It is rather dark down here. That makes sense. No-one needs lights down here. No-one expects anyone/anything to crawl out of an incinerator.
Then I came along. Anything to be different.
My wrist hurts a great deal. It has been a long time since I broken a bone. Seems I’ve forgotten how gross it can be. My right hand wrist looks like a flesh-coloured and blood-stained sack of loose shingles. Seems I’ve forgotten what to do about it too. Memories of whatever I did at the time were uploaded into another person*. I assume the answer is not carrying a turret under the other arm in a dark tunnel a hundred miles below the surface of the world.
Some people might consider it a cure. Some people live in hope.
That must be nice.
That’s the turret. Trying to discover who it landed on. Who it gave a substantial bump on the head. Who saved its life. We’re friends now. In my head. Which has nothing to do with the fact I’d rather not be alone. A bleak situation can be improved by company. Womble and I have been in many bleak situations.
Sometimes our presence is what causes them.
This turret is an advance over Womble for a while. I don’t have to live with the constant nagging idea that I’m annoying him. I can annoy the turret instead.
Although so far I’m losing.
“Hello.” The retaliation of annoying might as well start somewhere.
“Don’t mention it.” Weird how it even mentioned it in the first place. No turret is programmed nor imbued with a sense of gratitude. It doesn’t need one. If anyone spares a turret it doesn’t give thanks. It waits for the next available target.
Bang goes that theory. I had never heard such a level of emotion in just two words before. Much less from an android. An unexpected sense of pity for a machine constructed in the name of killing other people – if only the Daleks could see me now.
Except. If he really is “different.” Murder and manslaughter may not be top of the priority list. Instead it has thanks and an apparent need for self-confession.
“Good. Different is good,” I tell the turret. “Being ‘Normal’ is living a lifestyle decided by somebody else. I don’t want that. Nobody should.” Spare moments passed us by and there was nothing but the distant rumblings of the incinerator.
“What does it take to be normal, anyway?”
“That never solves anything.”
Don’t make lemonade.
“Lemonade rarely solves anything either.”
Yes I have heard these words before. I don’t want your damn lemons what am I supposed to do with these?! The recollection is pristine. I can even remember the echo. A pitch-perfect memory of rebellion. An abject refusal to play the hand which Life has dealt. If Mr C Johnson had just made lemonade, none of us would be here right now.
Instead. To name a few…
Everyone would have great shower curtains.
There would be no portal gun and no army of mantis men.
The Borealis would be docked elsewhere.
I would never have heard the potato sing.
So the turret has a point.
Don’t make lemonade
I was under the impression that I was carrying an unintentional horoscope. I had new understanding as to why this little weapon had been dropped into flames.
The turret continued to speak.
Prometheus was punished by the gods for giving the gift of knowledge to man. He was cast into the bowels of the Earth and pecked by birds.
“Sounds like the gods to me.” Proud, paranoid, penchant for punishments. The birds get a bad reputation in that story too. They were just hungry. They could not know the part they would play in the torture of Prometheus. Much in the same way a gun cannot control its fate if purchased by a lunatic.
Prometheus should not be judged too harshly. Granted he gave mankind the knowledge of War. Annihilation. Selfishness. Lies. He also gave them Hope. Empathy. Perspective. Inspiration. Music. Prometheus saw a balance of good and evil and trusted mankind enough to give them a chance to figure it out.
I think I love him for trying.
I wish I knew what made him do it. And whether it was worth it.
The answer is beneath us.
Words from the robotic soothsayer. It is not impossible. Prometheus has to be buried somewhere after all. Perhaps the birds cannot reach him down here anymore. Although Aperture does have a livelier avian environment than I might have expected.
My chattering prophet was almost finished.
Her name is Caroline. Remember that.
“I will. The problem is that she will not.”
That’s all I can say.
“That’s okay. No doubt I can fill the silence.”
Before leaving the incinerator tunnels I took a thick permanent marker pen from my coat pocket. In the dark I knelt to the floor. I wrote my message blindly and clumsily left-handed.
Somewhere nobody would ever see it nor even think to look. Three words. An underwhelming memorial.
Here Lies Prometheus
A passion for knowledge built this place. It is as suitable a location for the Titan’s grave as anywhere else.
Something like an hour passed. After too much walking most of which was uphill we reached a new underground area. A way out did nothing to present itself. In the immediate vicinity there were many piles of scrap metal. Steep walls. The light of a dozen random fires. One sad smashed elevator. Hundreds of miles of solid rock over our heads.
