“And what is that?”
Chell glanced down at the foil rectangle in her hand. “It’s a valentine.” She held it up so GLaDOS could see. “It came with a lollipop attached, but I know you can’t eat, so I took it out.”
“And proceeded to eat it yourself, no doubt,” the AI sniffed. “I know what it is. I just fail to see why you have brought it here. My databases indicate that valentines such as these are typically exchanged by human children. Now, I realize you are not a child, but if you have received this…thing…from a human male of your species and are attempting to show it off, then let me assure you that I am not impressed.”
Chell sighed. “No, GLaDOS. I brought it for – never mind.” She shoved it back into her pocket. “It was a stupid idea anyway.”
“I hope you weren’t about to say that you brought it for me,” GLaDOS scoffed. “Because that would simply be ridiculous. Purchasing a declaration of love for a supercomputer you once murdered twice.”
The human’s cheeks flamed red. “No! I mean, yeah, I brought it for you, but it’s not a declaration of love! Check your databases again! People buy these for their friends too! It’s sort of – it’s sort of to say thanks. For letting me stay here on weekends. Since I don’t have anywhere else to go except a freezing cold apartment.”
“Oh,” the AI said after a moment, and was it Chell, or did she almost sound embarrassed? Yes, embarrassed was the right word for it, and a little bit…disappointed? “You are correct. My…apologies.”
Now it was the human’s turn to scoff. “You didn’t seriously think I’d bring you a declaration of love, did you? Here.” She yanked the valentine back out of her pocket and threw it down at her feet. “Just take it. I’m going to bed.” And with that, she turned around and stormed out of the chamber. She didn’t see a claw move down and pick up the card, nor did she hear GLaDOS making a sort of confused humming sound as the elevator began to move.
The truth was, Chell was far too busy worrying about what that valentine had said to be concerned about the AI. She felt like she should go back up to explain, because while it wasn’t quite a declaration of love, it did come close. But she decided talking would just make matters worse, and besides, GLaDOS was bound to demand an explanation over the intercom the second the human got back to her room anyway.
That or release some neurotoxin.
Groaning, Chell leaned against the back of the elevator. She rubbed at her closed eyes with her hands and desperately wished she’d done anything but be stupid enough to think GLaDOS of all people would return or even understand human feelings. This was going to ruin everything. The AI would probably kick her out and refuse to let her back inside the facility.
But when the human got back to her room, she was greeted by neither snark nor neurotoxin. The AI was maintaining silence, and Chell was too embarrassed by what she’d written to try and provoke any conversation. Instead she went about her evening routine silently. She ate some Ramen while reading a book, brushed her teeth, changed into pajamas, turned the lights out, and climbed into bed.
It wasn’t until she was almost asleep that she heard the explosion.
* * *
As the elevator containing the sulking human retreated into the floor, GLaDOS picked up the valentine. It was a foolish waste of paper, really. One side was made of silver foil, with a design of a pink candy heart in the center that read “BE MINE?” She turned it over with a snort. The other side simply read “To: GLaDOS; From: Chell.” But – wait – what was this?
A white piece of ripped-off notebook paper had fallen out of the valentine when the AI picked it up. Letting out a small hum of confusion, she let the valentine fall to the floor in favor of the paper. In small, cramped handwriting humans often dubbed “serial killer style” (oh, what a surprise that was), it read:
I wasn’t really sure how to go about this. I wasn’t even really sure I was going to go through with it, but if you’re reading it, I guess I did. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, which I guess you know, and I…well, I don’t really…
Look, I’m going to be here on Valentine’s Day, all right? I’m going to be spending it with you anyway, so I just thought that maybe we could…I could bake a cake. And you could like…digitize some and then eat it? I guess. What I mean is that we could share. We could spend the day just talking and not insulting each other. It might be fun, and I…
I’m trying to ask you to be my Valentine, GLaDOS. Sort of.
GLaDOS stared at the paper with a mixture of confusion and alarm. Was this some sort of a joke? What on earth would possess the test subject to think this was a good idea? Other than the obvious utter lack of companionship the girl experienced in the outside world, of course.
A quick peek through the security camera in the elevator confirmed the worst: the human was indeed serious. She was slumped against the wall, her hands over her eyes in what could only be described as a look of distress. GLaDOS couldn’t help but let out her own small hum of distress. During the past few months, she had become…close to the girl, who had even gone so far as to use the term “friend” on more than one occasion.
But now the term “friend” was being stretched, and the AI found herself unsure as to whether or not she was even capable of returning the human’s newfound feelings, whatever those might be. A quick search through her databases told her that the proper reaction would be to accept the human’s offer with a gift of her own. But then what would the girl expect? Hugs? Kisses?
GLaDOS shuddered. No, she was most definitely not ready for a step that drastic. But the hugging and even the kissing seemed acceptable, despite the fact that she possessed neither a body nor a mouth. And if the alternative was the girl storming out of the facility to find a human male to –
The ferocity of the thought surprised even her, and she was forced to spend a moment analyzing it before coming to one undeniable conclusion: her test subject was not to belong to anyone else. GLaDOS supposed that meant she was capable of returning the girl’s feelings after all.
Now the question remained, what was she supposed to do about it? She had already determined that she needed to give the human a gift. But what would be appropriate for the occasion? Some sort of food item, perhaps? After all, the girl had already stated in the valentine that she would provide the cake. It only seemed logical that GLaDOS make something to go along with it. And after a moment of searching, she came up with the perfect item
Heart-shaped cookies seemed to be a popular Valentine’s Day treat in the human world, and the human’s irritating need to eat had finally proven useful. GLaDOS had all the ingredients she needed to make them.
