Home > My Favorites, The Fiction of Fans > Day Seventy-one BONUS: Lemons

Day Seventy-one BONUS: Lemons

The hospital room was quiet, except for the respirator. It hissed on and off at slow, steady intervals, a regular rhythm that ran all day and all night. Every now and then another machine would beep or ping, but not too often. The peace of the room was absolute, disturbed only by the regular duty nurse who came in to change the sheets or attend to the bedpan. Time had lost all meaning in here. Every day was the same. Every night was the same. Regular breaths, a white ceiling, an impassive nurse and doctors who pretended they were the only thinking beings in the room.

Today, however, the silence and the regularity of the days and the nights was broken by the sounds of shouting from outside the room. Shapes could be seen on the other side of the glass window. A man – a doctor, perhaps, or one of the bodyguards – was telling a woman that she couldn’t go in, that she wasn’t authorized.

“Not authorized?” she yelled. “I’m here on the highest authorization, you ape. And when I’m done in there, I’ll have you mucking out the test chambers with nothing but a bottle of bleach and some paper towels!’

“But miss-”

“Don’t ‘But miss’ me! Let! Me! In!” There was a pause, a dangerous silence, and then the shadows on the other side of the frosted glass moved. The door opened and a lovely young woman stormed into the room. “I’m remembering your name, buddy!” she yelled as the door swung closed.

When she turned around, her entire demeanor changed. The hardness was gone from her voice as she put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, sir!” Caroline said. “Oh, Mister Johnson. What have they done to you?” She took a tentative step towards the bed and the thin, dessicated man who lay there. When he was healthy, not so long ago, he’d been a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm. He seemed like the rock of the company, standing against the waves and never letting them knock him down. He had long been the driving force behind Aperture, the singular ambition that took it from its humble beginnings selling shower curtains to the scientific powerhouse that it was today. And nothing – not the Navy, not those double-dealing, backstabbing ghouls over at Black Mesa – had ever been able to take that away.

But now he lay in that bed, wasting away with every pump of the respirator. His skin was pale and brittle, his eyes dull and staring at the ceiling, barely open. A tight web of wires wrapped around his head, their ends buried in his scalp, and leading to what looked like an old Smith-Corona typewriter on the bedstand. Caroline laid her hand on his and tears slipped from her eyes as she felt how cold he was. “Oh, sir,” she said in a shaky voice. “I’m so sorry. I should have been here sooner.” She took a handkerchief from her handbag and buried her face in it.

She looked up with a sniff when she heard the sharp clack of the typewriter key smacking against the paper. Slowly, one herculean letter at a time, a message was spelled out on the yellowing piece of paper:

Still. Alive.

Caroline stood up sharply and her eyes overflowed again. “Sir!” she said. She looked again at the apparatus that connected his head to the typewriter and smiled. “Did you have the lab boys make that for you, sir?”

Yes.

“I’ll have to give them a raise,” she said. She reddened. “Or, you will. Once you get better.”

The typewriter started writing again, the letters coming a little more quickly now.

You will. You’re in charge now.

Caroline shook her head, “I told you, sir, no! I don’t know what I need to know to run Aperture! I mean, there are so many projects going on that no one will let me see, engineers asking questions that I can’t answer, and the lawyers are just driving me crazy! They keep asking me for the testing records from the mid-seventies and I keep telling them that we don’t have them!”

Burned them. Damn lawyers. Get nothing.
Good news?

She nodded, glad to be on more familiar ground, and took a small notebook out of her handbag. “The counter-maneuver work is still progressing, and we’ve had some preliminary inquiries from the Pentagon about it. They want to include it in special forces training – Delta Force, SEALs…”

The typewriter keys practically slammed against the paper.

No. Navy. Never!

Caroline smiled and held his hand. “I told them, sir. They said we couldn’t exclude the Navy from any government contracts.” The typewriter started banging out meaningless characters – pound signs and ampersands and exclamation marks. “But,” Caroline continued, “there’s nothing preventing us from charging them triple what the other branches get.” She smiled and patted his hand. “And I’m making sure that they’ll be the last to get anything.”

Brilliant.

“Thank you, sir.” She held his hand for a little while longer, just looking at him. As she stared at his face, she thought she could see it move. Maybe his eyes struggling to look at her, or his mouth straining to make the smallest of smiles. But when she blinked, when she cleared her vision, nothing had changed.