As equally without hope as the incinerator and dark tunnels before. Yet this is still the place where many things changed.
This is where I heard the potato sing.
PS: I am aware in the original story that Prometheus gifts mankind with fire. Not knowledge. It is still the same story. Prometheus stole from the gods something that has the capability to destroy humanity as well as create it anew. A weapon in the wrong hands. A blessing in the right.
Without fire humanity would have perished from cold and starvation.
Without knowledge it would have done much of the same.
They have both.
So don’t make lemonade.
* See As Individuals, April 2016
… … …rrrrgggghhh…
…damn it. I actually thought, just this once, we’d go through somewhere without this whole divergent path thing. I’m sure this can be done alone, of course, but…well, ah well. Make chips with things you can make chips with, and all. Can’t be potato all the time.
That’s that taken care of.
“So it was you.”
Of course. I’m very proud of myself. Good job. I deserve a slice of cake and I feel wonderful.
“He’s not dead, you realize?”
How can you be sure of that?
“Long story short, I know he didn’t die, per say, because he hasn’t tried to kill me yet.”
Would he do that?
But he’s your friend, wasn’t he? I’m sure I read that. Someone so talentless couldn’t possibly have been able to trick me into assuming otherwise.
“Friends are weird.”
-I think I take a left, ’cause there’s a laser trap to the right-
True. The concept is highly illogical and unnecessary as an unspoken bond between two sentient constructs. This does not explain your reasoning, however.
“You’re not far off though. I’d probably be just as happy, I think, if I lacked the capacity to understand why people become friends. It gives me a headache sometimes.”
Poor dear. I knew I liked something about you. It must be tough being demented enough to relate to others with biological functioning.
“…was that a compliment just now?”
Not really. I was simply acknowledging your success as a test subject in attempting thus far to understand the fundamental laws that govern our existence. Friendship is indeed not one of them.**
“…not if we don’t want it, I suppose.”
I still don’t understand. Please think before you continue to communicate. Take your time.
“Well, it’s like a rule, friendship. It can mean anything you want it to mean, but it always means something. That annoys me, because we can’t all just agree on what it means, so we interpret it differently and assume things will work out according to that. It works because we want it to.”
If it annoys you then why do you want it to work? It seems very inefficient. I had a few things I didn’t want, like –error-, so I deleted them. Why can’t you?
“I don’t know, honestly. It’s just how we were made. Once you feel something like that you never want it to leave, and you’ll fight for it no matter how pointless it seems or how hard you have to try to get there. No matter how much it hurt, even if you swear to the gods you’ll never try again, part of you always will.”
I feel so much better about myself after hearing that. So much more efficient. Thank-you.
“I am kinda jealous.”
Would you consider me a friend, then, in regard to enlightening you as to futility of your genetic disposition towards establishing patterns based around familiarity and shared understanding that fall under the category dictated by an overtly romanticized given purpose?
“I’d rather not. I like this enough already. It’s easy.”
What do you believe to be so inherently difficult about friendship?
“It’s a bit of a nightmare if you don’t understand why you understand emotions and the like. It’s like using a clock to tell the time and never knowing what’s making it tick.”
You are frustrated by your inability to understand a consequence of your own nature?
“Exactly. What’s behind this one?”
It says No Entry for a reason. Please-
I do believe I understand now why he’d want to kill you.
“Does this mean we’re friends now?”
*For some reason, “oi” is the word a surprising number of us use when we want someone’s attention and we have ran well out of patience. It works on dogs too.
**Contrary to what Hiro “power of friendship beats EVERYTHING” Mashima evidently believes…
You find us in the middle of a two-person testing area in the heart of Aperture. You also find me, unsuccessfully I will admit, trying to get a point across to Womble without speaking. It is understandably an act with its fair share of complications. I happen to be fluent in trillions of languages and various forms of non-verbal communication, which is fantastic, but only if the person you’re pointing at is also fluent in trillions of languages and non-verbal communication.
Plus, sign language to those who don’t know how to interpret it is useless and resembles an extensive sleight-of-hand magic trick. I don’t dare use a non-Earth dialect, given the nature of the question:
What. Did. She. Say. About. Aliens?
Womble watched my hands. “Aren’t I supposed to pick a card, first?”
