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
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.