hell are you doing?!” Pauling’s voice cut through the air. She was breathing hard. “Cut it out!”

 

There had been no recordings for Pauling, no guides or rules or explanations. Just her own smarts and determination to find out what the hell was going on. And she had caught up. Caught up to Sniper and Spy, doing something incredibly stupid.

 


 

GLaDOS had cut off the feed for all of the test chambers except the ones currently occupied by mercs, so it looked like Pauling had come out of nowhere. But obviously, she hadn’t.

 

“Oh, no.” she said, looking over the recordings of Pauling getting through the test chambers. The woman hadn’t had any help at all. She should be progressing slower than any of them. Actually, she shouldn’t even be progressing. She should be crying, on the floor, wondering what was going on.

 

There was a still frame of her face. Good. She could run it through the database. “Pauling”. Lots of information on Pauling. Some of it was encrypted, but that was a joke.

 

Until now, GLaDOS hadn’t been scared. Annoyed, exasperated, even upset, yes. But now, she was scared. In front of her were results from a capability test Pauling’s boss had made her take years ago, when she was first hired.

 

Was it the fact that she was intelligent? No.

 

Was it her somewhat-decent athletic competence? Of course not.

 

Tenacity. Tenacity levels in the ninety-ninth percentile. The last subject with those readings had killed her, forced her to live her death over and over again, put her in a damn potato, and had been the only test subject that had been able to stop testing and live.

 

That test subject was aberrant. Not right. She had a personality that shouldn’t have been repeated. But here was another woman, who seemed determined to catch up to these morons.

 

What else did she want to do? GLaDOS was scared because whatever this “Pauling” wanted, this “Pauling” would get.

 


 

“Get under.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Go.” Pauling pushed Spy and Sniper underneath the stream of solvent to wash the globby, moon-rock based substance away. Who the hell thought to put Spy and Sniper together as a team?

 

Her answer came a few seconds later. “Hello.” A woman’s voice rang out. Pauling saw Sniper and Spy glare at the same time. A common enemy. Who would likely become her enemy as well.

 

“Hello,” Pauling responded coolly.

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

Pauling didn’t know how to answer that. Never tell the truth, but there was no lie to be told. “I’m planning to leave,” she said, deflecting.

 

“Perfect. There’s the door.” GLaDOS opened a panel in the side of the room. It was not a trap, surprisingly enough.

 

Pauling didn’t move, instead choosing to grip both mercs’ shirts as they started towards the exit. “And the others?” she asked.

 

“What others?” GLaDOS deadpanned. She closed the door that would lead to the outside.

 

“You. Know. Who. I’m. Talking. About.” Pauling didn’t care about the closed door.

 

“Well, if there were others, they would be stuck. Stuck testing forever. In fact, those two you’re with? They’ll be stuck too.” She broadcast this to every chamber.

 

Pauling found a camera. She looked directly into it. Then, she raised her gun― her “real” gun― and fired a bullet right into the glass.

 

She turned to Spy and Sniper, who were soaked from the solvent and impressed by her moxie. “I’m finding a way out of here.”

 

The wall started shaking. It was not GLaDOS; that became obvious as the pounding became more localized, as only one single panel became cracked.

 

It exploded in a plaster flurry. Heavy stepped out, holding what looked like a dismantled Aerial Faith Plate― though Pauling thought of them as “person-flingers”― with Medic right behind him.

 

“Oh, thank God,” Pauling thought. These two working together would be sure to have a lot less nonsense going on.

 

Heavy nodded towards the ceiling. “We should stop announcer.”

 

“How’d you find us?” Pauling asked. “And if everyone’s been here, why didn’t you join together a while ago?”

 

“Well,” Medic said. “These walls, as you can see, are not exactly thin. But, we figured out, you can use this―” he waved the portal gun around. “To create an amplification effect, and hear the adjacent rooms. I’m not quite sure how it works, but―”

 

Pauling cleared her throat.

 

Medic moved on. “Everyone else has been keeping an even pace with us, as far as we could tell. But when we heard the announcement― well, its context wasn’t hard to guess. Your voice, however, we hadn’t heard.”

 

“Easier to go back.” Heavy said.

 

Medic clarified. “Yes, it would have been more efficient to backtrack, looking for you. Not to mention, you hadn’t started with the rest of us. And well, here we are.” he looked at Spy and Sniper. “Here we all are. And you are in last place.”

 

Heavy cut in before either of the other men could respond. “Not a game. Not anymore.”

 

Pauling nodded. “We have to catch up with the others.”

 

“They’re far ahead of here,” Medic said, still looking at Spy and Sniper.