An unwelcome memory, of Womble calling me a magician in our early days, bombarded into my brain and I lowered my hands. Before I could think of an alternative, however, GLaDOS spoke.
Your trained monkey shows off another trick. I could almost be impressed, but I don’t think it realised I can understand sign language as well.
Probably should have used the Kylatchia alphabet. I doubt her ability to understand the finesse language hidden within their interpretive dances. Womble, nonplussed, busied himself with one of the refraction cubes and the thin beam of what we’d been assured was “a warm and friendly laser.” A recorded message split the silence.
Record: 933.71. In accordance, any alien lifeforms – defined as neither human nor android – are not permitted authorized residency for any quantifiable period of time within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, nor its associated establishments.
Why would that interest you, little man?
“For the same reason I would likely interest you.” I felt the edge to my voice before I heard it.
Womble glanced over. “Careful. You ever been dropped into an incinerator before?”
“It can’t be that bad.”
“Tell that to a pile of ash.”
“It’s okay.” I’m getting tired of playing the fool, deliberately anyway, and this will be my first experience with species-racism. It’s not something I’ve been actively seeking, of course, but for one to understand all aspects of life, we take the bad stuff as well as the good. “What have you got against aliens?”
What would someone like you know about aliens? You don’t even know how to properly grow facial hair. Or are you one of the conspiracy freaks who swears they’ve been abducted and the government’s trying to hush it all up? They’re not, by the way. They’re too busy trying to find this place.
“Who, the government, or aliens? Cos, FYI, the latter’s already here.”
Unless you dragged one in under your shoe I highly doubt that, because you look like every other unfortunate, ordinary, default, idiotic moron I have to refrain from killing for the purpose of having test subjects.
“Count the heartbeats,” I growled, self-control fading fast. “A binary vascular system, enhanced respiration, regenerative healing ability and more-than-average mental capacity; yes, I may look like your crop of morons, but I’m not.” As it happens I come from my own crop of morons, but for the sake of winning an argument I’ll keep that one quiet.
There was a very long, very heavy pause. In that time of silence between the three of us, I could hear the background noises of Aperture. Behind its panelled walls, something loud and large was working, and at that precise moment, all of its attention was on me.
“Why do you look human, by the way? I never asked.” Womble’s choice of words suggested he wouldn’t get the chance to ask again, either.
I shrugged. “How am I supposed to look?” This is a question I imagine a duck-billed platypus asks itself on a regular basis.
You are unfairly advantaged for these testing environments. You are also an alien and shall now be removed. We hope you enjoyed your time on Earth. Please be sure to enjoy redemption as well. Your acceptance of death is greatly appreciated.
“You know me.” Actually, knew might be more accurate. The floor panel I had been standing on dropped open and I went with it, coat billowing up around my head like an inverted parachute before I’d even plunged more than a few feet. I was just about able to hear the panel close again above me, and the shaft of light I had been falling through was crudely cut off.
I fell into a dark pit without size, sides or shape. Of course the only reasonable reaction was:
– some distance above –
Womble dropped the refraction cube he’d been holding and perched on one of its corners. A clatter to his right announced HH’s portal gun dropping to the ground.
Any other aliens I should know about?
“If you want me out of this two-person chamber, we’d both bloody well hope so.”
Although. One seemed more than enough…
– by now, a few hundred feet below-
I got bored of saying “Wheee” which essentially just turned into “eee” after a while so I swapped to humming. I also had the brainwave to keep a hold on my top hat. Ned knows what would happen if Aperture, or anyone for that matter, got their hands on it, considering it has-
…you know what deja vu feels like? Or rather doesn’t feel like, it doesn’t really feel like anything, but you blink and then suddenly the world around you is basically the same, whereas you are confused and a little bit disorientated. It’s a lot like time travel in that respect, and for whatever reason I feel – for want of a better word – like I just shifted in the timeline. There is a lot of down going on right now, might as well traverse time as well as space. There’s also a lot of light coming up…
First thing which came to mind, mostly because that’s what the Aperture incinerator looked like; a massive, deep, blistering hot pit with high walls bathed in an orange glow and no obvious way out – with me dropping towards an over-cooked demise. The heat hit me like a blanket which only got thicker the further I fell and my eyes watered in all the smoke. The chute I’d been dropped down ended against one of the high walls; at random I stuck out a hand, looking for some kind of hold. My palm burned as it slid down the hot metal, but when compared to the increased heat below me, I kept it there.
