Not Much of a Choice @horribletestsubject
Not Much of a Choice

She’s been sitting in front of the weathered wooden slats of a shed in the middle of a frozen wheat field for hours now. Every breath is like taking icy daggers into her lungs, and she can see her breath like clouds of steam with each exhale. 

And yet, she stays there. After all, it’s either stay here and shiver, and hopefully be let inside, or freeze to death out in the barren wastelands beyond. 

Warm clothing and shelter isn’t exactly readily available out here. It was fine when it was warmer, when she was first spat out onto the surface to the sound of turrets singing in a language she didn’t understand. Which she still wonders, was it real, or a hallucination? After all, it wouldn’t be unheard of for her to hallucinate. 

She’s heard GLaDOS’ voice ringing in her ears while wading through endless plains and rocky crags and groves of desiccated trees. Simultaneously ridiculing her and encouraging her, though the encouragement is often just as degrading as the insults. 

Prologue to “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

She’s heard GLaDOS’ voice ringing in her ears while wading through endless plains and rocky crags and groves of desiccated trees. Simultaneously ridiculing her and encouraging her, though the encouragement is often just as degrading as the insults. 

Chell had hoped that the voices would fade with the heat of the summer— and to some degree, they did. But a new problem rose up in their place. 

She’s been sitting in front of the weathered wooden slats of a shed in the middle of a frozen wheat field for hours now. Every breath is like taking icy daggers into her lungs, and she can see her breath like clouds of steam with each exhale. 

And yet, she stays there. After all, it’s either stay here and shiver, and hopefully be let inside, or freeze to death out in the barren wastelands beyond. 

Warm clothing and shelter isn’t exactly readily available out here. It was fine when it was warmer, when she was first spat out onto the surface to the sound of turrets singing in a language she didn’t understand. Which she still wonders, was it real, or a hallucination? After all, it wouldn’t be unheard of for her to hallucinate. 

She’s heard GLaDOS’ voice ringing in her ears while wading through endless plains and rocky crags and groves of desiccated trees. Simultaneously ridiculing her and encouraging her, though the encouragement is often just as degrading as the insults. 

Chell had hoped that the voices would fade with the heat of the summer— and to some degree, they did. But a new problem rose up in their place. 

She could handle the lack of food or fresh water. The exhaustion. It’s tough but manageable. She can fend off the vicious wildlife with a good solid branch or pipe. 

But there’s nothing she can do about the cold. 

There were no seasons in the Enrichment Centre. It was a constant temperature. So the blazing sun and chilling wind came as a bit of a shock. Several times she’d passed out from heat exhaustion. But she’d pushed through. Then the cold came. 

Fortunately, her long fall boots were surprisingly well-insulated and managed to protect her feet from the frost, but the rest of her body was out of luck. At first, she could light a fire, and was alright. Chilly, but not unbearable. 

But it kept getting colder. Snow began to fall, wafting across the broken and toxic landscape. She tried to find shelter, warm clothing, but every time she came across some old farmhouse or barn it was dilapidated and decayed, and any clothing or blankets had become fragile, frequently turning to dust in her touch. 

For awhile she managed by staying inside those structures with a fire at night. But when one of them went up in flame and she barely got out— and not without suffering a few burns— she realised that that way of living might not be sustainable. 

And still it got colder. 

It was nothing short of a miracle that she was able to survive as long as she did. Through sheer determination, she puts one foot in front of the other as she forced her way through snowdrifts, the frozen white powder getting into the neckline of her jumpsuit, her fingers numb and turning blue, pain running throughout her body.

But she keeps walking. Beyond the point of agony, of exhaustion, her mind going blank but for the singular goal of moving forward. Because, as little as she knows about surviving outside of the facility, she knows that if she stops now, there’s a good chance she won’t be able to get up again. 

She’s long since stopped shivering by the time the snow seems to thin out a bit, and beneath her feet there’s a crunch as her boots reach the frozen stalks beneath. At least it’s easier to walk here, without the drifts. Without fresh snow endlessly brushing against the bare skin of her arms and the places between the boots’ straps.

She stumbles forward still, the world around her seeming to spin. Endless flat, snow covered fields stretch around her on all sides. 

In the distance, a small, dark shape takes form. Too tired even to feel relief, Chell presses on toward it. Perhaps this will be different from the countless other places she’s come across. Perhaps she can find warmth here. 

It’s probably foolish to hold out hope. But she does nonetheless— if she can’t get warmer here, then she might not be able to make it through the night.

Shaky steps carry her forward, her arms wrapped tightly around her emaciated frame to salvage what little body heat she can. 

As the distant shape draws closer, her thinking suddenly gets much clearer, and she stops. 

Wait. She knows this place. 

She’d thought she’d been headed away from here. But somehow, she’d just managed to circle back to where she began. 

The snow-covered, charred companion cube in front of the shed is all she needs to confirm it. It’s Aperture. 

Chell knows for a fact that there’s nothing at all nearby for quite awhile. She knows that she’s almost at the end of her strength. 

Night will fall soon enough— and if it does, and she’s not inside, it will claim her life. 

She doesn’t really have a choice. Her objective is the same as ever. Survive. And now, her only hope of survival involves returning to that same place she fought so hard to escape from. 

So she continues pressing forward. Until she reaches the tiny, unassuming structure that just happens to house the gates of hell.

Frozen fingers reach for the door. It doesn’t budge. Chell throws her weight against it, panting, fear and adrenaline coursing through her. But it still doesn’t open. 

She’s locked out. 

Of course she is. Why would GLaDOS have left the door open?

The former test subject staggers back, nearly sinking to the ground but forcing herself to stay standing on aching legs. Her heartbeat, which has grown sluggish, is suddenly racing, and short, shallow breaths escape her— she can’t seem to pull enough air into her aching lungs. Her legs shake, and she’d like nothing more than to sink to the ground, but she can’t— she has to stay standing, has to keep going. Her throat begins to feel knotted up, and nausea overtakes her as she desperately tries to calm down. She can’t do this now. She can’t break down here. There’s no time. 

Trembling again, but not from the cold, she forces the panic down, forces herself to stand upright, to think, to look around. To find a way to solve this. 

There’s a camera there, on the shed’s corner. Above the door. 

Chell stumbles into its view, waving her arms. 

It’s ironic that she’s trying to catch the attention of the computer that had tried so hard to kill her. 

But then again, it’s either GLaDOS trying to kill her or the cold actually succeeding in it. One is certain, one she’s dealt with, and thwarted, before. 

She’ll take Aperture’s dangers instead. At least those are familiar.

But still, there’s no movement. The door stays close. There’s no bitter, automated voice speaking to her. 

She waits for minutes. And then, finally gives in to exhaustion. 

She settles herself on the ground, in full view of the cameras, and pulls her arms into the sleeves of her jumpsuit, drawing them against her chest. 

Teeth catch blue lips in pain as the icy fingers touch her bare skin. And then a sharp breath is sucked in as the parts of her hands that can still feel begin to be warmed, ever so slightly, pain like fire coursing through them. 

1. Not Much of a Choice 1517 0 0