 

Pauling looked at the hole Heavy had created.

 

There was a catwalk. Of course there would be. She squeezed through the space, not caring that chunks of plaster were falling on her. “Come on,” she said, walking up the stairs. No matter what crisis they were in, she was still the boss.

 

Heavy called out. “Please move up first.”

 

“Why?” Pauling said.

 

“Please, Miss Pauling.” Heavy repeated

 

She climbed up the scaffolding. “You need to follow me,” she said.

 

“Of course.” Heavy took his makeshift battering ram and hoisted it up again. There was just one thing he had to do first…

 

“Fat.” GLaDOS broadcasted as he made the hole larger. She watched from a different camera, one that wasn’t destroyed. She looked at them climb in, ready to navigate the area until they found her.

 

She had a counterattack. A pathetic, two-team counterattack. They weren’t human, but they acted like humans, somehow high-fiving and dancing even though it wasn’t in their programming. They weren’t even good for testing.

 

She wished she’d tried harder at turning them into killing machines. But no time for regrets. She summoned them to be assembled.

 

Atlas. P-Body. Blue and Orange. They both saluted her.

 

“Only humans need to bother with gestures like that.” she said. “Right now, you have work to do."

Chapter Text

“Why are we going up so many flights of stairs?” Pauling was nearly out of breath.

 

“Each test is on a different level. We actually had to force an elevator down to get back to where you three were,” Medic responded.

 

“We don’t… use them again… because?” Heavy was trailing behind them, panting. They had gone up six flights of stairs without a rest. Forget the woman’s comments, that would take a toll on anyone.

 

“Cameras,” said Medic. “Come on.” He grabbed Heavy’s forearm and tried to cajole him into keeping pace with the rest of them.

 

A clanging from just a flight above them stopped his efforts.

 

Then, the unmistakable voice of an English idiot. “I forgot they existed!”

 

“Your entire job is to help us through this place!” Scout yelled back. He, Pyro, and Wheatley were being chased by two inept robots.

 

“Well, it’s not like it matters, they’re not even trying that hard to stop us!” Wheatley wasn’t in a mood to be wrong.

 

They crashed down the flight of stairs, buying themselves some time; the robots were really bad with stairs.

 

“Yeah, but―” Scout was cut short by the gang of mercs he saw at the stairwell. He laughed so hard he snorted. “Haaa-ha-ha! Who looks like an idiot now?” he said, looking at the way Spy’s trousers were tucked over the boots. “Answer: all of ya! All― oh, hey, Miss Pauling,” he said. He hadn’t noticed her small frame between Spy, Sniper, and Medic. “Um, actually…” he said, wishing those robots would catch up already, “They don’t look dumb on you. They look okay. Yeah. Good, actually.”

 

Any annoyance felt towards Scout was replaced by bemusement at his attempt to talk his way out of his big mouth.

 

“Yeah, Scout, I got it.” Pauling had watched him trip over his words like this more times than she could count. “What are those things?” she looked at the two robots, halfway down the stairs, tiptoeing so they didn’t fall.

 

“Atlas and P-body. ‘Blue’ and ‘Orange’, respectively. Clumsy robot minions, they are.”

 

“Oh, so now you remember.” Scout reprimanded the machine.

 

“Well when a beautiful woman asks me a question, I’m more inclined to remember the answer.” Wheatley countered.

 

“That’s very sweet,” Pauling said. She wasn’t really paying attention to whatever the hell that thing was, but still, it seemed very polite.

 

“Alright,” Scout said. “Doc, smash this thing now.”

 

“Hey!” Wheatley said.

 

“Stop!” Pauling held up a hand. The robots were still , comically enough, on the flight of stairs. Even if they got down to where they were, it looked as though they were only aimed with Portal guns. “Who are we missing?”

 

“Engie, Demo, Soldier.” Scout ticked off on his fingers.

 

“Well, where are they?” Pauling was impatient.

 

“Not more than two or three more flights ahead of us,” Medic responded.

 

“Well let’s― oomph! ” Pauling stumbled backwards. Luckily, they were on a stairwell, and she didn’t fall down a flight of metal steps. The robots turned out to have a primitive, yet somewhat effective capability― shoving.

 

“Hey!” Scout was immediately ready to fistfight against titanium.

 

“Let’s just move ,” she said, finishing her sentence and grabbing him by the arm before he did something that would break his hand. Kicking the robots out of the way proved easy. Clumsy, one stumbled against the other.

 

They jostled up the flight of steps in a pack. Suddenly, ahead of everyone else, Medic stopped.