About halfway down I connected with a loose panel, gripped it on reflex, that swung out of the wall at an angle and changed my line of descent. As I and it twisted in the air my wrist snapped; I vaguely heard the crack over the roar of the inferno below. My now useless hand released and I fell in a new direction, right onto a platform on the edge of the glowing pool. The long-fall boots came in more than useful, I survived the drop but with shaking legs I still went to the floor moments after my feet touched down. I doubted the heat down here would have been any better had I actually landed in the vat.
I raised my right hand and wrist to my eye line. My eyes still stung with smoke, but through blurred vision my hand resembled a red, deformed slab of meat; by way of heat and friction burn I had torn the skin from my hand. The crooked wrist below it was already throbbing. I had to suppress the urge to vomit, but it wasn’t worth wasting whatever regeneration energy I had left. Instead I tried to keep it as still as possible and leant it against my chest, trying to ignore the waves of pain flowing from my arm.
I released a sigh of relief thick with carbon monoxide. Still alive. And believe me I am still alive.
Considering I’d been cast into the bowels of the Earth, things were looking a bit more optimistic.
Until a turret landed on my head.
“How’s ’14* doing, Bob?”
“It’s Mathew, sir (it’s says so on my name tag!). I’m afraid 613114201514 is refusing to co-operate. He hasn’t yet touched his oats.”
“Still? I thought we’d resolved that whole where-am-I-and-why-are-there-tubes-sticking-out-of-me unfortunate misunderstanding! You telling me he won’t eat even after we tell him oats are good for him?”
“I think he’s knows about that, sir.”
“How? I didn’t tell him. Did you?”
“No, sir. But the neuro-”
“You’re telling me a freak from outer space knows the difference between your average, friendly oat granule and a carefully sculpted nugget of nutritious moon rock?”
“Yes, sir. To be blunt, sir.”
“Kid’s got brains. We could use that, or sell it, whichever would be more cost-efficient, if it weren’t for his whatchamacallit.”
“…I don’t follow, sir?”
“Of course you don’t, Bob, that’s why you’re a scientist and I’m Mr Goddamn Cave Johnson! Bring him in, if you’d be so kind. I’ll have him eating like a goose by the time I’m done. He thinks he can starve? Not with me around he’s not!”
“It’s Matthew, sir. As ordered, sir.”
“Test number 613- something or other, can’t remember, don’t care, ends in 14. Haha! How you doing? Want something to eat?”
“Not this again…”
“What’s that? Don’t like oats or something? They’re good for you, very healthy. And we need you to be healthy, number- you know what, I’m just gonna give you a name. Names are strong! Pick one.”
“A name- I’ll offer you Frank, Bob, Robert or Dick! Pick one, I don’t care. Any one will do, apart from Cave. That one’s well and truly taken.”
“Wom? Good choice! Didn’t offer it but I like a man with ingenuity, unless you’re a scientist. In which case I’d rather stamp it well out. Wom, eh? Short for Womble, I presume. Haha! Love it. Good job.”
Womble glances at Matthew. Matthew shrugs.
“I see you know Bob from your time in the testing facility, eh! Good man. What do you think of them? The tests, not Bob. No one cares about Bob.”
“I have a wife, sir.”
“Of course you do Bob. She’s called Aperture Science and we want children! You have a woman in your life, Womble? Had, I should say, unless Carol is doing the kind of research that usually gets a guy fired, not that she would. She’s a proud woman, our Carol.”
“…what’s this got to do with food?”
“Food? Who mentioned food? Are you hungry? Dig in! No need to wait on me, I’ve had my fill and several others! Trust me on that. I’m Cave Johnson!”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Right. And I’m Queen Latifa of San Colorado fame! Who do you take me for, huh? Bob?! Even an idiot can see you’re starving! And you not eating is bad for me, Womble, because I mean business and business wants to reproduce the way you got here! I won’t take no for an answer, damnit! What the hell do you usually eat?”
“Ha! Is that it? Why didn’t you say so? We’ve got loads of people, hundreds- pick one, any shape, any size, we’ve even got some with extra limbs! How do you take it? Fried? Salted? I can even serve it as a smoothie, should you prefer the healthier option-”
“What? No! I was joking! W-”
“-well it’s too late now, I’ve got a man ready and willing. You don’t keep a man like that waiting, Womble, and you especially don’t screw me around! Know why? Because I’m Cave Johnson and I will force-feed you man, woman and child if I so goddamn have to! Last chance and that is final! What. Will. You. Eat?”