Anything else?

Caroline came back to attention and looked through the notebook. She pulled out one piece of paper that had been folded and put in the back. “Your failsafe, sir. The boys in engineering say that it’s not going to be ready for a long time yet. Years, maybe.” She looked around the hospital room, at the battery of machines that were keeping Cave Johnson alive. “I don’t…” She took a deep breath. “I don’t know if it will be ready in time,” she whispered.

The typewriter was silent for a long time, long enough for that worm of panic to set in. Then:

Caroline.

She sat up. “Sir?”

You’re. In. Charge.

“But sir, I-”

NO.
No one knows science like you.
No one knows Aperture like you.

There was a pause, and when she looked back at his face, she was almost sure there were tears in his eyes.

No one knows me like you.

Caroline squeezed her eyes shut and rested her hand on his cheek. “Oh, sir,” she said. “I don’t want to do this without you.”

You will. You have to.
You’ll make me proud.
Caroline.

One of the machines started beeping. She looked over at it and watched as the jumping green dot on the screen jumped lower and lower. She sat on the edge of the bed and held Cave Johnson’s hand as he went, squeezing it so that he knew she was with him. The dot pulsed a couple more times, and then the line went flat.

Caroline had precious few minutes to herself before the nurses stormed into the room, followed by men in suits. One of the nurses took her by the shoulders and gently lifted her to her feet. “You’ll be okay,” she whispered as she moved Caroline out of the way. The nurses and the suits bumped shoulder as each group tried to confirm Cave Johnson’s condition. They started talking about plans and contingencies. A couple of bodyguards stood by the door, looking uncomfortable.

“We’re going to have to close the offshores…” They were lawyers, pure and simple. They spoke in hushed tones, but loud enough for her to hear.

“Make sure the patents are up to date…” They didn’t look at her. They didn’t look at him. They flipped through appointment calendars and address books, pulling mimeographed pages from their briefcases and comparing them.

“Call the board, we’ll need to have a vote on…” A great man lay dead before them, and not one had paid his respects. Not one had said a word about the man who had changed the world, whose vision and dedication were going to change it even further. Caroline felt her sorrow condense into a cold, hard knot in her belly and she stood up.

“Gentlemen!” she said sharply.

The lawyers stopped talking and, in unison, turned to face her.

“According to Mister Johnson’s dying wishes,” she said, squaring her shoulders, “I will be taking charge of Aperture Science from here on out.”

They looked at each other. One of the lawyers, the youngest one, smiled at her like he thought they were in a bar. “Miss,” he said, “I think maybe you should leave all this to us. You’ve had a rough day.” He took her by the elbow and started to lead her to the door. “Why don’t you have a little lie-down and-”

She jerked her arm from his grasp and looked him dead in the eyes. “What. Is. Your. Name?”

The smug smile lasted only a moment longer before it slid off his face. “Hannigan,” he stammered. “Mark Hannigan. I’m with the law offices of-”

“You’re a test subject,” she growled, a slow smile spreading across her face. “I hope you like heights.” His face went pale.

She looked at the other two lawyers. “We’re going back to the office. Mister Johnson’s personal files are there, and you’ll see what his wishes for the company were. Signed and notarized before he entered the hospital.” She walked around Hannigan to the other lawyers. They were avoiding looking at him. “We’re going to get this little mess cleared up quickly and easily and in the best interests of the company. Unless you want to be bathing in propulsion gel like your boy Hannigan here.” The older of the two lawyers swallowed and started to speak, but she stopped him with a glare. “The man in that bed had a vision,” she said. “And it’s my honor to make sure that vision comes true. Understand?” They glanced at each other and nodded.

Caroline looked at the bed. The nurses had pulled the sheet over Cave Johnson’s face and were busy disconnecting all the machines. She took a deep breath and said a silent prayer for him. He didn’t believe in heaven, she knew that. But she believed that he was already there, and already throwing his weight around.

She turned around and looked at the men in suits. “What are we doing still talking?” she asked.

She walked to the door, where the bodyguards parted to let her through. She stopped, though, and looked behind her. The men standing there looked small and nervous. They were off-balance, which suited her fine. Hannigan looked a little sick. “Come on,” she said. “We have science to do.”

Cave Johnson, Caroline, Aperture Science are all owned by Valve Corporation.

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