“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.