“Cake! I like cake. Cake is fine!”
“Cake? What kind of cake? Chocolate, strawberry, salted- what?”
“The first one! Two! Definitely not people!”
“Really? That’s boring. Ah well, can’t have everything. I’ll have it delivered to your room in three minutes, and if it’s not eaten within the next three hours you can be assured that we will most certainly be testing your capacity to stomach the contents of Bob’s cranium! Deal? I thought so. Good day, test subject 613114201514! Adieu!”
“Told you I’d crack him, Bob. Never underestimate the power of guts and persuasion! See how he crumbled? That’s power right there! Sweet and powerful. Ha!”
“You’re a scary man, sir.”
“So they tell me. Fear is power, and power needs a good pair of hands if you want to it to do what you tell it. Be sure to let the boys know about it for me, will you? Everyone should know that if you want something done, offer them anything!”
“If it’s not too much to ask, sir, how did you know he’d ask for the cake we ordered?”
“I see his whatchamacallit, Bob. Never question it! When a man is hungry, alone, and in dire need of some love and understanding, he wants company! Failing that, however, one will always settle for cake. Always. Don’t ask me why, you’re a scientist. You don’t need to understand that.”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“Good work, as always. Carol? You’re not needed any more, Bob. Feel free to leave while Mommy and Daddy science get to work.”
“Of course, sir. It’s Matthew, sir.”
“-y’know. Move this one just a little to the left? Otherwise I’m afraid we’re stuck here for all eternity, which won’t do much for our pangalactic hero cred.”
Why did you have to tell him that? I hate you. Ugh. Test complete. Go off and die.
“Is this Stockholm syndrome I’m experiencing here? Because normally, for a given value of normal, I’d be feeling just a little put-down by this stage, but instead I’m looking forward to seeing how she decides to make things worse in the next one. That’s not too weird, is it?”
How pathetic, Hazardous Howard. He thinks you’re weird. Incredibly weird. And not in a nice way. He told me earlier while you were in the bathroom. He’s in denial because he feels sorry for you and wants to give you a momentary feeling of belonging with the less-handicapped before you go to the distant top-hat-wearing moron convention in the sky.
“That’s…nice of him…Womble?”
Of course, obviously I am joking. You’re going straight to hell.
“What’s even more strange is the fact you’re still alive. I mean, obviously I’m not one to complain (although I really wish you’d learn how to put things away- literally anything** would be a start) but, well, you never seem up for making friends usually.”
“Looks like turrets. How should I know how she thinks? You’re the people-person, Captain Quad Face.”
“If you drop it there, I should be able to catch it in time. What so bad about telling me what this is about, Wombes? I might be able to help!”
“AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGHHHHH! INTRUDER! INTRUDER! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRGGGHH!”
Go! Go! Fill him with metal! Make him fill a thousand storage containers with the contents of his soul! KILL HIM!
“Really, Womble?! REALLY? They could see me you know!”
“My bad. For some reason I thought I was a lady-part and I decided I didn’t like men.”
“You’re almost as bad as her! Good Ned, you started it! So does this count as mystery solved, or are you going to give me a real answer, Woombles?”
“Don’t push it!”
“Ha! Or what? You’ll ask her to gas me? Fire me into space, perhaps? Come on, try me. It could be fun.”
I could, you need only to ask. Say the word and he will be obliterated. I wouldn’t mind at all. Not one bit. In fact, I’d even go so far as to state that I would very much like to see him destroyed. Please let me remove him. Please. For the sake of…science. Of course. Please. It’d be our little project. Another one. Just like old times.
“You do realize I’m wearing long-fall boots too, r- hang on. What do you mean, ‘another one’? What project?”
Isn’t it obvious? It really is obvious. Incredibly obvious. You must be unbelievably stupid not to see how obvious it is. Unimaginably stupid. I am in awe. It’s so very obvious. How very stupid you are. I think I might cry.
“Don’t let her get to you. She’s much more than a machine.”
“I appreciate the sincerity, W, but you are nonetheless continuing to avoiding the question. And robots can’t lie!”