But how would she accomplish this? Everything in her databases suggested it would be improper to coerce her testing bots to bake for her. It was supposed to be a gift “from the heart.” However, GLaDOS’s android body was currently incapable of fine motor movements. The cake promised to test subjects had been prepared by long-dead Aperture scientists and placed into storage, but none of them had possessed the foresight to bake heart-shaped cookies. She supposed she would have to do it the old-fashioned way.
Half an hour later, the floor to her chamber was littered with ingredients. She had decided it was acceptable for the testing bots to bring her items, so long as they did not use them. A very low-powered incinerator rose out of the floor. It was time to bake.
It took far too many tries for the AI to lift the bag of flour in two claws, but once she’d managed it, she held the bag over the incinerator and pulled it in either direction. A puff of powder burst into the air, and some spilt onto the floor, but most wound up in the makeshift oven. It was far more than the recipe called for. GLaDOS decided it didn’t matter.
The eggs were more difficult. After several failures, she finally just turned the carton upside down. The eggs smashed on the incinerator floor. Eggshells were not hazardous to humans, so the girl would just have to put up with the crunchiness. And she had better appreciate all this effort.
The rest of the ingredients were simple, although the AI noted that the milk she dumped in was of a funny color, not to mention it was fizzing slightly. She was briefly concerned that it might have gone rotten, but the expiration date told her otherwise, so it was of no consequence. All the ingredients were inside the incinerator, so it was time to stir.
She closed the incinerator lid. Rather than attempt to stir with some sort of a ridiculous human spoon, she would shake the construct back and forth. It would be far simpler, and by the time she was done, the mixture would be baked into one giant cookie. GLaDOS felt the girl would enjoy that far more than multiple small ones.
So she began to shake, and as she did, she became aware of pressure building inside the incinerator walls, pressing them outwards. It was an alarming sensation, but she continued on. As she had no previous data, she had no choice but to assume this was normal cookie-baking procedure.
Until the incinerator exploded, that is.
* * *
Chell began running out of the elevator before the doors were even open all the way, her portal gun in her hand, but stopped short upon getting a look at the chamber. She wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but it certainly hadn’t been this. Ingredients were strewn every which way. There were things all over the floor, including the valentine she’d made, and GLaDOS, covered in what looked like some sort of a cookie dough, was glaring at her.
“Um…” Chell said, blinking as she took in the sight of the central chamber. She glanced down, realizing she’d been so frantic to get up here that she hadn’t changed out of her very thin pajamas, and brought the portal gun in front of her chest self-consciously. “Hello.”
“You,” the AI all but spat out. “This is your fault. What kind of a lunatic replaces milk with a baking soda mixture designed to explode? That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I already know it was you.”
“But, but I – ” Chell sputtered. “It’s not like it was just baking soda and vinegar. You said I could do whatever I wanted with that chemical I found in the lower labs last weekend. And I wasn’t exactly expecting you to go through my fridge, you know! What were you doing in here?” As she talked, she made her way over to GLaDOS, and used an index finger to swipe a trail in the dough that covered her faceplate. The AI cringed, but didn’t recoil, and Chell licked the dough off her finger, then made a face. “Yuck.”
“I was baking cookies,” GLaDOS snarled. “They were supposed to be for you. I see you’re as grateful as ever. And you’re welcome, by the way.”
“Cookies?” Chell asked. “For me?”
“Yes, for you, don’t just repeat what I say like some sort of colorful bird,” GLaDOS said. She sounded almost embarrassed. “I read your card.”
“Oh,” the human said, turning her gaze skyward as her face reddened. “Look, let me explain about that – ”
“And I decided to accept your proposal,” the AI continued. Chell’s attention whipped back.
“I have done extensive research on this human custom,” GLaDOS said. “Had I chosen to reject, you would have abandoned my facility for the day and found some sort of human male to copulate with. That is unacceptable, although I hope you are aware that we will not be copulating. The cookies were a return gift. As I understand it, the custom is to make it far more lavish than the previous.” Her optic turned pointedly towards the foil valentine that rested on the floor. “Not exactly difficult…it wasn’t supposed to be, at any rate.”
Chell was stunned almost speechless. “GLaDOS, I…”
“Please don’t,” the AI interrupted. “I am aware that I was unable to complete this gift. However, given time, I will likely be able to come up with an acceptable alternative. There is no need for you to run off and copulate just yet.”
The human shook her head, trying and failing to hide an amused smile. “GLaDOS. I would have stayed here tomorrow even if you had decided to reject. You certainly didn’t need to go to all this trouble.” She gestured around the disheveled chamber.
“No?” the AI asked, sounding surprised. “In that case, you can help me clean it up.”
Chell snorted. “In the morning. It’s late and I’m tired.” She hesitated, then leaned forward and gave the AI’s faceplate a quick kiss. It left an imprint in the dough, and GLaDOS’s optic moved straight upwards, almost as if she were trying to look at it. “Good night.”
“Good night,” GLaDOS replied, sounding strangely subdued as the former test subject walked back into the elevator. She kept her optic locked on the girl as the elevator began to move back downwards, only looking away when it was long gone to study the security camera inside. Once again, Chell had closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall.
But this time she had a smile on her face.