 

“Here,” Medic said, and without any further hesitation, Heavy wrenched one of the guardrails off of the catwalk. He took the warped, sharp end of the metal rod and struck the adjacent wall until it started to crack. The rest of the team watched as the wall trembled, and then crumbled, a hole created where smooth panel had once been.

 

Scout stuck his head in. “Yo, Demo?”

 

“Aye!” he was standing on a light bridge without a care in the world. “What are ye doin’, lad?”

 

Pauling pushed her way past Scout. “We’re trying to escape ! Demo, where’s Soldier and Engie?”

 

“I am right here, Miss Pauling!” Soldier came out from behind a corner, making Pauling gasp and inadvertently flinch against Scout― something that would be burned into his memory for a long while.

 

“At your service, Miss Pauling! What do you need? Who should I kill? I will kill anyone! Even him!” Soldier gestured to Demo.

 

“I need you and everyone else to try and, oh, I don’t know, leave this place ? Alive ? Where’s Engie?” Pauling asked, looking around the room.

 

Soldier could only shrug. She turned to Demo, who did the same.

 

“Okay. Okay. Not too bad.” she spoke to herself. “He’s got sense, we’ll find him. Come on,” she said to the two mercs still in the testing room. “We’ve got work to do!”

 


 

A couple of tests ago, Engie had been exploring the walls. Some were your basic, everyday wall, sure. But a couple of them were automated. Computerized. Interactive.

 

Looking carefully at one, he saw it was shoddily built― no doubt, it had spent too little time on the assembly line. Wires sticking out in all sorts of places. He turned, and he looked at where he was. In a room with countless engineering achievements, things unlike any other.

 

“You have five minutes to resume attempting the test,” the recorded voice began. For all of these curiosities, he was still trapped .

 

His weapons were far superior to those turrets, so he’d leave those. He couldn’t transport the light bridge or carry any of the gels, interesting as they were. The portal gun, he’d most definitely keep. The boots, well, they were already on his feet.

 

He tore out as many wires as he could from that shoddy wall panel. It was a surprise when the panel next to it slid open.

 

“The funny thing is, that was the last test,” said the robot woman from inside the other room.

 

Engie had stood stock still.

 

“Don’t be shy. Come on in,” she said.

 

Engie had walked slowly inside, and that’s how he’d found himself in the most dangerous chamber of all, looking up at the robot woman who had orchestrated it all.

 

“Congratulations,” she said. “You’re the first one to the finish line.”

 


 

 

“Wait! Everyone stop!” Wheatley cried.

 

Scout didn’t even pause. “Hell, no.”

 

“I have an idea!” Wheatley continued.

 

“Of course you do,” Spy was running with everyone else. The robots had gotten more threatening, thanks to the woman reminding them that they had hot, searing, lasers at their disposal.

 

“Ah!” Pauling let out an uncharacteristically girlish yelp as a beam almost hit her.

 

They were all confronted with a large panel. Scout, running in the lead like always, hit the wall face-first.

 

Wheatley was annoyingly undamaged. “Ha! I communicated with the mainframe. Finally! Took me a while―”

 

“You are blocking. Our. Path!” Medic barked. There were no more staircases to slow the robots down with.

 

“Let me use my idea!” Wheatley protested. “Hey! Hey, over here!”

 

Nobody moved. The robots had horrible aim, but now they were moving closer and there was nowhere to go. No laser had done nothing more than skim the air near a person. It seemed like it was time to find out whether they were lethal or not.

 

Medic quietly cupped a hand over Archimedes, still cowering in his lab coat’s inside breast pocket. It looked like he was pledging allegiance to the robots, and Soldier would have commented on it, had Wheatley not been talking.

 

“Hello, fellas. Mind helping a mate out?”

 

The one they assumed was “Blue”― it had a blue eye and some blue paint after all― looked at Wheatley sideways.

 

“Hey, mind taking us to your leader? Your boss? We’d like to chat with her, just for a bit.” Wheatley was as friendly as could be to Orange and Blue.

 

Spy could have groaned.

 

Then, Orange (they assumed) turned. Started walking in the other direction. Paused, turned back to look at them, and waved a hand. “Come on,” the gesture said. “Right this way.”

 

Scout’s jaw dropped. “You’re kiddin’. You are absolutely-positively―”

 

“Shh. Don’t question it,” whispered Pauling, as the robots, yes, took them to their leader.


Chapter Text

GLaDOS couldn’t watch or hear Blue and Orange. She could only broadcast messages to them. She didn’t think that she’d have to remind them who the enemies were. As they paraded in, said enemies in tow, she found out she was wrong.

 

Pauling aimed her shotgun.

 

“You can’t kill me,” GLaDOS chuckled.