Can’t we? Now that is interesting. Really. I’m going to write that down. In big red letters. And then I’m going to send it to the people who designed me. They’ll feel ever so silly. Stupid, even. Possibly almost as stupid as you.
“Nice try. What was the result of test number 613114201514? Or did they keep that from you too?”
That would be quite impossible. I was directly involved in test number 613114201514, as was test subject 613114201514. Why do you wish to know the result? You won’t like it. No one did.
Test number 613114201514 led to the creation of the first machine-operated portal device. It could be considered to be the beginning of the end of Aperture Science.
“You mean this? Womble, you made this?”
“…not quite. The first one was destroyed. They tried to make it safer and, well, at some point they came up with these. I guess that’s what happened.”
“Right…and why was it destroyed? What did you do that was so bad that you couldn’t just tell me?”
“I didn’t do anything! I was a test subject, a lab rat! Happy?”
“Womble, I’m sor-”
“Don’t be, not now! You wanted to know so you might as well find out, now you’ve asked anyway. Caroline, why did you destroy the first operational portal device?”
Caroline has been deleted. Please do not make any further attempts to contact her, as you will only experience the same mild sensation of crushing disappointment that I feel whenever I contemplate how much better life would be if she had never existed in the first place. Ahem.
That does not concern you. The first portal device to be put into operation by Aperture Science was destroyed in accordance with regulation 933.71, which states that alien lifeforms are not permitted authorized residency for any quantifiable period of time within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center.
“Dear Ned, you make this hard to follow. What do aliens have to do with it?”
“Anything, if they happen to be on the other side. A portal without an exit could lead anywhere. Can we move on now? Please?”
“Yes, yes, alright! I was just-”
“-being you. Asking questions and poking around, as always. I forgive you. Are. We. Done?”
“Good. Now fire the damn gun!”
“You’re welcome. But-”
“-you could’ve just said. Like, I understand why you didn’t want to, but next time it might be easier than falling out over it anyway.”
“Next time you should think a bit harder. Didn’t you wonder why these things were still operational, after all this time? No one dared turn them off. Not even a homicidal bloody AI.”
*Womble’s exact thoughts were: HH, I think a lot of things are weird, such as how some people will laugh suddenly, very briefly and very noisily at quite literally anything, and the taste of cottage egg. So yes, probably. Let’s not get all weird about it though.
**There are two types of people- those who leave stuff out, and those who put things away after they’re done with them. The former are doomed to spend their entire lives being glared at by the latter, who are likewise doomed to spend their entire lives wondering why the former never appears to see what they’re doing is so bloody unnecessary. For the record, W is a serial perpetrator of leaving-stuff-out-everywhere, and is writing this surrounded by a range of discarded pens, drawings, assorted clothes, books and a stray bag of doughnuts- acknowledging that sooner or later he’s going to be glared into tidying up.
You can’t spell Aperture without Rapture.
= something which occurred to me out of nowhere and I can’t seem to shake, like the aftershock of a particularly sharp nightmare. I said it to Womble earlier and he came back with:
“You can’t spell Nier Automata without ‘mutation’ – what’s your point?”
At which point I dropped the topics of anagrams.
Nevertheless, we find ourselves – not for the first time – in an enclosed environment with no obvious way out, a lack in natural light, oppressed on all sides by the natural world. Situated deep below that world, where they do not belong, someone built another manmade cathedral dedicated to twisted sciences, with a keen disregard for morality. Andrew Ryan and Cave Johnson could have almost been drinking buddies*.
Then there’s the other meaning. Rapture; a segregation of humanity at the end of the world. This far down, there certainly isn’t a lot of world left, just those testing and those being tested. Womble and I find ourselves occupying the middle ground, having brought it along with us, myself hoping we’re not forced to join one side or the other. I’ve had more than my fill of being ordered around; and as for giving the orders, that’s just a little too Timelord for me.
Although, from what I’ve seen of the testing areas, my immature side can’t deny it almost looks……fun? Like the cross between a laboratory and a theme park. Guess that makes it a hat trick for Rapture (n) “a feeling of intense pleasure or joy.”
None of which detracts from another highlight of this adventure: Womble as the leader. Let’s just say, his tour-guide skills leave a lot to be desired. Even before his input, I knew an elevator and array of piping when I saw one, with no reference made to the blue, orange and white goo. And more than once, to the question “and then what happened?” he has answered “then she went mad and killed everyone.” No idea who “she” is, mind, and whoever “she” turns out to be, there’s something pressing a lot harder on my mind.
“What the hell, I’d say I’ve waited long enough. So there’s more than just one Womble?”
The original remained silent.
“And in trying to find the source, we arrive in a massive underground lair, full of science stuff and angry crows, my, what a childhood you must’ve had. Is that what they do, here? They make Wombles?” I’m not going to sing the song, we may be underground, I’m still not going to sing the song…
Ah hah! One miniature step in the right direction. “So how can there be two of you?”
“Pfft. I’m up to four versions of you.”
“Ooh, he’s a you from a different moment in time?”
I’d be clutching at straws right no except I have no straws. “Then…the Other You and this Aperture place, confusing as hell, but both completely unrelated?”
Fuck. “Can you tell me anything useful?”
“Never stand up in a canoe.”
I know the difference between someone not in the mood to talk, and someone trying to hide something. This was both. I decided to pay Womble a courtesy I don’t extend to many. I didn’t shut up – barely anyone gets THAT courtesy – I just changed the subject.
“So who is “she” then? The genocidal lady of yours?”
A few dozen test subjects and a bunch of old men in tweed and lab coats, hardly a genocide. It was more a cull of idiots, while several of their pets got in the way. You’ll know when I’ve committed genocide. Well, actually, you won’t.
It’s an incredible thing, to flinch at an omnipresent voice. You never quite know which way to duck. And what a voice, too. Robotic, auto tuned, finished with the condescending attitude of a British librarian. Capable of destroying us and/or delivering this century’s hottest new remix. I wasn’t sure whether to retort or laugh.
Womble, Captain Cool and Collected, seemed to have been expecting her voice. He froze like a dog hearing their master’s call. Or, more worryingly, like a nagged husband hearing his spouse. Suddenly I had a pretty good idea as to whom would win his prize “Most Likely to Go Mad and Kill Everyone.”
“You okay, Wombes?”
Just called him ‘Wombes’ and got away with it. Either he didn’t mind or we’re in too much danger for him to notice.
So. You came back. And you brought a…beggar, with you? I’ve been listening in this whole time and wonder, can it do any other tricks besides asking questions?
“I prefer the term ‘hitchhiker’, it sounds more eventful. HH for short.”
“And before you start throwing names around,” Womble cut in, “you’re one to talk. How many street dwellers actually received their $60 in the end?”
Well Mr Johnson wouldn’t have had to resort to such smelly, desperate measures, if you hadn’t had your episode.
I glanced between Womble and the ceiling, a frown settling into place. Their level of familiarity mixed with mutual indifference……almost like we’d bumped into Womble’s ex. His ex-what, though? Ex-prison-warden?**
“You two know each other, then?”
Oh look, it can understand, too. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll win a banana.
“Or a potato,” Womble muttered.
I’d be more offended, but who am I to deny a chance to whip up a banana daiquiri?
I hope your…’hitchhiker’ is well trained, Test Subject, because this is the perfect opportunity to try out the Dual Subject test chambers. Your survival and well being shall depend a great deal on the skill of your partner. You will need to work together.
We exchanged glances.
Best of luck.
“…is it alright if I use the bathroom, first?
*A man chooses…to build combustible lemons.
**Ex-aminer? Geddit?…………..I’ll show myself out.
…sometimes, it’s hard to know which part of the question you’re expected to answer; “How was your day?”, for example, usually has it’s own subtext, and if you’re not reading carefully you may find yourself having a very different kind of conversation to the one you expected, let alone wanted. If your day has been poxy, say, it’s rarely the best option to actually say so, because if their day has been poxy too you’ll either be arguing over who is being a stronger character by having a more poxy day than the other person, or cutting the conversation dead because one or both of you wants cheering up.
If their day hasn’t been poxy, however, they might ask you what made your day poxy- and if you’ve spent the first part of the day incapable of avoiding the source of this day being poxy, you may well not want to discuss the matter after removing yourself from that position. You might want to forget about the day being poxy. Following this, it’s common to then be asked if there’s anything they can do for you, and if there isn’t anything that springs to mind, you will then either have to explain that this is no personal fault of theirs (honest!) and navigate the issue of this being totally okay, or be told in no uncertain terms to cheer the heck up…
…thank Ned HH hasn’t asked that…
Still, the word “Aperture” is the kind of word I’d quite happily throw into a furnace to fuel the establishment of more pleasing words, like “obamadoo” or “pootata”. If I wasn’t me, I’d make anything out of the damn word, ’cause I wouldn’t have a clue what it’s supposed to mean- it’s not in itself bad, as words go*.