 

“I know.” Pauling said. “But I can put a bullet through whatever computer chip holds your brain, and that’s almost the same thing.”

 

“A solid two inches of steel and titanium, four separate microprocessors, and ,” GLaDOS said, “you’re bluffing.”

 

“No I’m not,” Pauling said. She’d never faced an opponent like this before.

 

“Oh, I didn’t mean you were bluffing as in you wouldn’t kill me. I know you would, given the opportunity. But you don’t have any bullets, do you?”

 

No. No, Pauling didn’t. She used most of them blasting her way into the damn tunnel, and…

“You shouldn’t have shown off, shooting my camera.” GLaDOS was smug.

 

She dropped the shotgun and crossed her arms. No point in posturing.

 

“Now, you could try to engage in a pointless battle with me,” said GLaDOS. Spy was already inching his way towards her. “I can blow that little idiot up, by the way, so don’t even think about it.”

 

“Or,” she continued. “There’s another option. You, you, and you.” GLaDOS moved close to Pauling, Scout, and Spy with each “you”. “Could leave. I’ll let you take the moron with you. And you five.” This time, she faced Pyro, Soldier, Demo, Sniper, and Heavy. “You’re good testing subjects. Energetic. Clever. Able to appreciate the beauty of testing. How about this? I stop with my funny banter, and you test for me, hmmm? And you two,” she said, looking at Medic and Engie. “Well, this is a good deal for you, actually. Why don’t you help me create things?” she asked Engie. “Obviously, my weapons are rather lacking. But, I have the resources to make much more dangerous ones. And you ,” she turned to Medic. “I had a project underway. I was going to replace a bunch of humans’ bone marrow with something else. But I got busy. Perhaps you’d like to be in charge of the ‘medical experiment’ division of the labs?”

 

In the room, everyone’s breath was held. Different levels of temptation were struck, but there was some temptation in almost everyone.

 

Pyro didn’t want to.

 

Heavy wondered if these laboratories would become the new version of the battles he fought. If so, would he be a puppet, while Medic worked as a boss?

 

Sniper wondered if this “testing” meant no more backstabbing. More importantly, would he always have to wear these boots?

 

Demo wondered if he’d ever get to blow something up again.

 

Soldier wondered when he’d get to kill something again.

 

Scout wondered if Spy had to come. But seriously… not everyone was gonna be separated, right?

 

Spy would have been more than satisfied if he, Scout, and Pauling walked out right that minute.

 

Pauling didn’t want to leave without everyone, but what if someone refused to leave?

 

Medic and Engie were the ones who were most hypnotised by her offer. For them, it wasn’t being trapped. In fact, it was more freedom than they would have at Teufort, being able to create, and do science. If she wasn’t lying.

 

She looked at them closely. Yes, she could see temptation, every visual analysis pointed to…

 

“What’s in your pocket?” she asked.

 

Heavy looked at Medic, whose thoughts were obvious and readable. He was leaning towards staying. His eyes shifted to where the robot was looking. A moving lump in Medic’s lab coat pocket.

 

It must have been Archimedes. Countless times Medic had “guaranteed” the lab was free of birds, and then that dove would fly out of that jacket like a magician’s trick. Eventually he’d stopped asking.

 

“What is in your pocket?” GLaDOS asked again. She kept scanning it. The infrared results were fuzzy, but becoming clearer and clearer with every scan.

 

Heavy didn’t consider himself to be shrewd or crafty. He had hunches, and he went with them. “Is bird,” he said.

 

He had no clue why those words caused so much havoc. “Bird?” GLaDOS was wary. “A bird!” Oh, the infrared confirmed it! “Why is there a bird in here?!”

 

This devious, cunning, detached robot woman was now flailing her metal body in the air. “ The hell? ” Scout cried.

 

“Traitors! The both of you are traitors!” GLaDOS cried.

 

“Lady, we ain’t even workin’ for you yet!” Engie backed away from the machine.

 

Yet? ” Pauling shot a glance towards him.

 

Engie shook his head, looking at the unstable AI above him. “You’re right, Miss Pauling. We ain’t working for you ever, lady.”

 

GLaDOS didn’t care. In her mind, there were no job offers. There weren’t even any humans in the room. There was just… a… “ BIRD! ORANGE, BLUE, KILL IT!”

 

Medic’s eyes widened.

 

It’s in his pocket! GO! LASERS, ANYTHING!

 

Medic ducked, and the first hot beam of light went over his shoulder. Everyone started to duck and dodge as the robots shot laser bursts almost randomly throughout the room.

 

“What is wrong with you?! ” Pauling yelled over the rising chaos. This thing couldn’t be taken seriously anymore.