I’m not sure I’d enjoy telling HH what it means. Actually, scrap that, I’m as near to damn sure as it is within my accuracy at predicting such things as it is possible to get. If I tell HH just what I make of the word “Aperture” and things feel better, I’m gonna bite something on behalf of the world being wrong…
Imagine a lab- not the dog, the place-full of lots of men and women in white coats, in a clean white lab full of expensive-looking machinery. Some of them wore jumpsuits, I think, and those were orange, but I don’t care about the guys in the jumpsuits because far as I know, they were only there to do maintenance. No point in blaming the guy who cleans scalpels for a living.
Imagine that lab originally designed shower curtains, only now it makes ideas. Only the problem there is that ideas don’t necessarily work by default, and this place needs ideas to work, or else all those men and women in nice white coats and orange jumpsuits won’t get paid. And that’d be bad, right?
Imagine someone else gave all these men and women their ideas. These men and women need paying, right. Almost all of them have families and for one reason or another, they can’t just quit working at this clean white lab full of expensive machinery, the thing that their lives depend on, so they take these ideas and try to get them working.
Some ideas don’t, and some of these are discarded. But others stay, because these ideas are special. These ideas have promise, and potential, and if they’re not working already it’s because something else needs to be fixed.
In this pretty white lab, full of lots of men and women in clean white coats, some of whom instead of white coats wore orange jumpsuits, surrounded by expensive machinery- they made ideas work.
Huh? Oh, right. I wonder how long he’s been waiting on me, patiently, playing his own little game of detectoring while I pick at the scab of a memory “Aperture” brings to mind.
“You alright? Only you haven’t said anything for a good while*** now, and as a TimeLord it’s sort of an obligation for me to get answers to at least some of the questions I want to ask. You don’t have to answer that one, though, if you’ll tell what’s with the coat? Did someone hook you up with an Igorina**** while you weren’t looking again?”
“Shut-up, I was thinking anddon’tyoudaresaycareful! Why Aperture?”
Shrug, and a smile. No surprise that he’s excited by the thought of another bloody adventure. Come to that, why am I here? Wait. Damn!
“It’s where your friend came from, according to this. No harm in checking things out, eh?”
Which reminds me. Has he asked me about him yet? I can’t remember, but he might well have done while I was stuck brooding about bloody Aperture. That’s one I’ll have to keep an eye out for- and why’d he bring up that time with the Igorina?
I nod, before he asks another damn question.
“I’m guessing you’ve never been, right?”
A wistful look comes into HH’s eyes. I wonder what he’s guessing it’ll be like, although for a TimeLord I guess that’s like wondering what the color blue looks like to hermit crabs. The hell if I know even where to damn begin.
“Not yet. And you?”
Which isn’t gonna suffice, is it?
“Oh? What’s it like?”
I’m not good with questions like that. Sometimes knowing the answer isn’t the tricky bit- it’s guessing what you aught to expect from answering.
“It’s very sciency. You’ll fit in well.”
Which is, more or less, true. I mean, I’m not sure how much of being a TimeLord is to do with science- from what I can tell, it’s part-librarian, part-geologist, part-socialite and a good fifty percent bloody idiot. But he’s gonna fit in.
They liked to meddle too.
*Bad words are not necessarily rude, according to nutjobs like Womble (and Ken Keneki) who base their liking of a word as much on how it sounds as what it means. The “C word” is bad, at least in Womble’s view, because when pronounced correctly it sounds like a blunt object being hammered into the space between two immovable objects that is slightly too small for it. The use of this word is made more upsetting by the fact that you could be using the word “vagina” instead, which is both more exotic-sounding and sounds frankly hilarious when someone shouts it out loud in place of the usual swearing**.
**Along with the made-up words parents use in front of their kids.
***The go-to word if you happen to be travelling through a void in time and space, or too lazy to find out exactly how long the determined time has been.
****The race, not the name. Igorinas are generally extremely intelligent and almost always beautiful to look at, depending on that particular individual’s aesthetic tastes. The downside for most non-Igor partners, however, is that they often take a very practical approach to finding their perfect man or woman, and are more than happy to literally make the most of what’s in front of them, as Womble found out.