 

She looked at Medic, dodging lasers.

 

Okay, maybe it could be taken a little seriously.

 

“For crying out―” Pauling moved towards Medic. In this large room, the robots’ aim were horrible, and if she took a deep breath and thought things through, it would be no problem to avoid those lasers, scary as they looked.

 

The room was loud with the whirring of robot arms and legs.

 

“Miss Pauling, look out!” Scout yelled.

 

“I am,” she intoned, hunched over and kicking a robot square in the eye. She caught up to the Medic. “It’s harder to hit a moving target! Just let the bird go!”

 

Medic chose to act like he didn’t hear her. Archimedes would stay in his specially-tailored pocket, where he was intended to stay in situations like this.

 

Pauling swatted at the lump of feathers through his jacket. “Just fly!” She tugged at his lab coat until buttons popped off.

 

Despite the lasers, and the robots, and the intermittent cries of “ Kill it! ”, several people had a hard time not laughing as Pauling went, “ Get out! Scram! ” until Archimedes, sensing that he was the center of attention, hastily made his way out of the lab coat and into the air.

 

“Archimedes, get―” a laser hit directly on the reinforced patch where Archimedes had been nestling just a few short seconds ago. It burned a hole through the fabric, luckily no more than that.

 

Archimedes landed directly on top of the robot woman’s head (if you could call it that) and stared down the rest of the people in the room.

 

Blue and Orange took aim.

 

“No, you idiots!” GLaDOS yelled. “Just get it off of me!”

 

Orange moved to shoo the bird away, but he did not budge.

 

“Here, why don’t I help with that?” Scout said. GLaDOS, frozen in place, did not hear him approach from behind.

 

“I told you,” she said. “If you try to put that idiot on me again, he’ll just explode. Just get this bird off of me!

 

“Sure,” Scout replied. The robot was still. There were no threats being made. He had free access to the nest of wires behind her head. The question was… which one?

 

There were about half a million choices. A hell of a lot of orange and black wires, one big blue wire― that looked promising― and one green wire, so thin and inconspicuous Scout almost missed it.

 

Wheatley whispered. “Pull the blue wire.”

 

Unfortunately, they were right next to her audio sensors. “What?!” she asked.

 

Scout had nanoseconds to make a choice.

 

One ripped-out green wire later, GLaDOS powered down, and pitched to the floor.

 

“I told you to pull the blue wire,” Wheatley said.

 

“Yeah, why do ya think I pulled the green one? Oh, hang on,” Scout waved a hand towards Archimedes, who flew and perched back onto Medic’s shoulder. “There we go.”

 

Engie walked over. “Yeah, looking at this,” he said, looking at the array of cables, “Taking out the blue one would have disconnected some sort of flow inhibitor, and probably would have reversed its properties entirely.”

 

“In layman’s terms?” Pauling prodded Engie.

 

“Well, there’s gotta be something… ah! Those pipes. Ya see, it’s probably connected to those pipes. With the cable, whatever comes out of those pipes takes a while to get in this room, and can only be released on her command. Without it, whatever’s comin’ out of there is gonna come a hell of a lot faster. And probably involuntarily.”

 

Everyone in the room frowned at the description and its resemblance to the events of food poisoning.

 

“What comes out of those pipes, does anyone know?” Engie adjusted his goggles, looking up.

 

“Neurotoxin. Lots and lots of neurotoxin.” Wheatley answered.

 

“Oh, pipe down, ya stupid box.” Engie waved him off.

 

“Actually, he’s correct about that one.” Spy said.

 

Engie blinked. “Oh.”

 

“How are we gonna get out of here?” Demo asked to no one in particular.

 

Pauling hesitated, then tapped one of the robots― both still standing, looking at their former boss― and asked, “Can you show us how to get outside?”

 


 

“Okay, did we have to bring them home with us?” Scout asked Engie.

 

“Hey, Pyro’s havin’ fun with them.” Engie waved to Atlas and P-Body, who did seem to be amusing Pyro.

 

“They’re the stupidest robots I’ve ever met.” Soldier frowned.

 

“You’re one to talk,” said Scout. “Besides, how many robots have you met? We all met, like, four, and they were all insane.”

 

“Not true! The smartest robot I’ve met is a sentry! It shoots things first and asks questions later!” Soldier retaliated.

 

“It doesn’t ask questions at all.” Demo said. Then, he looked at the Blue and Orange robots, one of whom was banging their “head” with a frying pan. “Then again…”

 

“Whatever.” Scout mumbled around a bite of cake. “Thanks for dessert, Engie.”


“After the day we’ve had, we deserve it.” Engie sighed.